Showing 101 - 110 of 360 annotations tagged with the keyword "Catastrophe"

The Kite Runner

Hosseini, Khaled

Last Updated: Apr-16-2009
Annotated by:
Shafer, Audrey

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

In his debut novel, Dr. Khaled Hosseini tells a tale that begins in his homeland, Afghanistan, and ends in his adopted country, the United States. Amir, son of a wealthy Pashtun merchant, narrates the story. Amir and his father, Baba, are attended by two Hazara servants, Ali and his hare-lipped son, Hassan. Amir and Hassan are friends, but Amir is troubled by a guilty conscience over multiple slights and sly insults aimed at Hassan. The burden of guilt intensifies over an incident at a kite-flying contest when Amir is twelve years old.

Kite flying in Afghanistan is an intricate affair involving glass-embedded string that contestants use to slice the strings of other kites. The winner is not only the one with the last kite flying, but also the one who catches the last cut kite--the kite runner. At the close of the contest, Amir witnesses the traumatization of his friend Hassan, the finest kite runner, at the hands of an evil youth, Assef. Too shamed to help Hassan, Amir is nearly swallowed by his cowardice: the rest of the story follows the consequences of his guilt.

Amir and Baba emigrate to the United States during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, but Amir, as a young adult, returns during the Taliban regime in order to redeem himself and help Hassan's son. The story is filled with plot twists and revelations of secrets and hidden relationships, which enable Amir to confront some of his shortcomings. The oppression, torture, and murder of Afghanis by the Taliban are graphically depicted.

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Annotated by:
Davis, Cortney

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

Author Jennifer Culkin has been involved, for all of her nursing career, in high stakes, heart stopping, instant-decision-making areas of critical care.  After years working in Neonatal Intensive Care, she became a flight nurse--and giving intensive care to trauma victims while trying to maintain balance and sterile technique in a wind-buffeted helicopter has to be one of the most difficult tasks a nurse might undertake.  Her memoir, A Final Arc of Sky, opens with such a scene.  The patient, Doug, is soon crashing, and the nursing team, Jennifer and her partner, have to make a series of tough decisions (pp. 8-12).  From this scene on, the action rarely wavers.  And although Culkin keeps the pace moving, she is not always, or even most often, telling us about similar traumas.  She deftly weaves her personal narrative--husband and sons and dying parents--in and out of scenes from her nursing career, braiding the plot lines of her life in chapters both moving and compelling. 

In those chapters that deal with the often dangerous helicopter transports Culkin has flown, we learn (and we feel) just what it's like to be a flight nurse crammed in-between patient and helicopter door, juggling instruments that too often slip to the floor and trying to save patients that too often want to die.  In those pages that deal with family, we are privy to Culkin's internal debate about how to separate family from nursing (what she calls "the great neuronal divide between my work and my life" (p.136), and we see that she sometimes doesn't have much energy left at the end of the day to draw close to those she loves.  Part of what makes this memoir difficult to put down is the persona of the narrator herself: Culkin comes across as an honest, often irreverent risk taker, a woman who likes to ride her bike down dangerous hills at breakneck speed and allows her son to do the same (see chapter six, p. 57); a woman who loves the dangerous drama of flight nursing and doesn't worry about crashing (p. 80)--in fact she enjoys strapping herself "into the eye of a maelstrom" (p. 80). 

This memoir entertains, and it provides a glimpse into how some caregivers not only risk their lives to save the lives of others but also shoulder the responsibility of making split second decisions upon which a patient's life might depend.  And there is a surprise in this memoir, one that I can't too fully divulge because to do so would be to rob potential readers of their own discovery.  Suffice it to say that near the end, Culkin reveals something about her own health, an illness she has fought against in every chapter.  When we learn the details of her own illness narrative, we look again, with new understanding, at her fascinating career and her interactions with her loved ones.   

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The Good Priest's Son

Price, Reynolds

Last Updated: Mar-23-2009
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Mabry Kincaid, a New York art conservator is flying home on September 11, 2001, when news comes to him on the plane of the attacks on the World Trade Center.  Unable to return to his apartment in the city, he decides to visit his aging father, an Episcopal priest, in his boyhood home in North Carolina. There he meets Audrey, an African-American seminary student in her forties, who has moved in to care for his disabled father.  In the ensuing weeks Mabry is led to reflect deeply not only on the fate of the country and of his career, but on how his father's apparently final illness compels him to come to new terms with their constrained relationship. The death of the brother Mabry always believed to be the favorite has left a painful chasm between father and son, made more so by his father's own admission of favoritism.

At the same time Mabry is coming to terms with his own diagnosis of multiple sclerosis and with the grief he continues to process since his wife's death from cancer.  Audrey and her son bring a new dimension to the life of the household and a widened sense of family to the two men as they struggle to lay the past to rest and to accept the radical uncertainties of the personal and national future. One interesting subplot involves Mabry's discovery of what is reputed to be a minor, uncatalogued Van Gogh painting, covered by the work of another artist, that he has brought home for his employer, now dead, and his musings about what to do with this undocumented treasure.  The question remains open for symbolic reflection as he leaves it behind in North Carolina and returns to New York for a very different kind of life than the one he left. 

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Annotated by:
Mathiasen, Helle

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: History

Summary:

Testifying to its author's "fascination with death" (324), this scholarly and abundantly illustrated work focuses on the history of the American idea of the Good Death as this concept took shape during the Civil War. Frederic Law Olmstead used the phrase "republic of suffering" to describe the many wounded and dying soldiers being treated at Union hospital ships on the Virginia Peninsula. Faust argues that the task of dealing with more than half a million dead during the War motivated Americans in the North and South to discover cultural and physical measures of interpreting and coping with the suffering and loss that occurred in thousands of families.

The scale of this War was unprecedented due to rifles and railroads; however, Gilpin Faust reminds us that twice as many soldiers died of disease as died of wounds suffered in the conflict. The illnesses were epidemics of measles, mumps and smallpox, then diarrhea and dysentery, typhoid and malaria. Medical care was inadequate; consequently, soldiers and their families turned to spiritual consolation. The Good Death was identified as sacrificing your life for the cause; many  believed in the Christian idea of resurrection and the afterlife. Killing became work,  as African American soldiers fought for "God, race and country" (53), where  Southerners fought to preserve the status quo, including slavery.

Because of the War, public cemeteries and ceremonies, and government's identifying and counting the dead are now taken for granted. Because of the Civil War, bodies of the dead military are today brought back from foreign lands and honored with decent burial: "We still seek to use our deaths to create meaning where we are not sure any exists" (271).

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Strangers on a Train

Highsmith, Patricia

Last Updated: Feb-13-2009
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Up-and-coming architect, Guy Haines, is traveling to Texas to obtain a divorce from Miriam, pregnant with another man’s child. He has nothing but contempt for her and cannot wait to begin a new life with more sophisticated and loving Anne. On the train, he meets slender, disturbing Charles Bruno, who hates his father. With a lot of booze Bruno goads Guy into confessing his hatred for Miriam. Bruno then proposes a double murder plot, where each would kill the other’s problem.  Appalled, Guy leaves, forgetting his book of Plato.

Not ten days later while vacationing with Anne’s family in Mexico, Guy learns from his anxious mother that Miriam has been murdered. Increasingly tormented that the unstable character on the train may have actually done it, Guy finds his life unraveling as Bruno mails evidence that he is Miriam’s killer, threatens to expose Guy as the instigator, and leaves anonymous letters for Anne. Guy’s work suffers. He drinks heavily and slowly sinks into a state where he realizes his only salvation is to kill Bruno’s father according to the precise plans that have repeatedly been sent. He does.

Guy’s career seems to pick up. But Bruno cannot leave him alone. He turns up uninvited at Guy’s wedding and insinuates himself menacingly into his married life. Guy is miserable, but plays along, aware that he has an impulse to defend Bruno as well as himself. He tells many lies and is wracked with guilt. Anne is worried and suspicious. The two men are bound by their secret, which encompasses a kind of animal attraction rooted in the sensation of having taken a life.

Things could continue indefinitely but for Gerard, the persistent but clever detective who worked for Guy’s father. Having known Bruno for years, he already suspects him of his father’s murder; then he finds Guy’s Plato. To say any more would spoil the gripping conclusion.

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Assassination Vacation

Vowell, Sarah

Last Updated: Feb-12-2009
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Investigative Journalism

Summary:

Obsessed with the history of presidential assassinations and captivated by the power of places and objects to evoke the past, the author writes about her travels to the sites commemorating the lives, illnesses, deaths, and burials of Presidents Lincoln, Garfield, and McKinley and of their murderers. The greatest attention is given to Lincoln.

The context of the killings is presented in atmospheric detail and goes well beyond the individual deaths to the political tensions in which they occurred: slavery, the Civil War, the Spanish American War, partisan manipulation, economic strife. Special attention is given to wounds and body parts and to chattels, pus, and bits of bone.

The quirky research method of inveigling a sister and several long-suffering acquaintances (invariably introduced as “my friend XXX”) to drive the author to her desired destinations generates a counterpoint. Perhaps, the spiciest commentary on her investigations comes from the ever reliable insights of Owen, a four-year-old nephew.

This past is also about the physical objects--guns, tombs, statues, letters, plaques, buildings, furniture, and clothing--that memorialize and are fetishized by their contact with greatness. And it is about the people who care for it in the present--the curators, volunteers, collectors, and writers.

An encounter with the marvelous, stunningly beautiful (but now late) Gretchen Worden, curator of Philadelphia’s Mutter Museum, as she speculates on the future of her own corpse, will be a poignant surprise for those who knew her in person or through her many appearances on the Letterman Show (p. 93-99). As Vowell wrote in her acknowledgements (p. 258): “The world is a little less interesting without her in it.” Indeed.

The result is a highly readable set of interconnected chapters that blends extensive knowledge of American history with a fanatic’s zeal to get at the true story, sense, and emotions, especially those investing objects and places with what is called—"wie es eigenlicht gewesen [ist]"--as it really was.

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Beat the Reaper

Bazell, Josh

Last Updated: Jan-26-2009
Annotated by:
Miksanek, Tony

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Pietro Brnwa, nicknamed "The Bearclaw," has embraced change - a new name, a different occupation, and a regenerated outlook. Thanks to the Federal Witness Protection Program, Pietro, who was formerly employed as a hitman by a mafia-connected lawyer, is now Dr. Peter Brown, an intern in the Department of Internal Medicine at Manhattan Catholic Hospital. His career as an assassin was motivated by the desire to avenge the murder of the grandparents who raised him. As a physician, Dr. Brown is paying off a moral debt - doing good deeds to atone for previous acts of violence including killing people.

Unfortunately, life doesn't get any easier for the hit man-turned-physician. Trouble stalks him and finds him. Everyone he loves is lost. In addition to the death of his grandparents, Dr. Brown's girlfriend, Magdalene, is gunned down in a car. His former best friend, "Skinflick" is thrown out of a window of a six-story building, survives, and is later stabbed to death by Dr. Brown.

Life might have been easier if Dr. Brown had not been recognized by a mafia acquaintance named Nicholas LoBrutto who is a patient in Manhattan Catholic Hospital. LoBrutto has stomach cancer and threatens to squeal to Dr. Brown's former crime boss. If Dr. Brown cannot keep LoBrutto alive, the mafia will be notified where to find the physician and he will be eliminated. Dr. Brown assists during LoBrutto's surgery but the mobster experiences ventricular fibrillation postoperatively. Dr. Brown's two medical students mistakenly administer intravenous potassium and LoBrutto dies.

A group of thugs quickly infiltrate the hospital and it appears likely that Dr. Brown will be exterminated. He risks his life to prevent a young woman from having her leg amputated for an erroneous diagnosis. The thugs capture Dr. Brown and detain him in the blood bank freezer. He removes a piece of bone from his own lower leg (an autofibulectomy) to use as a weapon and proceeds to kill the entire gang of murderers. Dr. Brown is sure to be dismissed from Manhattan Catholic Hospital but realizes there is still much he hopes to accomplish as a physician. With some help from friends in the Witness Protection Program (and a likely sequel to this novel on the horizon), it's a good bet that Dr. Brown is not likely to retire his stethoscope (or firearms) anytime soon.

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Unaccustomed Earth

Lahiri, Jhumpa

Last Updated: Jan-06-2009
Annotated by:
Nixon, Lois LaCivita

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Collection (Short Stories)

Summary:

The unusual title is borrowed from Nathaniel Hawthorne's story, "The Custom House," to suggest a shift in fortune when immigrants "strike their roots into unaccustomed earth."  Set almost entirely in the United States (the unaccustomed earth), eight separate stories are connected most obviously by cultural dissonances affecting characters who are Indian or have Indian parents.  Three of the stories, however, are linked by a strong narrative connection that is unexpected, profound, and unforgettable.

For Indian readers, the narratives describe complexities about migration patterns, cultural issues, alienation, and generational differences. The stories deal with well-educated children of immigrants who become offspring their parents barely recognize.  For other readers, the stories reveal situations about families and customs that are strangely familiar, especially those stories dealing with relationships between parents and children.
 
The forces of globalization have created and accelerated shifts that can seem staggering to all parents intent on preserving cultural patterns and traditions. Whether Indian or not, most parents experience a sense of alienation while watching their children flourish in a world that increasingly appears unfamiliar and foreign.

Not surprisingly, the stories concern strains and challenges affecting mixed relationships and/or mixed marriages and stresses on disapproving and disappointed parents, while others focus on children succumbing to drugs and alcohol(for the latter, see annotation of "Only Goodness").  All deal with some kind of emotional loss, but provide connections to feelings experienced by children and their parents in life's quiet and more kinetic negotiations.
 
The first story is about Ruma, a well-educated woman who lives in Seattle with her work-alcoholic American husband, and child, Akash.  Generational and cultural contrasts are revealed in overt and more subtle ways when her recently widowed father arrives for a short visit. Even though Ruma's complete assimilation into her non-Indian home as well as her on-going worries about her father's loneliness are major considerations, another story thread is spun, one that quietly reveals the father's thoughts about himself and a new relationship made recently during a vacation in Europe. Ruma's assumptions about her father, his loneliness, his possible dependency on her, and the Seattle vacation as a possible signal for relocating to her household turn out to be entirely wrong. 
 
The last three stories follow a boy, Kaushik, and girl, Hema, into adulthood.  In the first story, "Once in a Lifetime," Hema recalls her first memory of Kaushik when he was 9 and she was 6. The occasion was a farewell party for Kaushik's parents who were returning from the United States to live in Calcutta. The mothers, who grew up in Calcutta, but met in Cambridge, Massachusetts had become very close and were saddened by this separation.

Seven years pass before Kaushik‘s parents return to the Boston area and stay with Hema's family. Hema found the now 16-year old young man appealing, but brooding and totally uninterested in her. Even though Hema expected Kaushik to be Indian-like in behavior, he was more Americanized than she was. That the family had flown first-class shocked Hema's conservative family as did their new smoking and moderate drinking habits.

After a long search, and to the relief of Hema's parents, Kaushik's family found a  modern house on the North Shore.  Before they moved to their new home, Kaushik surprised Hema with confidential information-- his family had left India to seek treatment in Boston for his mother's breast cancer.  All medical efforts had been unsuccessful and his mother had only a short time to live.  Hema promised to keep this disclosure secret and grieved for the woman she had come to admire and love.
 
The second story in the link, "Year's End," is narrated by Kaushik.  With the opening line, "I did not attend my father's wedding," readers know that Kaushik‘s mother has died.  His father, in Calcutta for a visit, had married Chitra, a woman with two young daughters, and all would be returning to the North Shore house to live. Most of the chapter recounts the ordeal of the mother‘s dying, Kaushik‘s tremendous sense of loss, and the loneliness experienced by him at Swarthmore College.  No mention is made of Hema by the desolate narrator except to remember he had hated every day spent under her parents' roof, but later had come to think of that time with nostalgia.  

"Going Ashore" brings Hema and Kaushik together in Rome where she has a study grant and a visiting lectureship and he is on vacation from his work as an award-winning photo journalist.  Hema's parents have arranged for her to marry Navin in Calcutta.  Navin has accepted a teaching position at MIT. Until her unexpected reunion with Kaushik and the intense love affair that follows, neither had experienced any real connection with another person.  The story about them in Rome seems to represent an independence from the cultural forces that have shaped their lives, but this independence is short lived.  Ultimately, she is unable to set aside the expectations imposed by her parents.  The consequences of their final separation are more than any reader might imagine.

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The Book of Job

Author 2, Unknown

Last Updated: Nov-25-2008
Annotated by:
Holmes, Martha Stoddard

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poems (Sequence)

Summary:

Job, a prosperous but god-fearing man, is stricken with a series of misfortunes, losing his goods, his sons, and his health all as a result of a wager between God and Satan about whether or not a "perfect and upright" man will remain thus under relentless misfortune (1:1). As he sits in ashes, covered with boils, a group of friends come to mourn with and comfort him, sitting beside him for seven days and nights in complete silence "for they saw that his grief was great" (3:13).

Job proves a good bet by never following his wife's advice to "curse God and die," but he does deliver a series of lamentations and questions about his condition, countering his friends' theories about the possible causes (unacknowledged sin, primarily) for his troubles and finally asserting his desire to speak directly to God and ask Him the reason that a good man has been burdened with a host of sorrows (2:9). Job's friends, including a fourth speaker, Elihu, who was probably added into the text by a later writer, reprove him angrily.

God appears suddenly and speaks to Job from within a whirlwind, ending Job's complaints with his chastening response. Rather than offering a rationale for Job's suffering, God reminds him of the limitations of a human perspective. Ultimately God rewards Job and reprimands Job's friends.

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Tree of Hope

Kahlo, Frida

Last Updated: Nov-12-2008
Annotated by:
Woodcock, John

Summary:

This self-portrait includes two images of the artist. The first lies with her back toward us on a hospital gurney, her head to the left, apparently anesthetized. She is wrapped in a white sheet except for her lower back, which is exposed to show two large surgical cuts dripping blood. The second figure sits facing us in a chair in front of the right side of the gurney.

The sitting figure is essentially the familiar Frida Kahlo of many self-portraits--erect, beautifully dressed in colorful Mexican style, and her face composed in spite of the tear on her right cheek. The difference here is the presence of medical paraphernalia. The upright Kahlo holds in her lap a large back brace, and she seems to be simultaneously wearing the same device under her dress. In her right hand she holds a small flag with a Spanish inscription that could be translated: "Tree of hope, stay firm."

The two figures float in space just above a lifeless and deeply eroded desert landscape. In front of them, at the very bottom of the painting, is the suggestion of an abyss. The painting is divided laterally, the left side ruled over by a sun and the darker right side (the figure’s left) ruled by the moon.

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