Showing 1 - 10 of 54 annotations in the genre "Autobiography"

Infidel

Hirsi, Ayaan

Last Updated: Apr-13-2017
Annotated by:
Saleh, Mona

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Autobiography

Summary:

This is an autobiographical work that describes the remarkable life of Ayaan Hirsi Ali. The book begins in Somalia, where Hirsi Ali was born and spent the early part of her childhood. It is here that Hirsi Ali discusses the second-class status of girls and the harrowing practice of female genital cutting, which she describes as it happened to her and her younger sister. Although her parents were against the practice, Hirsi Ali undergoes female genital cutting by the arrangement of her maternal grandmother, who states that if the clitoris is not cut, it will grow and end up dangling between the knees of the girl. This situation speaks to the variety of immediate reasons why different cultures engage in female genital cutting. They all revolve, however, around the disempowerment of girls and women and denying their basic human right to bodily integrity and sexuality. 

Due to civil unrest, Hirsi Ali and her family move around quite a bit while she is growing up, in places as distant as Saudi Arabia (where Hirsi Ali describes her childhood horror at seeing women clad in all black from head to toe), Ethiopia, and Kenya. Throughout her travels as a child and then a teenager, Hirsi Ali vacillates between being a staunch believer in Islam to questioning her faith, all while experiencing emotional, verbal, and savage physical abuse at the hands of her mother and, at one point, her Qur’an teacher. 

The action quickens at an incredible pace when Hirsi Ali’s father and community arrange for her to marry a Somali man who lives in Canada, even though Hirsi Ali does not consent to the marriage. It is telling when, on the day of her wedding ceremony, Hirsi Ali has a normal day at home while her father, her new husband, and the other men in her community have a celebration without her. In the Islamic ceremony, the bride only needs to be represented by a male guardian (father, brother, uncle, grandfather, etc) and does not physically need to be present. Hirsi Ali’s husband goes back to Canada and sends for her to join him. Rather than meeting her husband in Canada, Hirsi Ali manages to make her way to Amsterdam and apply for asylum. It is here that the reader watches Hirsi Ali confront a great amount of cognitive dissonance between what her Islamic upbringing has taught her about right and wrong versus what she personally experiences in the Netherlands, 

“The next morning, I decided to stage an experiment. I would walk out of the door without a headscarf. I was in my long green skirt and a long tunic, and I had my scarf in a bag with me in case of trouble, but I would not cover my hair. I planned to see what would happen...Absolutely nothing happened. The gardeners kept trimming the hedges. Nobody went into a fit...Nobody looked at me. If anything, I attracted less attention than when I was covering my head. Not one man went into a frenzy” (p. 195). 

Hirsi Ali is forthcoming about having lied on her asylum application to make her more likely to be approved. In the Netherlands, Hirsi Ali works as a Somali interpreter and, against all odds, goes on to attend college and obtain a degree in political science. While all of this is happening, Hirsi Ali is repeatedly impressed by Dutch society in their social order and equality between the sexes. She sees a glaring contrast between Dutch society and the lives of immigrant and refugee communities in the Netherlands. The Dutch, in an effort to be tolerant of immigrants and engage in multiculturalism, allowed Islamic religious schools to be established. Hirsi Ali, however, sees this as a way to sanction the systematic oppression of women in a democratic country. 

Hirsi Ali becomes politically active and becomes elected to the Dutch Parliament where she rails against this Dutch practice of allowing old-world religious edicts to coexist in a democratic land. As part of her fight against the sanctioning of hard-line Islam, Hirsi Ali writes a short film entitled Submission (which is the translation of the Arabic word “Islam”) that is produced by filmmaker Theo Van Gogh. The film speaks directly to the oppression of women in Islam.  At what is the climax of an already exciting book, Van Gogh is killed by a Muslim man who is clearly insulted by the film. Now, a publicly recognizable figure, Hirsi Ali’s life is in grave and immediate danger, and the Dutch parliament moves her from secure location to secure location (at one point, even as far as Boston) to protect her life. She is temporarily stripped of her Dutch citizenship on the basis of having lied on her asylum application, which effectively ends her political career in the Netherlands.  Hirsi Ali then re-locates to the United States. 

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A Lucky Life

Goldbloom, Richard

Last Updated: Nov-11-2015
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Autobiography

Summary:

Born into a Montreal Jewish family in 1924, Richard Goldbloom was always sensitive to minorities and at ease with difference. Jewish and Christian, French and English, music, theatre, and the arts in all forms were prevalent and valued in the family home. He became a skilled pianist and a gifted storyteller. Richard trained in medicine with his father and at McGill University then specialized in pediatrics at Harvard with the famous Charles A. Janeway at Boston Children’s Hospital.

He met the vivacious, intrepid Ruth Schwartz at McGill when they both auditioned for a play. Also Jewish, she hailed from Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia. They married in 1945 before his studies were complete and had three children. Unlike many male physicians of his era, Richard was in awe of this tiny dynamo and attributes his happiness and success to her.

In 1967, the family moved to Halifax, Nova Scotia, where Richard became Professor of Pediatrics, Physician in Chief and director of research at the new children’s hospital. Ruth was instrumental in a wide array of philanthropic endeavors that inevitably involved her husband. She developed a remarkable museum at Pier 21, the point of arrival for generations of immigrants to Canada—a place to gather their stories and their achievements.

Many anecdotes about clinical practice and scientific innovations are told with accessible enthusiasm and gentle humor. He dispels myths, exposes hidden agendas and explains with clear examples the importance of listening to children and their parents. Underlying the entire narrative is a refreshing humility and gratitude for his “lucky life.” 

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Medicine: My Story

Berris, Barnet

Last Updated: Aug-25-2015
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Autobiography

Summary:

Born in 1921 to Jewish immigrant parents, “Barney” Barnett describes his life in medicine and education, from his earliest love of science and learning through his medical and residency education in general internal medicine, his success as an academic physician, and finally his judicious decision to retire.

An important leitmotiv is the antisemitism of the University of Toronto that kept him from a residency position (he went to Minneapolis) and a staff position (he was offered a one-year fellowship on a low salary in 1951).  Even after he was accepted as a staff member at the Toronto General Hospital (TGH), he was not promoted. Although he referred many patients to his TGH colleagues, only six ever returned the favor in the thirteen years he was there. Ironically, his Jewish background plucked him from this pedestrian position directly to the seat of Physician in Chief of Toronto’s Mount Sinai hospital (founded 1922) when finally it became a teaching hospital in 1964. 

While maintaining a practice in internal medicine, Berris became a liver specialist and researcher who introduced liver biopsy to Toronto. Known as a consummate diagnostician, he endeavored to enhance the research profile of his institution, integrating it with bedside instruction. He served on examining committees for the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons, candidly describing the subjectivity of the process. He also served on many committees of the College of Physicians of Ontario, including discipline
, and describes the process used to investigate complaints with case examples.

His story includes vivid descriptions of some of the most famous figures in Canadian medical history, his teachers and colleagues – J.B. Grant, Arthur W. Ham, William Boyd, Ray Farquharson, K.J.R.Wightman, Arthur Squires, and Arnold Aberman. He was once involved with the care of the wife of David Ben-Gurion and Queen Elizabeth II.

Little is told of his personal life, although he admits that he often neglected his family for the press of work. His first wife, Marie, was a social worker; they had three children, one now a physician. She died of ovarian cancer; to care for her, he stepped down as chief in 1977.  In 1984, he married Thelma Rosen, an expert in education and widow of a pediatrician colleague. Together they went on a year’s sabbatical that allowed him to work in Singapore, Stanford University, and Sheila Sherlock’s lab at the Royal Free Hospital in London.

Some of the most engaging chapters contain clinical vignettes: stories about patients, the diagnostic workup, and their outcomes.  Like Richard Goldbloom (A Lucky Life
) and without diminishing his native abilities (which must have been considerable), he modestly attributes most of his success to luck.  

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On the Move: A Life

Sacks, Oliver

Last Updated: Jun-22-2015

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Autobiography

Summary:

On the Move:  A Life describes the extraordinary life of Oliver Sacks from his childhood during World War II to shortly before its 2015 publication.  Using his journals (“nearly a thousand,” he writes), correspondence, and memories—as well as his 14 or so books—Sacks has given himself free rein to describe and analyze his long, productive, and unusual life.

A dozen chapter headings nominally corral his wide variety of interests, adventures, and travels, including his medical career, his homosexuality, and diverse writing projects.

Sacks came from an English medical family, including some observant Jews, but not him. As a youth he loved (prophetically) writing and chemistry. He rode motorcycles then and for many years to come. He did poorly on his Oxford practical anatomy exam but immediately (and drunk on hard cider) sat for a competitive essay on anatomy and won a large prize.  Later, he was warned away from bench science and focused successfully on patient care, patient narratives, and personal essays of many sorts, including A Leg To Stand On, the account of his injured leg and recovery.

Sacks left England for Canada, then the US.  He quotes from some of the journals about his travels. In LA, he worked out at Muscle Beach (setting a California squat record) and did drugs, including amphetamines. A shy man, he thought of himself as Doppelganger: Dr. Sacks by day, a black-garbed biker by night. 

Fascinated by vision and photography, Sacks includes 58 photos from the ’50s to 2006; some black and white, some in color.  These are printed together on slick paper and well illustrate his text.   

Neurology training concluded, Sacks served various institutions in New York but read widely, ever eager to find theories of brain chemistry, anatomy, perception, behavior, and more. As readers of his books know, he enjoyed using his own interests in drugs, music, and travel, as well as personal medical experiences such as his injured leg and his lack of facial recognition. He describes his meetings with patients with unusual dilemmas: the postencephalics of Awakenings, as well as people with Tourette’s syndrome, deafness, colorblindness, autism, or migraines. He became fascinated—obsessed, one might say—with these and wrote so voluminously that cuts had to be made from his huge manuscripts to yield books.

Sacks describes interaction with editors, film crews, playwrights and others wishing to collaborate. His audiences grew as he became an intermediary to the non-medical public. We read about Peter Brook, W. H. Auden, Jonathan Miller, Bob Silvers (New York Review of Books), the cartoonist Al Capp (a cousin), Abba Eban (another cousin), Stephen Jay Gould, Temple Grandin, Francis Crick, and others. One striking passage describes taking Robert DeNiro and Robin Williams to see locked-in patients in preparation for the film version of Awakenings.

In his 70s, his robust health faded. He had a melanoma in his right eye, with more than three years of treatment before it became blind. Being Sacks, he observed interesting phenomena as his vision changed, “a fertile ground of enquiry” (p. 376). His left knee was replaced. He had sciatica.   

He fell in love again after 35 years of celibacy; he dedicates his book to his partner Billy Hayes.

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Summary:

The author is a practicing neurosurgeon, one of only two hundred or so women in this specialty which numbers about 4,500. She was the first woman to be admitted to her neurosurgery residency program. Her father was a surgeon and she was definitely influenced by him and says that, as the oldest of four children, it was always expected that she would become a doctor; but she didn't decide for sure until partway through her second year of college.

Once in medical school her decision for neurosurgery as her specialty came very easily. Oliver Sacks's writing had a significant influence on her decision. She was also influenced by her college sweetheart who became her husband and who also chose to train as a neurosurgeon. He is not practicing now and they do not have children.

Her description of her long years of training are interestingly related with many individual patient stories and also many descriptions of her teachers and peers. She takes time to describe how she views the specialty itself and its power structure and all that entails. Among the interesting chapters are two about her research years, one at the center for cognitive brain imaging at Carnegie-Mellon and one as a fellow in Epilepsy Surgery. The author was fascinated with the complexity of brain function and its relation to anatomical structure with which she was much more familiar.

Firlik found that she loved "life on the learning curve" and that her curiosity was broad. About her last year as Chief Resident she said "I have had my hand in saving lives and I have had my hand in helping to end them: I'm not talking about murder, of course. I am talking about helping people die" (227). She was able to write this book because she kept a journal during her training.

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Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Autobiography

Summary:

The pediatrician-author of this autobiography was the first Jewish professor of medicine at the prestigious McGill University.

Born in Montreal in 1890, Alton was an only child whose immigrant father was an itinerant merchant with somewhat shady dealings. The shy boy developed hemoptysis and was sent away from home and family to the healthier air of Denver on the erroneous suspicion of tuberculosis.

He overcame shyness and found an ability to speak in acting and “declaiming” passages from Shakespeare. Literature remained a lifelong passion. Notwithstanding the quotas on Jewish students, he attended McGill medical school, followed by residency in the United States where he encountered many luminaries of twentieth-century pediatrics.  

Upon his return to Montreal, he confronted entrenched anti-semitism, but was instrumental in founding the Jewish General Hospital and a children’s hospital. He witnessed exciting medical discoveries and, like many other pediatricians, championed initiatives for child health that relied on social intervention.

The book closes with a few case histories of small patients, many of whom fell ill because of parental and societal ignorance.

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Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Autobiography

Summary:

The author was the first blind physician to be licensed in Canada. Her autobiography is also an autopathography.

From her anger over developing severe diabetes as a teenager, through her relentless pursuit of a scientific degree and medical school, through a brief failed marriage – followed by the tragedy of completely losing her sight while still in training, to a rewarding and responsible career as a palliative care physician and educator.

Sustained by her religious faith and by loyal family members and friends, Poulson explains choices, compromises and supports that allowed her to continue studying and working in Montreal and later in Toronto.

Her complications from diabetes were numerous, and included heart disease for which she required surgery. Then she developed breast cancer, which eventually metastasized. In closing her narrative, she knows it will likely take her life.

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Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Autobiography

Summary:

Entering a school as the first student with a serious disability (cerebral palsy) after starting his education in a "special" school, Christopher Nolan had to develop careful and clever strategies for developing friendships, allowing others their curiosity, and finding ways to use his considerable gifts against the odds of both the disease and the prejudice it bred.  One of his strategies is the inventive, cryptic, poetic, Joycean idiom in which he writes his story.  He did, in fact, succeed in a school where he was accepted as a kind of experiment, in an area of Ireland not known for its progressive attitudes.  In this narrative he moves back and forth between inner life, family life, and life at school, allowing readers to get to know him as a deeply reflective, adventurously social, and courageous human being, living with his debilitating condition with a degree of consciousness that took full account of the losses as well as finding avenues of expression that allowed him, intellectually, at least, full range of motion.  The narrative takes us through his school years where he distinguished himself as a poet and also as a human being for whom life with a disability shaped an extraordinary dexterity with language.

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The Story of San Michele

Munthe, Axel

Last Updated: Nov-14-2011
Annotated by:
Ratzan, Richard M.

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Autobiography

Summary:

The author takes us on a highly colorful autobiographical tour of his medical career - his personal life never enters this account - from a classical medical education in Paris as a young expatriate Swede (he remains expatriate the entire book) to his internal medicine practice in France, including a tour of Naples as a volunteer during the cholera epidemic of 1881 and his finally settling in Italy. There are also anecdotes - many of them side-splitting and told with uncommon skill - about conducting a corpse back to Sweden, a truly thrilling journey to Lapland,  encounters with the legendary Charcot, his return to San Michele whence the book begins with a mythopoetic retelling of his first visit there, and his last years at San Michele as patron of a community (both local and international) and as collector and explorer of the nearby Mediterranean.        

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The Gift Nobody Wants

Brand, Paul

Last Updated: Feb-12-2010
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Autobiography

Summary:

Dr. Paul Brand, who grew up son of English missionaries to South India, achieved world renown for his research on leprosy and related research on the dynamics of pain. This book, one of several of his reflections on physiology, combines autobiography, stories of research, and reflections on pain and pain management. The three topics roughly correspond to three discrete sections.

It opens with a story of the early death of a child with a rare neurological dysfunction that made her insensitive to pain. Brand's long work with victims of leprosy in India and then in Carville, Louisiana, gave him wide exposure to the consequences of life without adequate pain. Having spent 27 years in India, 25 years in England, and 27 years in the U.S. before writing this retrospective, many of his reflections include observations about cultural variables in perception of pain, how pain is communicated and managed, and how people deal philosophically with the problem of pain.

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