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Summary:This remarkable collection of short writings, introduced by renowned poet Naomi Shihab Nye, who visited the Sutterwriters (of Sutter Hospital in Sacramento, California) to offer a workshop, provides a broad, compassionate, imaginative window into the life inside and around an urban hospital. Patients, staff, and all interested in healing through writing are invited to come and participate-with an accent on the latter: no one is invited who isn't willing to write.
This novel of a commercial fisherman's family centers on the son, Neil Kruger, as he struggles to survive on a life raft after a comber, a huge wave, sinks his boat. The book combines his memories of growing up at Half Moon Bay south of San Francisco--the harsh lessons of the sea, his laconic father Ernie, and a disintegrating family--with the story of the illegal activities that led to this last run and his efforts to live.
Death is ever-present for fishermen. Throughout the book, the intimate killing of fish caught one by one is juxtaposed with the constant threat of human loss due to wind, storm, fog, rock, cold and waves. It is a hard-scrabble existence, as over-fishing, pollution, and price control by a few influential merchants combine to depress the fishing business.
As a boy, Neil is told by his mother not to become a fisherman. But then it is she who commands him to join his father one night. This conflict of loyalties, to the land and the sea, to his mother and his father, to religion with its hope of divine intervention and nature with its insensate brutality, cause a tension in Neil that leads him to reflect on his roles as dutiful son, eldest brother and future fisherman.
Neil's memories contain many traumatic events: the rescue of survivors from a hospital ship sunk in a collision with a tanker, the immigration tales of the tightly knit group of Half Moon Bay fishermen, the attempted rescue of one of these men during a storm, and the misadventure during a fishing escapade with his friends, including a wheelchair bound boy with polio. In addition, Neil recalls his father's worsening debility and subsequent post-operative and post-anesthetic problems. By the end of the book, the time frame of Neil's memories converges with his current crisis and time itself becomes as vast and unknowable as the sea.
Chicago architect Stourley Kracklite (Brian Dennehy) and his much younger, beautiful wife, Louisa (Chloe Webb), arrive in Italy to work for a year preparing an exhibition on his hero, the post-revolutionary French architect, Etienne-Louis Boullée (d. 1799). They make love as the train enters Italy; however, he scarcely looks at his wife again. On the evening of his welcoming dinner--set in the piazza in front of the Pantheon--Kracklite is wracked by the first of the endless, excruciating pains in his belly.
Louisa is pregnant, but in boredom and frustration, she takes an Italian lover, Caspasian (Lambert Wilson). The dashing, young architect has designs on the American's exhibition as well as on his wife; his photographer sister, Flavia, shares the intrigue. Kracklite entertains the hypothesis that his unfaithful wife is trying to poison him. A doctor tells him that the sinister pains are due to his lifestyle, but he does not believe this diagnosis and drifts into a subdued paranoia with delusions of persecution and of grandeur.
Obsessed with the shapes and contents--the architecture and the anatomy--of bellies in sculpture, painting, and photography, Kracklite photocopies ever larger and larger images which he "maps" on to his own prodigious abdomen. He writes postcards to Boulleé pouring out his fears. He identifies with Roman emperors, Christ, and Isaac Newton, to whom Boullée designed a never-constructed, hemispheric cenotaph, the belly-like model of which appears often, recapitulating Kracklite's obsession and Louisa's pregnancy.
After he learns he has cancer, he ends his life by falling backward in a Christ-like posture through a window during the opening ceremony of his Boullée project. At that same moment, his wife gives birth to their child, having cut the ribbon/cord to open the hemispherical exhibition.
George Stewart had always loved his best friend's wife, Catherine. After her doctor husband, Jerome Martel, is presumed to have died in a Nazi prison camp, George and Catherine marry, respectful of Martel's memory and mindful of her chronic illness. The central crisis of the story, which is introduced in the first chapter, is the surprising return of Martel a decade after his death.
Martel still burns with the passion for social justice that took him to war in Europe. The long story of their lives is narrated by George through a series of flashbacks and reminiscences, in which Catherine's illness is ever present.
In 1921, the twenty-four year-old Scottish medical graduate, Andrew Manson, takes up an assistant’s position in a small Welsh mining town. He is idealistic, but he quickly learns that his training is inadequate and that his hemiplegic employer will never return to practice. Manson must do all the work for a pittance and bad food. He befriends another assistant, the surgeon Phillip Denny, whose fatal flaw is devotion to drink. Together they solve the town’s problem with typhoid by blowing up the sewer.
Manson’s escape comes in a new job in a larger town and marriage to the equally idealistic Christine. She encourages him to continue his studies and to conduct research on the relationship between dust inhalation and tuberculosis. The results include higher degrees and international recognition, but they also bring about the wrath of the town’s antivivisectionists. To add to the gloom, Christine looses a much wanted pregnancy and the ability to have children.
The Mansons leave Wales for London, where Manson hopes to extend his research within a government agency. Quickly disillusioned by bureaucracy, he is lured into society practice and slowly abandons his ideals in exchange for prestige and wealth. Christine is increasingly unhappy, but his response is annoyance with her and an affair with a married woman. When one of his new associates botches an elective operation on a trusting patient, he realizes the colleague is nothing more than a society abortionist and that he and his new friends are little better.
He decides to sell his practice and renews contact with Denny to establish a group consulting practice "on scientific principles" in a carefully chosen Midland town. He also helps the tubercular daughter of an old friend to an unorthodox (but effective) pneumothorax in a clinic run by Stillman, an American who does not have an MD. Just as he and Christine have rediscovered joy in each other and their future together, she is killed in a freak accident. Only days later in the depths of grief, he is brought before the General Medical Council on charges of unprofessional conduct laid by his former associates. He acquits himself brilliantly and leaves with his old friend Denny for work in the Midlands.
The author reminisces about her experiences teaching English literature in Iran before, during, and after the revolution and the Iran-Iraq war. Chronology is not important and the book opens near the end of her sojourn in Tehran. A small group of young women who met when they were University students gather in her home to read and discuss English literature. They wear western clothes, remove their veils, and eat sweets. Some have been in prison. They conceal their simple purpose from fathers, husbands, brothers, because their gathering to read Western fiction would be construed as an act of defiance.
In four sections, two named for twentieth-century novels and two for nineteenth-century authors--"Lolita," "Gatsby," "James," and "Austen"--Nafisi constructs a series of flashbacks that describe the events of late 1970s to the 1990s in the inner and outer world of an academic woman. The books and writers used in the section headings have walk-on parts or starring roles that jar in this ostensibly alien context. Yet, they work surprisingly well for the women students, stimulating them to think in new ways about the situation in which they find themselves. Conversely, as the students assimilate the English and American writers into their world, we learn more about their Iran.
Canadian surgeon Norman Bethune, 1890-1939, (Donald Sutherland) journeys 1500 miles into China to reach Mao Zedong's eighth route army in the Wu Tai mountains where he will build hospitals, provide care, and train medics. Flashbacks narrate the earlier events of his life: a bout with tuberculosis at the Trudeau sanatorium; the self-administration of an experimental pneumothorax; the invention of operative instruments; his fascination with socialism; a journey into medical Russia; and the founding of a mobile plasma transfusion unit in war-torn Spain.
Bethune twice married and twice divorced his wife, Frances (Helen Mirren) who chooses abortion over child-rearing in her unstable marriage. By 1939, Bethune had been dismissed from his Montreal Hospital for taking unconventional risks and from his volunteer position in Spain for his chronic problems of drinking and womanizing. As his friend states: "China was all that was left." Even there, Bethune confidently ignores the advice of Chinese officials, until heavy casualties make him realize his mistake and lead him to a spectacular apology. The film ends with his much-lamented death from an infected scalpel wound.
Harry (Daniel Auteuil) is a successful sales consultant for a large bank, but his marriage is over. After he forgets to pick up his little daughters at the railway station, his wife (Miou-Miou) quite understandably bars him from further contact. Angry, depressed, and driving alone on a wet night, he literally "runs into" Georges (Pascal Duquenne), an adult with trisomy-21.
Georges has escaped the institution where he was placed by his sister at the death of his beloved mother four years ago. Reduced to ineffectiveness and irrational behavior, Harry is simply unable to rid himself of Georges, allows him to take over his life, and accepts him as a friend on equal terms.
Georges draws Harry into an escapade with his fellow inmates that ends in a late-night frolic at a beach carnival and a spectacular display of fireworks for Harry's children that lures the family back. Georges is in love with Nathalie, a fellow inmate also with trisomy-21, and they share wonderful, neatly ironic daydreams of leading roles in a Mongol horde.
But Georges knows that they can never find happiness together. He eats a box of chocolates, to which he is greatly allergic, and calmly steps off the roof of Harry's skyscraper bank. Thanks to Georges, Harry's life is not only restored, it is vastly improved.
Living in Bombay, India, Sera (Souad Faress) and Sam (Khodas Wadia), a beautiful Parsee couple who adore dancing, have a son (Firdaus Kanga) who will never grow and never walk because he has osteogenesis imperfecta (brittle bone disease). They name him Brit, for his bones. As narrator, Brit says that Sera suffers from the "Parsee disease of anglophilia." But she accepts Brit’s disability.
His father, however, does not; and he continuously appeals to magic, folklore, and religious healers, hoping to find a cure. He professes love for his son, but is never able to forge a confident bond. Brit does not fail to criticize. Sam’s quest leads to a woman scholar who nurtures the boy’s intelligence and encourages him to write a diary and short stories.
Brit’s older sister is his staunchest ally and best friend, but she eventually must leave for a marriage in America. Sam escorts his daughter to America, where he commits suicide on Fifth Avenue. Brit and his mother come to rely heavily on a widow friend and her deaf daughter, "promised" to Brit in childhood.
But the girl is soon spirited away on a wave of romanticism into a life of prostitution. They take a boarder, Cyrus, a gifted and handsome law student who offers Brit a new world of night life, action, dancing, and physical affection; his love leads Brit to like and accept his own body. When his mother dies, Brit becomes a writer and finds a new life and a new lover.
Ninety year old Hagar Shipley is as proud, independent, and clever as when she was a young girl growing up through the Depression and afterwards in a prairie town in Manitoba. Now in Vancouver, she suffers from arthritis, memory loss, incontinence and abdominal pain that make it impossible for her to be cared at home by her eldest son Marvin, aged 64 and his wife Doris.
She is ill and fearful but shares none of this with anyone. Unwilling to leave her house and move to a nursing home, Hagar slips away to a cottage she remembers from summers ago, and secretly find her way back to it.
On this journey, her present life continually blurs with remembrances from her past, as a self-assured "peacock" daughter of Jason Currie, a tough, disapproving Scottish Protestant store owner who values propriety, refinement and friends of social standing. Hagar defies her father by marrying Bram Shipley, an unsuccessful farmer with coarse manners. Their stormy marriage produces two sons, Marvin and John, whom she dominates. The harsh frontier life in the 1930s and the couple's incompatibilities cause her to leave her husband and go to Vancouver. Consistently Hagar's fierce independence and pride prevent her from expressing emotion or accepting weaknesses in her family, and in herself.
Eventually she is found by her son Marvin. By then she has become ill and disoriented, and is hospitalized. She is dying and must come to terms with her past and her present life and accept the death that is her future.