Showing 1 - 10 of 1249 Fiction annotations

Blue Ticket

Mackintosh, Sophie

Last Updated: Sep-07-2020
Annotated by:
Martel, Rachel

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

In Blue Ticket, Sophie Mackintosh constructs a dystopian vision of modern life for women. Ambiguously set in space and time (given the technology presented we know it takes place around the present day, and not much else), Mackintosh’s universe is one in which a girl’s destiny is set at the time of her first period, when she receives either a white ticket or a blue ticket from the government. These designations are supposedly based on intense scrutiny from the State, and they determine the path each woman will lead. White ticket women, as they’re called, are destined for motherhood, having been deemed worthy of childrearing. Blue ticket women, implanted with a permanent intrauterine device and forbidden from getting pregnant, are bound for the working world, bound for a "free" life that "could change at any time." Each girl must leave her family to start a new life after her ticket is drawn, and the white tickets and blue tickets immediately diverge. The white ticket girls are ferried safely to their destination cities, while the blue ticket girls must brave the open road on foot and alone, fighting for survival and the privilege of an adult life.            

We meet Calla, the narrator, as she teeters on the brink of menarche. One by one her female classmates have disappeared from around her, and she is one of only three girls left in school when her period finally arrives. She draws a blue ticket, and embarks on a new life as a chemist, initially living the free and unencumbered life that blue ticket women are supposed to lead. Yet desire for a child smolders inside her, a “dark” feeling that crawls under her skin until it is impossible to ignore. Desperate, Calla removes her IUD and finds a man, known only as R, to unwittingly father her child. When R learns what she has done he turns his back on her, disgusted by her aberrant behavior.            

Calla’s illicit pregnancy is communicated to the government by her doctor, known as Doctor A. In this world, citizens are required to meet with their doctor regularly, and the doctors, who act as a hybrid between therapist and primary care provider, report their patients’ thoughts and behaviors to the government. Doctor A offers to terminate the pregnancy with no consequences, but Calla refuses, a decision from which there is no coming back. Calla is provided with a backpack of basic survival tools and a map, and told that she must be prepared to flee to the border at any moment—the government will give her a head start to reward her years of loyal service, but even so, they’re sure to find her before she can cross.                  

The question of what will happen if she is caught haunts Calla as her pregnancy progresses and she awaits the signal to flee. When it finally arrives, in the form of government emissaries on her doorstep, Calla’s final view of her old life as she speeds away is of her neighbors destroying her home. On the road, Calla is once again alone and vulnerable. Strangers, eager to take advantage of a lone woman, pose a more immediate threat than the government. Yet Calla’s outlook takes a turn for the better when she meets Marisol, a self-assured blue ticket woman who is also pregnant and headed for the border. The two protect each other, and as time goes on they are joined by other blue ticket women on the run, and one white ticket woman, who fears returning to her husband after an illegal abortion. Determined to escape the lives chosen for them, their freedom rests not only on their individual tenacity, but also on their ability to help each other. Yet the question of who to trust looms large, and casts a shadow as they flee towards a new life.

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Beloved

Morrison, Toni

Last Updated: Aug-15-2020
Annotated by:
Brinker, Dustin

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Set in the 19th century United States, Beloved follows a formerly enslaved woman named Sethe and the lives of those closest to her. Sethe lives in a house known only as 124 outside of Cincinnati, Ohio. Not only is the house inhabited by Sethe and her eighteen-year-old daughter Denver, but it is also haunted by a poltergeist. 124 had been a gathering place for the area’s black community, led by the middle-aged Baby Suggs, another formerly enslaved woman. Prior to their move to Ohio, she and Sethe were held captive on the same Kentucky plantation called Sweet Home. Sethe was purchased for this plantation after Baby Suggs had been bought out by her son Halle who outsourced his labor in order to do so. Halle and Sethe were allowed to marry by the owners of the plantation, resulting in the birth of three children—two boys and a girl. In comparison to most other plantations, Sweet Home provided liberties rarely afforded to enslaved people, including choice of marriage, use of guns, lack of physical and humiliating punishment, input into work practices, and the aforementioned buy-out of Baby Suggs.

Conditions change once Sweet Home’s owner dies of a stroke and his widow brings in her brother-in-law and his young nephews to help run Sweet Home; the small liberties granted to the enslaved people are revoked by the new leadership, and cruelties ensue. The enslaved people, including Halle and a man named Paul D, plot to escape north; however, Sethe and her children are the only ones who succeed in doing so, only after she is violated by the nephews and brutally whipped by the brother-in-law for informing him of the assault. These events and Sethe’s flight are complicated by her near-full-term pregnancy. Approaching death from exhaustion and exposure, she is saved by a white girl who helps Sethe give birth. Her daughter is named Denver after the contextually benevolent white girl.

Carrying her newborn, Sethe arrives at 124, greeted by her other three children, into the care of Baby Suggs. The bittersweet happiness of her arrival without Halle is marred one month later by the arrival of a team intending to reclaim Sethe and her kids for Sweet Home. Rather than allow herself and her children to be forced back into slavery, Sethe intends to commit infanticide and suicide, succeeding in the murder of her older daughter. This action effectively prevents them from being taken, and Sethe is exonerated of her charges. Despite this, her act of desperation crushes her family, eventually leading to Baby Suggs’ death and to the flight of her sons from the household. Eighteen years later, Paul D arrives at 124. He begins a relationship with Sethe and manages to evict the poltergeist.

Soon thereafter, a strange woman arrives by the name of Beloved, the word Sethe had engraved on her child’s tombstone. Sethe is initially unaware of the stranger’s origins, and Paul D is effectively forced out by the new arrival. Once Beloved’s identity as the deceased child is understood, she, Sethe, and Denver become wrapped up in each other, blurring the lines of their identity. Sethe loses her job, but Denver manages to extricate herself to find work. Hearing of the family’s plight at the hands of the “unholy” Beloved, thirty black women of the area band together to purge 124 of her presence. Beloved leaves without a trace. Paul D eventually returns to 124, and memories of Beloved slowly fade into oblivion.

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Summary:

Doctor’s Choice is a collection of 16 stories by authors from and well known in the early-to-mid 20th century. I offer four summaries of the stories that I am considering using in teaching.

“Rab and His Friends” by John Brown, MD, was originally published in 1859 and is sometimes referred to as young adult literature. It was one of Brown’s most successful works. The story is told in the voice of a medical student, “John”, and begins with his reminiscence of six years earlier when he first met the old “huge mastiff” Rab, and his “master”, a carrier named James Noble. John, who had befriended Rab during medical school, next sees him ‘one fine October day’ as he was leaving the hospital. Rab was with James who was bringing his wife, Ailie, to see a doctor because “she’s got a trouble in her breest…” (p.37). Examination showed no doubt that the tumor needed to be removed. Having survived the breast amputation (without anesthesia and observed by the narrator and his fellow students), four days later Ailie’s delirium set in. With James by her side, and with tender caring, Ailie died a few days later. Soon after James took to bed “and soon died…The grave was not difficult to reopen. A fresh fall of snow had again made things white and smooth; Rab once more looked on, and slunk home to the stable” (p.46). The next week John sought out the new carrier who took over James’s business to ask about Rab. The new carrier tried to brush him off—but admitted he killed the dog, explaining that the dog was inconsolable and that he had to “brain him wi’ a rack-pin….I could do naething else”(p.46). John thought it a fitting end… “His teeth and his friends gone, why should he keep the peace and be civil?”

“Miracle of the Fifteen Murderers” by Ben Hecht, was originally published in Collier’s Magazine in 1943. The narrator of this story passes along a tale he heard from an elderly friend, a physician who was one of 15 eminent physicians that formed a secret group meeting quarterly to discuss the ‘medical murders’ they had committed. The group had been meeting for the past 20 years, but had disbanded due to the outbreak of WWII—“The world, engaged in re-examining its manners and soul, had closed the door on minor adventure” (p.139). The last meeting of the group is the subject of the tale and it describes how the newest member, a young surgeon, tricked the group into providing the diagnosis for a patient this doctor, Samuel Warner, was struggling to care for. Warner explained that his patient—who he had befriended--, a young Negro boy of “seventeen, was an amazingly talented [poet whose work] “was a cry against injustice. Every kind of injustice. Bitter and burning,” (p.149). After working hard for 2 weeks to save his life, and realizing that his diagnosis of ulcerative colitis was wrong, Warner’s scheme (a feigned medical murder) got the eminent physicians to the diagnosis: a fishbone had caused the perforation that was threatening the poet’s life. Grabbing his hat and coat—and after thanking the doctors for the diagnosis- Warner is off to save his patient’s life. A half-hour later, rising to the call as well, the other 14 doctors joined Warner in the operating room to view the life-saving procedure, allowing one of the eminent physicians to remark with a soft cackle, that “the removal of this small object….will enable the patient to continue writing poetry denouncing the greeds and horrors of our world” (p. 154). 

There was no original publication date for “The White Cottage” by L.A.G. Strong, but it has been anthologized since at least 1940. The narrator tells of a visit by a locum town-based doctor to an island nearby to help a woman give birth at her home. The perilous journey from the town to the island with the expectant father and a neighbor as navigators and rowers ends with all thoroughly drenched from a storm after nearly capsizing. Realizing that the doctor has no dry clothes to change into, the couple offers him the husband’s flannel nightgown and a blanket. The doctor, after checking the wife and estimating a number of hours of labor ahead, goes to the living room by the fire. Fearing he’s still chilled, the couple decides to make room in their bed for him. After hesitating for a moment, he climbs in next to the husband. After some small talk and an ‘order’ for the soon-to-be mother to lay on her side and have her husband rub her back, the doctor begins to assess the situation he finds himself in: “Right living was not obedience to rule: it was a balance, renewed each instant, like a tight-rope walker’s, a tension between opposites. Here, for a moment, in this bed, in this cottage, in this tiny focus of life, beneath storm and towering sky, was wisdom. Men did not possess wisdom. It possessed them. Like a light, it flickered here and there over the vast dark mass of humanity, illuminating briefly every now and then a single understanding. Here, for the moment, it possessed him; and by its light he gave thanks, and loved all men” (p. 249). After a successful delivery (and some celebratory drink and breakfast), the doctor was off to his town with a promise to return for a checkup. His new friend demurred. “No trouble man. It’s a pleasure—besides being my plain duty. Mind you, she’ll be right as rain. But I’ll come” (p.252), responded the doctor. After a silent handshake, and suddenly finding “eyes full of tears … he clambered into the boat” (p. 252).

“Doc Mellhorn and the Pearly Gates” by Stephen Vincent Benet was originally published in 1929. The story begins with an in-depth description of a humble, impish (having mastered many diversionary tricks), and independent small town doctor and the place he practices, but quickly moves to much larger realms through Benet’s use of magical realism. Doc Mellhorn has died but has not fully landed in his final destination, heaven, and decides to spend a bit of time in hell first because of the perceived lack of opportunity to practice medicine in heaven (and an off-putting encounter with an overly officious clerk at the pearly gates). When he gets to hell, he gets to work on setting up a clinic—“mostly sprains, fractures, bruises and dislocations, of course, with occasional burns and scalds… [reminding him] a good deal of his practice in Steeltown, especially when it came to foreign bodies in the eye” (p.23). After a number of months, and a confrontation with another officious bureaucrat, Doc got back on the road to his original destination, giving him some time to think about whether he was deserving of that final abode. “I’m a doctor. I can’t work miracles,” he thought. “Then the black fit came over him and he remembered all the times he’d been wrong and the people he couldn’t do anything for” (p.28).  Landing for a second time at the pearly gates, he finds family waiting for him with assurances that there’s more than just eternal peace in heaven. “They wouldn’t all arrive in first-class shape," (p.31) explains his Uncle Frank, assuring him that there will be lots of work for him to do. Uncle Frank also lets him know that a delegation is coming to meet him since Doc had “broken pretty near every regulation except fire laws, and refused the Gate first crack” (p. 32). Then, out of a phalanx of famous doctors (from a list that Doc began to create during his first, shortened visit), appeared—with “winged staff entwined with two fangless serpents”-- his top choice--- Aesculapius. “The bearded figure stopped in front of Doc Mellhorn. Welcome brother, said Aesculapius. It’s an honor to meet you, Doctor, said Doc Mellhorn. He shook the outstretched hand. Then he took a silver half dollar from the mouth of the left-hand snake” (p.32). ….I laughed out loud—and couldn’t imagine a better ending.




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Brave Story

Miyabe, Miyuki

Last Updated: Jul-20-2020
Annotated by:
Brinker, Dustin

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Wataru Mitani is an average fifth-grade student in east Tokyo. Rumors of ghosts in a deserted, semi-built edifice lead this young boy and his friend Katchan to investigate it on their own. The next school day, they learn of a new transfer student named Mitsuru, a mysterious, handsome young boy whose standoffishness and manner of speaking make others think he’s far older than a middle-schooler. He becomes a centerpiece of the ghost rumors when he seems to accidentally take a picture of one while on an art class outing near the building. Meanwhile, Wataru starts hearing a mysterious voice at his home. He convinces himself that it’s a fairy à la his favorite video game, pushing him to follow Mitsuru’s lead and take pictures around his room in the hopes of catching a glimpse of the voice’s owner.  

Trouble begins for Wataru during a visit from his paternal Uncle Lou when the two decide to investigate the abandoned building. After his uncle steps away to take a call, Wataru sees a golden door appear within the building, out from which steps Mitsuru. Both boys are shocked. Mitsuru immediately returns through the door, and Wataru attempts to follow him. Through the door, Wataru finds himself falling a great distance. He lands in a desert and shortly thereafter becomes surrounded by strange wolves with large, corkscrew mouths. He is saved by a wandering humanoid bird who reveals that he is known as a karulahkin and that the world they are in is known as Vision.  

Our protagonist then awakens in the home of the building’s owner with his Uncle Lou at hand. When Lou attempts to take Wataru back to his hotel for the night, the boy forces out the truth: his father had called when they were in the building to inform Lou that he has decided to leave the household, divorce Wataru’s mother, and start a new life with an old lover. The entire family is devastated. Soon thereafter, Mitsuru goes missing, and Wataru overhears his mother gossiping about the murder-suicide of Mitsuru’s family by his father. That night, Wataru is awoken by the appearance of Mitsuru, dressed as a sorcerer, who explains that he has been chosen as a Traveler to journey through Vision in the hopes of meeting the Goddess of Destiny and changing his fate. He gives Wataru a pendant that should allow him to do the same once he travels through the gate in the abandoned building. Mitsuru then disappears, leaving Wataru to begin his adventure to Vision.

Once back in Vision, Wataru again meets the wizard, and he explains that Wataru must collect five gemstones and place them in hilt of this sword to gain access to the Tower of Destiny and meet the Goddess. On the way to the nearest town, he meets the lizardman Kee Keema who transports Wataru to the city, explaining the political situation of Vision along the way. The world is divided between those who believe in the Goddess and those who believe in the Old God, a deity purported to surpass the Goddess in every way. Followers of the latter are mainly ankha, what is known in the real world as  human, and they espouse great intolerance to the world’s humanoid, animal inhabitants, known as beastkin. Kee Keema agrees to accompany Wataru on his journey. Over the course of the next few days, Wataru’s main party and alliances are established: Kee Keema and another beastkin named Meena will accompany him across Vision. As they get into various mishaps, the group encounters Mitsuru, now a powerful sorcerer with no concern for the death and destruction his magic causes. The boys come to learn that Vision is a reflection of their own imagination and understanding of life. It is further revealed that the appearance of two Travelers is an omen of a thousand-year sacrifice demanded by the Goddess: two people, one a citizen of Vision and the other a Traveler, are chosen to give their lives and act as the Barrier of Light to protect Vision and the real world.

A competition arises between the two boys from Japan, each thinking that the sacrifice will be the one who completes the journey last. Wataru is always one step behind Mitsuru in his collection of the gemstones, culminating in a final clash where Mitsuru destroys the entirety of an imperial capital, virtually eradicates all citizens, and unleashes a demon horde that had only been kept at bay by the final gemstone. Escaping the carnage, Wataru manages to gather four gemstones and is transported to the Tower of Destiny, the final trial from which only Wataru emerges alive. At the apex of the tower, he finally meets the Goddess. His wish is spent, not on himself, but on the salvation of Vision from the demon hordes. Returning to the real world, Wataru uses his knowledge and growth from Vision to handle the fallout of his home situation, supporting his mother as they transition into their new lives.  


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Dr. Futurity

Dick, Philip

Last Updated: Jun-29-2020
Annotated by:
Brinker, Dustin

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Jim Parsons is a physician living in an alternate 2012, one equipped with technology mildly superior to our own. While on his way to work, his car is abducted from the road and thrown off the natural path of life as we know it, both physically and temporally. Parsons finds himself in the distant future, roughly three centuries from his own, in a monoethnic society of young beings that resulted after generations of war led by people of color against the white domination of the A.D. era. The true ideology of the society is revealed when Parsons saves the life of a political radical, a proponent of the re-outlawed women’s suffrage. As he is taken into custody and processed for the crime of preserving life, the leader of the society, Al Stenog, describes the societal fetishization of death resulting from government-controlled population limits. Natural birth has been outlawed, enforced via early sterilization of males and a strictly monitored, equivalent exchange of deaths and births. Genetic material is selected via a tribal selection process based upon quantifiable measures of beauty and intelligence, whereby the fertile matriarch of the dominant tribe becomes the Mother Superior from whom eggs are harvested. The eugenic ideology extends into one’s conception of self—those currently living believe themselves to be genetically inferior to the zygotes housed in the government’s central repository. As a result, the society is described as being an amalgamation of all races of color whose average age is 15.

Stenog exiles Parsons to Mars, but his transport is intercepted by the masterminds behind his time travel. This group, now the genetically dominant tribe, explains their motive—the revival of their ideological patriarch. He has been cryogenically preserved for 35 years following an arrow to the heart. Parsons manages to save his life, but the patriarch is shortly thereafter found dead, his heart once again pierced with an arrow. It is revealed that the tribe intends to systematically eradicate all European colonization efforts in history, intending to halt centuries of white oppression; the patriarch had been stabbed during his attempt to begin the tribe’s crusade with the elimination of Sir Francis Drake in 1579. Returning to that time, Parsons discovers two startling facts: Stenog had traveled back to replace Drake, implying that all colonizers were from the future, and Parsons was the true killer of the patriarch, albeit accidentally. Despite the ensuing fallout involving much time travel, Parsons is returned to his own time, spared from temporal exile by his future children spawned from the impregnation of the Mother Superior.

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The Winter Soldier

Mason, Daniel

Last Updated: Jun-20-2020
Annotated by:
Field, Steven

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

When The Winter Soldier opens, Lucius Kszelewski, youngest son of a patrician Polish family living in Vienna, is on a train bound in the dead of winter for a field hospital in the Carpathian Mountains.  It is 1915, and Austria-Hungary is at war with Russia.  Lucius, a medical student, has completed only six semesters of medical school, but World War I has intervened, and due to a shortage of physicians in the army the government has decreed that students may graduate early, become doctors, and immediately be commissioned.   Lucius has done so and is on his way to Lemnowice, a Galician village, where he believes he will work with other physicians and finally learn to be “a real doctor.” 

When he arrives, he finds that the hospital is an expropriated village church overrun by rats and ravaged by typhus, and he is the only physician.  The hospital is run by a nun, Sister Margarete, assisted only by orderlies, and the patient load runs the gamut from fractures and gunshot wounds to gangrenous legs and massive head trauma.  The front is only a few kilometers away, and the wounded arrive continuously; the quiet and formal Sister Margarete confidently and  surreptitiously guides him through rounds, surgeries, and battlefield medicine.  Lucius is initially wary of her, perhaps a bit awed by her, and ultimately falls in love with her.    

The transforming event is the arrival of the winter soldier, Jozsef Horvath, brought in from the snow mute and shell-shocked, but with no visible wounds.  Lucius is fascinated by diseases of the brain and mind, and this patient presents a tremendous challenge.  Lucius is sure that Horvath has “war neurosis,” what the British physicians of the time were calling shell shock and what we today would call PTSD, and he is determined to understand and heal him.  Lucius and Margarete make slow progress with their patient, but his attempts to care for Horvath have unintended effects, and Lucius must then deal with the consequences of his actions.  

The war, and the hospital routine, go on.  One day, while Lucius and Margarete are relaxing in the woods, Lucius asks her to marry him.  Margarete runs off, and Lucius returns to the village, but Margarete is not there.  While Lucius and the staff search for her, Lucius gets lost; he stumbles onto a battlefield and is dragooned into service with a regiment of the Austrian infantry.  He escapes and tries to make his way back to the field hospital, and to Margarete, but Lemnowice has fallen to the Russians.  The hospital has been evacuated—and Margarete has disappeared.   Lucius’ search for her will take him across the war-torn remnant of the Empire.

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The Eye in the Door

Barker, Pat

Last Updated: Jun-08-2020
Annotated by:
Field, Steven

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

The Eye in the Door is the second volume in Pat Barker’s Regeneration trilogy (the first and third volumes, Regeneration and The Ghost Road are also annotated in this database).  It continues the story of Dr. William Rivers and the soldiers he treats for shell shock, what we today would call Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, in World War I era Britain.  The action has now shifted from Craiglockhart War Hospital, near Edinburgh, to London; and while Rivers remains a primary character, seeing patients now at a London clinic, this volume focuses on Rivers’ relationship with Billy Prior, an officer who was treated at Craiglockhart after a service-related nervous breakdown. 

Billy Prior, released from service on the Front and now serving on “home duty,” is working in the Intelligence Unit of the Ministry of Munitions, a domestic information-gathering and surveillance unit.  England, on wartime footing, is rife with paranoia and conspiracy theories, and the primary objects of state surveillance are two groups of people felt to be disloyal or untrustworthy:  conscientious objectors, or “conchies,” and homosexuals, who are seen as both abnormal and subversive.  The state is unremitting in its hounding and pursuit of these two groups, and is in fact “the eye in the door,” always watching and ready to pounce. 

Although Billy is an officer and has a position in the surveillance apparatus, he is living a double life, and is doubly at risk in this environment.  He is bisexual; the book opens with him failing to complete the seduction of a young woman and promptly thereupon having a liaison with a fellow officer whose wife and children are out of town.  This officer, who also works in the Ministry, has been vaguely threatened about his association with the presumed network of homosexual subversives.   In addition, while Billy is not a pacifist, he has friends from his childhood in working-class northern England who are conscientious objectors.  These friends may or may not have participated in terrorist activities, are either currently in jail or wanted by the police, and are no surer than Billy is as to exactly whose side he is on.  

Prior plays a dangerous double game, attempting to use his position in the government to help his old friends, and continuing treatment with Dr. Rivers, as his past psychological traumas continue to intrude upon, and complicate, his personal and professional lives, building to a powerful conclusion.

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Annotated by:
Brinker, Dustin

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Graphic Novel

Summary:

Compendium 1 (Volumes 1-8)
Taking place in a post-apocalyptic United States, these graphic novels follow the life and legacy of a former county police officer named Rick Grimes as he and those he encounters learn to survive and thrive in a world beset by zombies. The story begins in medias res as Rick awakens from a coma after being shot on the job a few weeks earlier. He finds himself in a seemingly deserted hospital and stumbles upon a sealed room, inside which walks dozens of decaying, groaning human bodies seeking to consume him. He flees the hospital to find a desolate landscape. In his home neighborhood, he runs into a father and son who tell him that the last national broadcast said for people to head to large cities for military protection. Thinking that his wife and son may have heeded the advice, Rick gathers what he can from police headquarters and begins toward Atlanta, the nearest large city. Galloping into Atlanta on horseback, he is overwhelmed by a large number of the undead. A young man named Glenn comes to his rescue, bringing him to a makeshift camp of roughly a dozen people. There, Rick finds his wife and 7-year-old son Carl along with his former police partner and a young woman named Andrea. Mishaps and death ensue, forcing the group to travel in search of more secure housing and food. It is revealed that everyone will become one of the undead upon death, bitten or not.  They eventually find a prison after leaving behind a small farm run by a tightknit, religious family with skewed notions of the undead, one member of which, Maggie, becomes romantically involved with Glenn and joins Rick’s group. After ridding the grounds of the undead, termed Roamers, the group encounters inmates who had been holed up inside. Conflict follows distrust, yet the leadership remains with Rick’s group. The group’s numbers are bolstered when a middle-aged black woman named Michonne arrives carrying a katana and accompanied by two jawless, undead guards. Soon after, the group encounters Woodbury, a hostile community led by a man calling himself the Governor. Members are taken hostage, and Michonne is brutally tortured and raped. The group manages to escape and return to the prison, but only after Michonne returns to claim revenge on the Governor, torturing, maiming, and leaving him for dead. The Governor survives and leads an assault on the prison, resulting in the separation of most characters and the deaths of many others, including Rick’s wife and their recently delivered baby. Only Rick and Carl are shown leaving the carnage alive.  

Compendium 2 (Volumes 9-16)
Rick and Carl survive on their own for a bit until they encounter three individuals in a large truck heading to Washington D.C. They are under the false assumption that one of the new group’s members, Eugene, knows how to cure the undead pandemic. Shortly after discovering his falsehood, the group is introduced to and integrated into a walled community near DC known as Alexandria, a haven of houses, electricity, and running water. Battles arise with scavengers, resulting in compromised walls, injury, and more death. While searching for supplies, the group encounters a man dubbed Jesus who is acting as a recruiter for another walled off community called the Hilltop. Rick ventures to the Hilltop with the hopes of rebuilding civilization, only to learn that their community is plagued by a pseudo-mercenary group known as the Saviors; “protection” from Roamers is forced upon the Hilltop by the Saviors in exchange for half of all food and supplies. To free the Hilltop and gain favor for trade, Rick agrees to challenge and eliminate the Saviors along with their leader Negan.

Compendium 3 (Volumes 17-24)
Upon confrontation, the Saviors pin Rick’s vanguard, and Negan savagely kills Glenn in front of a pregnant Maggie, using a barbed-wire-wrapped baseball bat named Lucille to do so. Negan forces obeisance from Rick, albeit under a vow from Rick to kill him. Returning to Alexandria, Rick’s group returns to normalcy, appearing to acquiesce to the demands of Negan. Unbeknownst to most of those under his care, Rick embarks with Jesus to enlist the leader of another community known as the Kingdom in an allied war effort against Negan and the Saviors. Rick’s arrival coincides with that of Negan’s lieutenant Dwight who also seeks to overthrow Negan. The four of them begin war preparations. Despite misfortunes, the allied group comes out victorious. Rather than kill Negan, Rick vows to keep him prisoner for life so that he may see how the communities rebuild civilization. The following new leadership is established: Rick and Andrea, now romantically involved, as the heads of Alexandria; Dwight as commander of the Saviors and their community, the Sanctuary; and Maggie as the chief of the Hilltop. The four communities effectively rebuild a functional society in the next two years, establishing a safe trade route and taking in stragglers as they find them. Eventually the communities face a new danger in the form of a wild group called the Whisperers, who disguise themselves in the skins of Roamers and follow a wolfpack social hierarchy, when they accidentally encroach on the unmarked territory of the latter. The leader of this group, known as Alpha, infiltrates the first community fair held by Rick’s people, covertly snatches away many members, and uses their undead heads as signposts to mark the boundary between territories.

Compendium 4 (Volumes 25-32)
In the shuffle of Rick and his communities declaring war on the Whisperers, Negan jailbreaks and manages to kill Alpha as a sign of good faith with Rick. The established communities survive the war, suffering enormous casualties in the elimination of the Whisperers. Meanwhile, Eugene discovers the existence of another large community in Ohio using a repaired CB radio. A team, including Eugene and Michonne, gathers for the long journey there. The results are beyond reasoning: an incredibly large community dubbed the Commonwealth. This community gives the appearance that an apocalypse never occurred, relying upon the class system of the old, pre-undead world to establish order. Amazingly, Michonne reconnects with one of her long-lost daughters and chooses to remain in the Commonwealth by resuming her old vocation as a lawyer. She attempts to mitigate underlying tensions between the classes of this newfound community, but ultimately fails to quell the waves of indignation and retribution from the labor classes towards their privileged elite. Rick and his crew inadvertently add the final spark to the brewing civil war within the Commonwealth, a war which is only narrowly stopped through Rick’s diplomacy and abdication of leadership from current governor. Despite the now solidified union of a new civilization, Rick is murdered by the self-righteous son of the deposed leader, never living to see the fruition of the new coalition. The story ends from the perspective of Carl living in a civilized, nearly undead-free world decades after Rick’s death. The final events reveal the glorification of Rick Grimes and his contributions during what is now known as the Trials.  

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The Flight Portfolio

Orringer, Julie

Last Updated: May-21-2020
Annotated by:
Trachtman, Howard

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction — Secondary Category: Literature /

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Historical fiction, the artistic space that exists between actual persons and events and a writer’s imaginative ability to create a new story, is an established genre. The narrative usually is told by someone whose name does not appear in history books but who was a firsthand witness to events as they unfolded and the people who influenced their course. A variant are novels that are written from the perspective of someone who is in fact part of the historical record but is either unappreciated or overlooked. The extraordinary success of Hilary Mantel’s trilogy of Elizabethan novels written in the voice of Thomas Cromwell, a chief minister to King Henry VIII, attests to the appeal of this format. Julie Orringer’s wonderful book “The Flight Portrait,” falls nicely into this category.

The novel is written through the eyes of Varian Fry. His name is not well known today. But he was a well-regarded journalist who wrote from Berlin in The Living Age and the New York Times about Hitler’s savage treatment of the Jews in Germany in the mid-1930s, well before most of the world came to realize the existential threat posed by the Nazi regime. After a brief period in the United States, he returned to Europe in 1940 and formed the Emergency Rescue Committee (ERC). Over the next year, with money that he helped raise, Fry was able to help over 2,000 embattled artists, scientists, philosophers, and writers to escape Europe and find safe haven in the US. Among those Fry saved were Andre Breton, Marc Chagall, Jacques Lipchitz, Hannah Arendt, Max Ophuls, Arthur Koester and Claude Levi-Strauss. It is hard to imagine the counterfactual, a world deprived of the contribution of these people because they perished in Europe. The novel details the complications, emotional and physical, that Fry, a non-Jew from a wealthy family, endured as he arranged for safe passage across the Pyrenees or by boat out of Marseilles for his anxious petitioners. The fraught negotiations with Vichy officials and the against the grain support he received from some heroic individuals in the US consulate, specifically Hiram Bingham IV, are played across the taut chapters. The title refers to a collection of unique artworks that the artists created to call attention to their plight and help raise funds for the ERC. The tension is palpable, the threat is real, and outcome uncertain until the end. It is an intelligent and engrossing read.

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The Bridge in the Jungle

Traven, B.

Last Updated: May-15-2020
Annotated by:
Ratzan, Richard M.

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

The Bridge in the Jungle is a novel about the tragic death of Carlos, an 8 or 9 year old (no age is given) hyperactive Mexican boy, and the aftermath of his mother's overwhelming grief for him, sometime in the early 20th Century in a very poor village deep in the jungle. (The lack of specific details are intentional, as I shall discuss below.) The narrator is an American man staying in the village while looking for alligator skins and bird feathers to sell in the U.S.. He observes the little boy's brother, who works in the oil industry in Texas and has just returned for the weekend, give his little brother brand new shoes. Carlos is overjoyed to wear them since all the villagers but the pump master's wife wear threadbare rags for clothes. This is the little boy's first pair of shoes, much less shiny new American ones. While sitting outside in the village with his host, both waiting for an outdoor party, the narrator hears an ominous splash that is Carlos falling to his death off the treacherous bridge, a bridge that has no railings. The remainder of the novel depicts the grief of the young mother - a grief that reaches the suffocating proportions of Greek tragedy - and her villagers' genuine support.

Described in minute detail by the narrator, the villagers - who have turned over every stone in the woods, dived many times in the river, and ridden to nearby villages to find Carlos - turn to an old man who requests a perfectly flat piece of wood and a stout candle. He then meticulously fastens the candle to the wood and carefully launches this raft of mystical exploration and recovery on the river. Every villager watches this ceremony with rapt attention. It is truly a riveting passage, for the raft travels under its own power from the river bank against the current, meandering slowly towards the bridge where it finally stops, despite the current, under the bridge, the only place no diver has yet looked:
"The board in the meanwhile has wandered farther under the bridge, but always in a right angle to the fifth post. Now it is under the middle of the bridge. From here it sails towards the fourth post, though only for about a foot. And here it stops as if it were nailed to the water. It does not mind the current nor the light breeze that sweeps softly across the surface of the river. The manner in which the board has halted is entirely different from that in which it stopped before. Now and then it trembles slightly, as if something were breathing against it from below. But it no longer whirls. ... The board begins softly to dance as if impatient. It seems that it wants to be relieved of its torture. It wriggles, swings about itself, though it does not move as much as two inches. One might think it is trying to go down to the bottom."
(page 110-1)
A villager dives and retrieves Carlos and hands his body to his mother:
"With an indescribable nobility and solemnity, and in his eyes that pitiful sad look which only animals and primitive people possess, he steps slowly forward. And Perez, the man whose daily task it is to fell the hard trees of the jungle and convert them into charcoal, lays that little water-soaked body in the outstretched arms of the mother with a tenderness that makes one think of glass so thin and fragile that a single soft breath could break it."
(page 113)
The villagers, in a procession that is tragicomic, take Carlos' body to the graveyard where a well respected teacher, now drunk from all the mescal others have offered him, gives an eulogy that suggests Christ's Sermon on the Mount. However, with inverted symbolism, this sermon is for, not by, Jesus and is delivered by a drunken priest-figure who is so drunk he falls into the open grave. To Traven's credit he introduces this farcical moment to emphasize how none of the villagers, much less the author, and, consequently, the reader, laughs at a decent man trying his best to honor Carlos. It is truly a most moving finale to a most moving book.



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