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Praisesong for the Widow

Marshall, Paule

Last Updated: Dec-12-2006
Annotated by:
Stanford, Ann Folwell

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

A middle class African-American widow, Avey Marshall, has set off on a cruise with two of her friends from work on the "Bianca Pride," and becomes ill shortly after they have set sail. Avey disembarks in Grenada after experiencing disequilibrium, nausea, disturbing nightmares, and a feeling of being "clogged and swollen." Thus begins a journey of reclamation and healing of a past that has been largely forgotten or erased in her efforts to escape the poverty of her younger years and obtain the American dream of financial security and a white-defined respectability.

The novel is divided into four parts: Avey's growing distress on board the cruise ship, the intensification of nightmares and "visits" from her long-dead and very Afro-centric Great Aunt Cuney, and her decision to leave the cruise ship. The second section takes place in her hotel room where Avey confronts her rage and grief, not only over the death of her husband, but the utter waste in his drive for material success and the ensuing loss of their joy in each other and their heritage.

In the third section, Avey, getting lost on a walk, meets Lebert Joseph who convinces her to accompany him on the "Carriacou Excursion," an annual island festival honoring the long-time ancestors. Avey travels by small boat to Carriacou, becoming violently ill, and is cared for by a group of women on the boat, encouraging her in this "cleansing." This journey and her illness prompt Avey to think about the middle passage of slaves and the horrors they endured in countless journeys much worse than hers.

Once on the island, in the fourth section of the book, Avey is bathed and nursed back to health by Lebert Joseph's daughter, Rosalie Parvay. Finally, Avey joins the celebration (the "Big Drum"), witnessing and finally joining the important "Beg Pardon" and nation dances. This section brings the novel full circle as Avey experiences reconciliation with her past, her heritage, and herself.

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Lovesick

Mastretta, Ángeles

Last Updated: Dec-12-2006
Annotated by:
Stanford, Ann Folwell

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

The novel twines several plots together: the love story of Emilia Sauri and Daniel Cuenca; the Mexican Revolution; Emilia's medical practice; the love story of Emilia and Dr. Zavalza.

Emilia Sauri is the daughter of upper-class Mexican parents and is raised in relatively idyllic surroundings. Her father is a pharmacist and she learns his craft through a long apprenticeship with him. Emilia's long-time childhood friend, Daniel Cuenca, becomes her lover as they grow older and their love grows in passion while Daniel's involvement in popular struggle increases.

The Mexican Revolution is brewing and the Sauri's and Cuenca's lives are intertwined and involved in the struggle in various ways. When a wounded fighter is brought to the Sauri's, Emilia takes care of him, her "first patient," and thus begins her thirst for practicing medicine. She studies with Daniel's father, the indomitable Dr. Cuenca ("I leave but one bequest to my children: paralysis of the spine before the tyrant").

Drawn more and more into the struggle, Emilia joins Daniel on the front and practices medicine with the most desperate cases, along with the myriad poor people she meets along the way. Emilia also practices medicine with Dr. Zavalza, and finally marries him, although she never stops loving Daniel.

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So Far from God

Castillo, Ana

Last Updated: Dec-12-2006
Annotated by:
Stanford, Ann Folwell

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

This is the story of a Chicano family in the little town of Tome, New Mexico: Sofi, her (sometime) husband Domingo, and their four daughters--Esperanza, Fe, Caridad, and the youngest, who is epileptic, "La Loca Santa." So Far From God includes a full cast of characters including the healer, Doña Felicia, Francisco el Penitente (El Franky), a psychic surgeon, and an assortment of others.

The novel tells the story of relatively short lives and (longer) deaths of the four daughters. Esperanza, a journalist, dies as a hostage in the Middle East; Fe dies of cancer as a result of chemical poisoning from her job in the weapons industry; Caridad is miraculously restored after a mysterious mauling, and later dies--or disappears--off a cliff with the woman of her dreams; La Loca, the remaining daughter, dies of what appears to be HIV infection. Sofi, having pronounced herself mayor of Tome, in her grief over Loca's death, goes on to found the worldwide organization, M.O.M.A.S. (Mothers of Martyrs and Saints).

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The Bluest Eye

Morrison, Toni

Last Updated: Dec-12-2006
Annotated by:
Stanford, Ann Folwell

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

The Breedlove family has moved from the rural south to urban Lorain, Ohio, and the displacement, in addition to grinding work conditions and poverty, contributes to the family's dysfunction. Told from the perspectives of the adolescent sisters, Claudia and Frieda MacTeer, Morrison's narrative weaves its way through the four seasons and traces the daughter's (Pecola Breedlove) descent into madness. Through flashback and temporal shifts, Morrison provides readers with the context and history behind the Breedloves' misery and Pecola's obsessive desire to have "the bluest eyes."

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Invisible Man

Ellison, Ralph

Last Updated: Dec-12-2006
Annotated by:
Stanford, Ann Folwell

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Ellison uses the trope of invisibility in this novel that traces the Invisible Man’s journey from idealism to a grim realism about the racism that confronts him every step of his way. Every episode ends with the Invisible Man’s escape from near disaster, brought about by his naiveté and the virulent racism in which he must function. By novel’s end, the hero is living clandestinely in the basement of a large building, burning hundreds of lights at the expense of the electric company, and planning for an eventual re-emergence.

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The Fever

Shawn, Wallace

Last Updated: Dec-12-2006
Annotated by:
Stanford, Ann Folwell

Primary Category: Literature / Plays

Genre: Dramatic Monologue

Summary:

In this dramatic monologue, the speaker is traveling in a warring country, and wakes up shivering and vomiting in a "strange hotel room, in a poor country where my language isn't spoken." As to the cause of this illness, he points out that an execution is occurring on this day at this hour. He lives through the execution as if it were his own ("And so now they come--they come for the man who lies on his cot").

He sees the "breaking of the skin" and his "body shifting upwards, slightly in the air" as the electricity is activated (4). He knows that it is the Marxists who are "being tortured and killed" (16). Throughout the monologue, the speaker attempts to make sense of his privilege in the face of poverty, violence, and injustice.

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Wednesday I.D. Clinic

Hacker, Marilyn

Last Updated: Dec-12-2006
Annotated by:
Stanford, Ann Folwell

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

The speaker addresses her friend, a caregiver (it’s not clear what her or his status is, possibly a volunteer) in an infectious disease clinic, noting how the friend empathizes with and carries the words of the patients within her- or himself.

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Summary:

This collection is introduced with an essay by Suzanne Poirier (editor of the journal, Literature and Medicine). The collection, describes Poirier, looks at how such equations as "sex = disease, homosexuality = disease, promiscuity = disease, and, finally, homosexuality = promiscuity = disease" are, in fact, being challenged, resisted, and "rewritten in a healing way in today's writing about the epidemic [found] in the literary presses, obituary columns, and even freshman compositions." The book contains thirteen essays and an annotated bibliography of AIDS literature from 1982 through 1991.

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Annotated by:
Stanford, Ann Folwell

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

This novel, a winner of the American Book Award in 1983, focuses on the stories of several women who have come to live on the dead-end street, Brewster Place ("the bastard child of several clandestine meetings between the alderman of the sixth district and the managing director of Unico Realty Company" (p. 1), and the interweaving of their lives.

Mattie Michael has lost her home to her much loved, but errant son, but becomes the backbone of this community of women; Etta Mae Johnson has loved one man too many and comes to Brewster Place defeated, but finds "light and love and comfort" in the friendship of Mattie; Kiswana Browne moves to Brewster Place in an attempt to develop her Afro-centric identity, divorced from her middle class family; Lucielia Louise Turner loses one pregnancy to an abortion to keep her husband, and loses her remaining daughter to a tragic accident, also losing the will to live until Mattie’s intervention; Cora Lee’s profound loneliness motivates her to conceive child after child ("Her new baby doll" [p. 107]); "The Two" (Lorraine and Theresa) attempt to work out their life together closeted from the homophobic world. Despite the pain and suffering represented in the novel, the story culminates with a dream vision of the community healed and rebuilding itself.

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Coachella

Taylor, Sheila Ortiz

Last Updated: Dec-12-2006
Annotated by:
Stanford, Ann Folwell

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Yolanda Ramírez, a phlebotomist in Coachella Valley, California, begins worrying, in 1983, about the deaths of gay men, hemophiliacs, and women who have had cosmetic surgery. The novel unfolds with her explorations into the connections among these deaths, but it also explores Yolanda’s relationship with a gay couple, one of whose members has AIDS, the growing romantic relationship between her and Marina Lomas (who has run away from an abusive husband with her small daughter), her relationship with her father, Crescienco.

Crescienco, employed as a gardener for Eliana Townsend (whom he loves and who still has the scars from her cosmetic surgery), watches her slowly die from some mysterious and debilitating disease. Finally Yolanda convinces the hospital that her hunches about the mysterious AIDS virus having infected the blood supply are correct.

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