Showing 1 - 10 of 371 annotations tagged with the keyword "Abandonment"

Annotated by:
Field, Steven

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Anthony Marra’s debut novel (published in 2013) is set in Chechnya, the rebellious Caucasus republic that broke away from Russia in 1994, was in short order mired in two wars thereafter, and ultimately lost its independence and was re-incorporated into Russia as a semi-autonomous “federal subject” state.  Marra does not ease us into his story, but propels us headlong into it; it is 2004, and eight-year-old Havaa awakens to find that her father Dokka, suspected of aiding Chechen rebels, has been taken away by Russian troops, who have also burned her house to the ground.  She is alive only because Akhmed, her neighbor and her father’s friend, has spirited her out of her house in the middle of the night and hidden her in his.  Akhmed takes it upon himself to protect Havaa; he knows that the soldiers will be looking for her, because even though the official wars are over, Chechnya remains in the midst of a brutal battle for control, and the policy of the state is to “disappear” not only those it perceives as its enemies, but also their family members.  

Akhmed manages to get Havaa to the abandoned local hospital, where he believes she will be safe.  The hospital is staffed only by a smart, tough, and competent surgeon named Sonja, assisted by a nurse.  Sonja is an ethnic Russian from the area who trained in London and then returned to her homeland.  She agrees to shelter Havaa on the condition that Akhmed, who trained as a doctor but is painfully aware of his inadequacies in that profession (he wanted to be an artist), stay on also as her assistant surgeon.  Soldiers and civilians on both sides arrive in need of care in a hospital barely functioning, with little in the way of staff or supplies. 

Sonja meanwhile is searching for her sister who has disappeared into the chaos of the Chechen wars; she believes that Natasha is alive, but hasn’t heard of her, or from her, in years (we will, in the course of the novel, hear Natasha’s story and learn of another side of the underbelly of this war).  She comes to believe that Akhmed may hold a key to Natasha’s whereabouts, and Sonja of course holds the key to whatever measure of safety exists for Havaa—and thus for Akhmed as well.  Other locals, a local Chechen historian, his turncoat son, and various governmental and non-governmental functionaries round out the cast in the novel.   Akhmed must negotiate in a world where anyone could be an informer, and one person clearly is; where the price for falling into the wrong hands could be death or worse; where federal troops and rebels vie to outdo each other in brutality; and where the rest of the population spends every waking minute simply trying to survive in a lawless society and a landscape gutted by ongoing strife.   When the various narrative arcs ultimately link up the ending is a powerful one.




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Spring

Smith, Ali

Last Updated: Dec-02-2019
Annotated by:
Trachtman, Howard

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Ali Smith is a Scottish writer. If she lived in the U.S., hopefully (a word I will come back to at the end) she would be a household name. She is 75% through a quartet of novels that are named for the seasons. Each captures the beauty and lightness of Vivaldi’s famous concerto and the heft of T.S. Eliot’s poetic quartets. Spring seamlessly blends brutal reality and a dream-like state. Anchored in the current world, it unfolds in a Brexit obsessed United Kingdom, and yet it incorporates artists, live and dead, ranging from Katherine Mansfield to Rainer Maria Rilke to Tacita Dean. The scope and inventiveness of the writing are staggering.

The plot will sound very odd in a brief summary. Like many modern novels, it incorporates two separate narrative strands that come together somewhat unexpectedly but satisfactorily in the climactic scenes. In the opening pages, we are introduced to Richard Lease, a modestly famous filmmaker who produced some well-regarded highbrow TV shows in the 1970s and 80s. He is considering an offer for a new film project about an imaginary crossing of paths by Rilke and Mansfield in Switzerland in 1922. But Richard is unable to rouse his enthusiasm partly because of misgivings about who he would have to work with. More importantly, he is still not over the recent death of his screenwriter, Patricia Neal or Paddy, who was more than just his artistic partner for four decades. Richard mulls over memories of their work and life together, reliving conversations and episodes that invoke Charlie Chaplin, Beethoven and Shakespeare. He aimlessly boards a train to Scotland. There, in an act of despair, he lowers himself onto the train track in an attempted suicide .

Richard is saved by a magical 12-year old girl, Florence. Although the description is scant, she is preternaturally bright, articulate, and endowed with an inexplicable power to move people to do what she wants. She supposedly was able to enter a restricted Immigrant Retention Center unaccompanied and persuade the supervisor to order a cleanup of the bathrooms for all the detainees. One morning, Florence encounters Brittany Hall, who is on her way to work as a security guard in one of the notorious British detention centers. Her dehumanizing work with the inmates is grinding her down, the degrading surroundings are destroying her soul.  Florence and Brittany end up at a train station and in an impulsive act, Brittany follows Florence onto a departing that is heading off to Scotland. The warm interaction with Florence on the ride awakens Brittany’s submerged feelings of humanity. They end up at the same destination as Richard, and there Florence persuades him to climb back on to the platform and saves his life.  A reinvigorated Richard, Florence and Brittany meet up with another mysterious character, a woman operating a mobile refreshment stand. The four travel in her crowded truck to Culloden, the site of the disastrous clash during the Jacobite Rebellion in 1746 when the Scots were annihilated by the English army. There the story reaches its climax which I will not divulge in full. But simply said, in full sight of all the tourists attracted to the Culloden battlefield site, it does not end up well for Florence or her mother who suddenly appears on the scene.




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I AM

Clare, John

Last Updated: Jun-24-2019
Annotated by:
Ratzan, Richard M.

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poetry

Summary:

"I AM" is a poem by John Clare with three sestets in iambic pentameter with an ABABAB rhyming pattern unique to each sestet. In it the poet affirms his identity, his sorrows to date and ends with the expressed longing for a happier life in the presence of God and the solitude of Nature. Due to his disorderly life, unconcern for conventional spelling, and transcriptions of his poems by others, there are often multiple versions extant for an individual poem. This is true for "I AM", which Jonathan Bate, the author of a magisterial biography of the poet, states was written in a psychiatric institution about 1846. (1, page 505) For this annotation I have used what many consider to be the most authoritative edition of his poems. The poem also exists in several reliable sites on the internet.

The poet was a troubled man born near Peterborough, Cambridgeshire, England, in 1793, in meager circumstances and remaining so throughout his entire life. Save for a five month period in 1841, Clare spent the last 27 of his 71 years in psychiatric institutions. He wrote his poetry, which primarily celebrates the natural world he spent so much time in alone, before and during his hospitalizations. His reputation as a poet has burgeoned significantly in the last 100 years.


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Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

The Scar is a powerful, thoughtful, and moving book, part memoir about the author’s illness across some 30 years, part history of depression and its treatment and part essay to evoke cultural and personal values about sickness, suffering, health, and death. Cregan, a gifted stylist herself, draws on literature that deals with human suffering, mortality, and wisdom.  She frankly describes her sorrows and hopes, the death of her baby, her attempts to kill herself, and her survival today with many blessings.   
           
The title refers to a scar on her neck, a result of her effort to cut her throat with a piece of glass so that she would die. This attempt, in a hospital, reflects the depth of her illness and the failure of her caregivers to prevent it. Her book explores the complexity and variety of mental patients and the range of medical responses—some useful, some not—to  treat them. Writing as a survivor, she draws on her journal, hospital records, emails, interviews, and more; she is part journalist, detective, archivist, and forensic pathologist—as if doing an autopsy on the suicide she attempted.
 
Ch. 1
What Happened describes the birth and immediate death of her daughter Anna and her descent into depression and initial hospitalization.

Ch. 2
What Happened Next discusses mental hospitals and her perceptions of being a patient in one. A dramatic paragraph describes her cutting her throat (p. 51).

Ch. 3
How to Save a Life presents electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), from the jarring images of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” to her own experience of some 17 treatments; she reports that these helped in recovery.

Ch. 4
The Paradise of Bedlams gives a history of mental hospitals. She is hospitalized three months, “a prisoner,” in her term.

Ch. 5
Where Do the Dead Go? explores the dilemmas of the living as they mourn the deaths of people they love, including approaches from Judaism and Christianity. Mary has nightmares about her lost baby. She discusses Freud, Rilke, T. S. Eliot and others. She buries Anna’s ashes.

Ch. 6
Early Blues discusses modern attempts of science and the pharmaceutical industry to create drugs for mental illnesses, with influences from psychodynamic and biological concepts.

Ch. 7
The Promise of Prozac discusses that famous (notorious?) drug; she takes it on and off while working on her PhD, then other drugs as they became available.

Ch. 8
No Feeling Is Final sums up many themes.  She’s in her late 30s, remarried, and trying to conceive. After IVF, she’s pregnant. Baby Luke is born. She understands that the scar on her neck has an analogue with Odysseus’ scar on his leg: a symbol of survival through hard, even desperate times, for her a “double trauma: the loss of my child, the loss of myself”  (p. 243).  

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Summary:

Thomas De Quincey was a British writer—essayist, mostly—during the first half of the nineteenth century. He is best known for writing about his personal experiences with opium, which appeared in two sequential issues of London Magazine in 1921, and then published as this book in 1822. He would later write a sequel, and later still a more elaborated version of the original.  

De Quincey’s first encounter with opium was in 1804 when he was eighteen years old. Opium was freely available then and was often consumed for recreational purposes. De Quincey was not seeking it for pleasure, at first. Based on a friend’s recommendation, after suffering excruciating facial and head pain for twenty days, he tried opium to relieve the pain. De Quincey acquired opium in the form of an elixir (laudanum) from a local druggist (“unconscious minister of celestial pleasures!”) (p. 43). The book covers the subsequent eighteen years of his opium use, though he would use it until the end of his life at age seventy-four. 

De Quincey refers to opium as the “dread agent of unimaginable pleasure and pain” (p. 42). The book is organized accordingly. After describing his early years of straitened circumstances including near starvation, he divides the book into sections on “the pleasures of opium,” and “the pains of opium.” 
 

De Quincey found the pleasures of opium with his first dose in 1804, pleasures that extended past the pain relief it provided.

But I took it: – and in an hour, oh! Heavens! what a revulsion! what an upheaving, from its lowest depths, of the inner spirit! what an apocalypse of the world within me! That my pains had vanished, was now a trifle in my eyes: – this negative effect was swallowed up in the immensity of those positive effects which had opened before me – in the abyss of divine enjoyment thus suddenly revealed. (p. 44)

For more of these pleasures, De Quincey drank laudanum over the next ten years at a frequency he describes variously as “occasionally,” “at intervals,” and “seldom…more than once in three weeks: this was usually on a Tuesday or a Saturday night.” He learned that some time was needed between “several acts of indulgence in order to renew the pleasurable sensations,” a property of opioids pharmacologists would later call tolerance (pp. 8-9).

De Quincey eventually became familiar with the pains of opium when the return of severe intestinal pains he suffered in his “boyish days” made it necessary that his laudanum use become “an article of daily diet,” (p. 9) because he “could no longer resist,” and “could not have done otherwise” (p. 59). The amount of opium De Quincey consumed as a result was enough to cause severe reactions when he tried to reduce his dose: “It is a state of unutterable irritation of the stomach… accompanied by intense perspirations, and feeling such as I shall not attempt to describe without more space at my command” (p. 71).

Though relieving pain was the initial reason for his daily diet of laudanum, for most of the next eight years, avoiding withdrawal reactions became the more important motivation for De Quincey’s laudanum intake: “it was solely by the tortures connected with the attempt to abjure it, that it kept its hold” (p. 86). He eventually knew he had to quit when he realized:  “I must die if I continued the opium: I determined, therefore, if that should be required, to die in throwing if off” (p. 87). Throwing off opium was not easy for De Quincey as he experienced “torments of a man passing out of one mode of existence into another,” (p. 88) but he claims he was ultimately successful.

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Electricity

Fisher, Sukey; Higgins, Bryn

Last Updated: Jan-14-2019
Annotated by:
Teagarden, J. Russell

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

Lily O’Connor is 30 something and working at a seaside arcade in northeastern England. She inherits some money from her mother’s small estate and wants to give her brother Michael his share. But, Lily lost track of Michael during their childhood after they were placed in separate new homes to protect them from the severe abuse their mother was inflicting on them. Michael has become a ne’er-do-well in adulthood, and so Lily’s search for him takes her through the dark alleys of London and puts her in the company of its dodgier inhabitants. 

A bigger challenge to Lily in her search and in her life more generally is her epilepsy. How she experiences epilepsy forms the more interesting and dramatic elements of the story. We see Lily have several seizures  in a variety of scenarios: before a date, on the subway, at a friend’s house, in a hotel room, and in a nightclub. We see how Lily senses them coming on as she says to herself:

Here’s the breath, 
here’s the breeze, 
here’s the shimmer…and I’m falling down the rabbit hole.

We see the ground in front of her becoming fuzzy but closer, then what looks to be her hand reaching out in front of her to lay a sweater down on the ground where she thinks she will land, and then the ground getting fuzzier still as she hits it. From the ground, we see that she can still make out some people bending down to help and others averting their gazes. As Lily loses all focus, hallucinations start, and we see her body floating among patterns of electrical bursts as she experiences them. Next we hear her scream before all goes dark and violent shaking starts. As she regains consciousness, we see what she sees, blurry at first and then as her surroundings come into focus. It may be the inside of an ambulance, a hospital room, or her apartment, where in anticipation of that possibility, she has painted on her walls: Don’t Worry Lily Home Bed Sleep SAFE NOW

As Lily goes into recovery after a seizure, the director takes us from Lily’s point of view to the point of view of bystanders. We see that as a result of these seizures, Lily often sustains bone fractures, lacerations, abrasions, puncture wounds, and bruises among other injuries. She goes about cleaning herself up in a manner that suggests a routine, something she expects. Nevertheless, the loss of time frustrates her.

I just lost 2 days. Chop it up. Chop it out of my life. All the outtakes. What would they look like if you put them all together.

Lily’s adaptation to her seizures and their consequences vexes the physicians she consults, which she does only when her medications are stolen and she needs new prescriptions, and when she is taken to the hospital after particularly bad seizures. These physicians want to get Lily onto newer and presumably better medications. She resists, saying to one of them,

All I want is my old meds back.You know when my scripts change, it messes with my head every time. If you wanna know why I’ve stayed on the old meds, it’s ‘cause I know who I am…You have no idea how new drugs change me, they make me feel like a ghost. Words fall out of my mouth like vomit. My brain, a lump of cold meat. Nah, I’m not doing it.

She decides to forgo all medications if she must move to a new regimen, but it doesn’t go well. Eventually she capitulates, adapts to new medications, and goes on with her life, or as she says, “Thrash, get up, get on with it.”

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Three Identical Strangers

Wardle, Tim

Last Updated: Nov-08-2018
Annotated by:
Thomas, Shawn

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

The world is a big place – 7.4 billion people and counting. As much as we all enjoy the game of finding our doppelganger in a crowd, there probably isn’t anyone in the world who is exactly like us. With a genetic code of over 3 billion base pairs, of which there are innumerable permutations, we would be hard pressed to find a clone of ourselves even if the world had 7 trillion people. The exception is if you were born with an identical sibling. But then again, you would know if you had a twin. Wouldn’t you?

The documentary Three Identical Strangers tells the unbelievable story of Bobby Shafran, Eddy Galland, and David Kellman – three identical triplets who were separated at birth and serendipitously reunited at the age of 19. The film takes us through the circumstances of their reunion, highlighting the brothers’ instant rapport over their similarities and the ensuing fame resulting from the public fascination with their extraordinary story. It began as a euphoria-filled saga complete with talk show interviews, movie cameos, and even a successful restaurant which they called “Triplets”.

The honeymoon phase ended in horrific fashion once the parents of the respective siblings began asking questions as to why the brothers were separated in the first place. A journalist who had been investigating the triplets’ adoption agency, Louise Wise Services, helped to uncover the details of an elaborate study performed by a child psychiatrist named Dr. Peter Neubauer. In this study, each brother was placed into a home which had another adoptive sister, and specifically assigned to a family of lower, middle, and upper-class backgrounds. While the exact details of the study objective remain unknown, it appears that the study was trying to determine whether psychiatric illness was correlated more strongly with genetics or with developmental environment; this is referred to colloquially as a “nature vs. nurture” experiment.

The implications were earth-shattering. The brothers struggled to cope with the realization that they had been marionettes in some sort of sick experiment, with Dr. Neubauer pulling the strings the whole time. Even worse was the fact that there were possibly several more identical siblings with the same story who were deprived of their biological soul mate, all at the behest of Neubauer and his associates. In fact, other sets of identical siblings were eventually made aware of the experiment, and did have the chance to meet, albeit many years after their birth.

The triplets also learned that their biological mother had serious psychiatric problems – hence their inclusion in the study. All three brothers had behavioral difficulties as adolescents, and it was distressing to consider whether their issues may have been exacerbated by the separation anxiety they experienced upon being separated at birth. In particular, Eddy suffered from worsening episodes of bipolar disorder throughout his life. In 1995, at the age of 33, he committed suicide. He is notably absent for the duration of the documentary, with Bobby and David narrating much of the film. Today, they are still trying to uncover the particulars of Dr. Neubauer’s study, but the research records remain under seal at Yale University until 2066. They may never know the full extent of what was done to them and why.

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Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Treatise

Summary:

This intelligent and compelling book invites us to evaluate the losses pertaining to “modern death” and to consider better ways—whether from the past or in the future—to care for the dying, their families, and all care-givers.   
            
Some chapters, such as “How Life (and Death) Were Prolonged,” are historical, describing changes in inoculations, living conditions, and medical care that extended the human life span but also changes in dying, now often prolonged by technology. Another chapter, “How We Learned Not to Resuscitate,” relates how CPR, initially lauded and popularized, is now widely understood as futile care, especially in older people. Warraich discusses various attempts to define death (brain-based, heart-based, American Bar Association, Harvard Criteria, Uniform Determination of Death Act, even NASA) and some of the issues that still remain. 
 

Other chapters are more physiological:  “How Cells Die” explains natural processes of cell death (necrosis, autophagy, and apoptosis). Most non-medical readers haven’t heard of these and perhaps some medical personnel as well. Unaware of them as regular and usual processes, we resolutely expect people to live some four-score and ten, perhaps even more. The next-to-last chapter, “When the Plug is Pulled” discusses “terminal sedation” (a legal dosage that eases pain but is not strictly speaking euthanasia or murder) and statutes that allow for assisted death and removal of life-sustaining machines. The Nancy Cruzan case and others illustrate many difficulties. (Cruzan was in a persistent vegetative state and supported by a feeding tube. A 1990 U.S. Supreme Court 5-4 decision allowed the removal of the tube.) Warraich argues further for “patients’ right to demand and acquire the means to end their suffering with the aid of a physician” (p. 263).              

Lack of resolution of these difficulties leads to problems for families of the dying and all medical personnel attending them, especially in ICU situations. Living wills are often of no help and “the end of life has become a battleground” (p. 211).
He argues that surrogate roles for decisions at the end of a life often do not represent what the patient actually wanted because the surrogate's values may be different from the patient's and family members may not reach agreement on decisions. He concludes, “All in all, overinvolved family and underinvolved doctors unsurprisingly make for a particularly caustic combo” (p.214).                      

In “When Death Transcends” we read that spiritual and religious matters are often ignored in medical settings. Such resources, however, “may be the only means that patients have of finding comfort” (p. 148). Warraich surveys various religions, including his own, Islam. This is one of the longest chapters in the book and carefully considers the wide range of faiths people have and the regrettable lack of training for doctors in this area.
           

Warraich concludes, “Death needs to be closer to home, preceded by lesser disability and less isolation” (p. 278). For deaths to be “truly modern,” we need to push past taboos and misunderstandings about death. 

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Written on the Body

Winterson, Jeanette

Last Updated: Sep-24-2018
Annotated by:
Galbo, Sebastian

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

In this uncommonly sensual novel, the narrator has neither name nor gender; the object of the narrator’s frenetic love is a woman, Louise, who is married to a prominent medical researcher. The marriage is loveless, without empathy, affection, and sex. Undaunted by Louise’s relationship, the narrator quips knowingly, “Marriage is the flimsiest weapon against desire. You may as well take a pop-up gun to a python” (78). Louise’s marriage eventually crumbles, and the lovers flee. Their happiness, though, is disastrously brief. Louise’s husband, Elgin, discloses to the narrator that, before their affair, Louise was diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia. As a globally distinguished cancer expert, Elgin exacts his revenge on the lovers by promising treatment available only at a clinic abroad, which would force the couple to split. Fearing that Louise will forgo treatment to stay (and eventually die) the narrator writes a letter pleading her to go abroad, then vanishes into the countryside—a decision that haunts the narrator for the rest of the novel.

In rural isolation, the narrator pores obsessively over anatomy books: “Within the clinical language, through the dispassionate view of the sucking, sweating, greedy, defecating self, I found a love-poem to Louise. I would go on knowing her, more intimately than the skin, hair and voice that I craved. I would have her plasma, her spleen, her synovial fluid” (111). In a kind of medicalized elegy, Winterson breaks the novel out into a standalone section divided into individual segments that juxtapose excerpts from anatomical textbooks with deeply felt recollections of the beloved’s leukaemic body. In one section, “The Cells, Tissues, Systems and Cavities of the Body,” the narrator entreats, “Will you let me crawl inside you, stand guard over you, trap them [white T-cells] as they come at you?” (115). Winterson’s narrator, far removed from the realities of Louise’s treatment, apostrophizes her physical features, performing a kind of poetic embalmment of her lover’s body as she once knew it.

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Annotated by:
Teagarden, J. Russell

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

Andrew Solomon’s 2012 book Far From the Tree is a study of families with children who are different in all sorts of ways from their parents and siblings to degrees that altered and even threatened family functions and relationships. Years after its publication, director Rachel Dretzin collaborated with Solomon to produce this documentary based on his book. At the time of filming, the children were already adults or were well into their teens. The film looks at how the families came to accept these children and how they sought—with varying success—happiness.  

The documentary focuses on five family scenarios: homosexuality (Solomon’s own story); Down syndrome; dwarfism; murder; and autism. Anyone in these families or anyone who knew these families would never invoke the familiar idiom “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree” when talking about these children. These apples fell far from the tree, and Solomon builds on that twist to the idiom to characterize the relationship between the affected children and their families as “horizontal.” By extension, Solomon characterizes the relationship of children who are not different from their parents and siblings in any appreciable manner as “vertical.” 

Only one of the original characters from the book appears in the documentary; the other families are newly “cast.” The film captures the lives of these families with all their challenges and successes, and intercuts footage from home videos the families provided. Dretzin also filmed interviews with parents and in some cases their children. The footage and interviews show how families evolved in their acceptance of their children and their situations as best they could. The best was still heartbreak for some, but real happiness was achieved for others. 

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