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Sixty-year old Martha DeClerq cares for her mentally disabled sister, Pauline (Dora van der Groen), in a small town between Brussels and the seaside. Pauline cannot feed herself, tie her shoes, or speak in full sentences; she is stubborn, loving, occasionally mischievous, and particularly devoted to her sister, Paulette (Ann Petersen), who owns a small, tidy shop in town. Cecile (Rosemarie Bergmans), the youngest sister, lives in Brussels with a French intellectual, Albert, and has little contact with her siblings.
When Martha dies, her will stipulates that her estate be split equally between the three sisters, only if Paulette and Cecile care for Pauline themselves. They agree to share Pauline’s care. Although the sisters are fond of Pauline, their relationship with her is awkward and tentative. Initially, Paulette brings Pauline home, and they negotiate the new living arrangements with a mixture of embarrassment and kindness, frustration and delight. When the burden of caring for her sister becomes overwhelming, Pauline is deposited in Brussels at Cecile’s tiny, meticulously kept apartment. When these arrangements become unworkable, Pauline is eventually institutionalized.
This novel interweaves facts about the history of genetics with compelling fictional characters and plots in two connected stories. The primary story traces the life and work of the fictional Benedict Lambert, brilliant 20th Century geneticist, and an achondroplastic dwarf; his research is to discover the gene mutation which has caused his condition. He is also the great-great-great nephew of Gregor Mendel.
The life and genetic work of Gregor Mendel comprise the second story. Intersecting with Gregor Mendel's 19th Century scientific experiments to artificially fertilize pea plants is Lambert's affair with married librarian Jean Piercey. When Jean becomes pregnant, she decides on termination after learning from Benedict that there is "a fifty-fifty change of ending up like me . . . a second Benedict, another squat and crumpled creature betrayed by mutation and the courtly dance of chromosomes . . . " (180).
By the novel's end, Mendel's work has been published, and dismissed; Benedict Lambert has discovered the location of the gene mutation which causes achondroplastic dwarfism, publishes the results in Nature, and is asked to make a presentation on "the New Eugenics". Jean regrets the abortion, and wants Benedict's child, but a ?normal" one. In an attempt to help Jean in her quest, Benedict uses his genetic knowledge, his laboratory privileges, and his sperm without the knowledge or consent of Jean's husband.
In the lab with eight of Jean's fertilized embryos Lambert must decide: "Four of the embryos are proto-Benedicts, proto-dwarf; the other four are, for want of a better word normal. How should he choose?" The results of this scientific and personal act of fertilization are unexpected and tragic.
Patrick Clary's Dying for Beginners is a collection of vibrant poems about living (as well as dying); about family, friends, music, loss, war and love. The book's title is evocative of the countercultural insight that dying is an essential part of living. We only become fully human by coming to grips with our own mortality. This engagement with mortality emerges from love and humor, as well as from suffering and loss. Clary's poems speak to what he has discovered about himself, as a beginner to his fellow beginners.
The poet's route to discovery traverses Death Valley, where, during a spiritual retreat and vision quest, he has this epiphany: "Suddenly, I find all my wounds are turning into blessings" (p. 1). This inversion of categories is not an exotic, one-off event, but becomes a new way of looking at the world, a perspective in which life events, carefully observed and described, blossom with deeper meanings that can only be expressed by metaphor or paradox. For example, in "Days I Don't Remember," Clary reflects, "And all my roads are turning into rivers" (p. 27). Or, in "Meditation on the Pays d'Oc," he observes, "Instead of dying, I cough up a butterfly, watch it / dry its wings in the sun..." (p. 74). Or the essential quietism of "That silence moving through our lives was me" (p. 33).
The poet had his first lessons in dying when he worked as a medic during the Vietnam War, In "Orientation at Bien Hoa," he discovers, "Yes, gentlemen / This little war here / Exists only / For one reason: / To give you all the pleasure / You can handle" (p. 10). He also learns how easy it is to kill with an M 16 rifle, which can "Put eighteen holes in / Whatever you point it at / Inside of two seconds" (p. 11). Meanwhile, the human tragedy of Vietnam takes place all around him.
Clary reflects on the limits of his calling in "Three Variations", where he observes his own hands, "professionally / Tender on demand, but still uneasy / At your easy tenderness" (p. 35). The words "professionally tender on demand" evoke his work in palliative medicine, although the same words could-and should-apply to medical practice in general. But Clary recognizes that the human capacity for compassion is not inexhaustible. There will always be a tension between the work that needs to be done ("another pair of hands in the emergency room," p. 63) and our limited reserves of kindness and empathy.
The book ends with a humorous and moving short prose narrative ("Origins of the Earwax Patrol," pp. 83-86) about caring for terminally ill patients.
Summary:This is a collection of four stories and a novella with pervasive themes of death, loss, grieving, mourning, and anger; the characters live in rural parts of the upper midwest, and there is much unhappiness in their lives.
In 1818, the newly trained physician, John Keats (1795-1821) (Ben Wishaw) is living with his well-off friend, Charles Brown (Paul Schneider), and they are trying to devote themselves to the art of writing. Keats cannot abide the idea of having to practice medicine.
The uneducated, fashion-conscious Fanny Brawne (Abbie Cornish), notices Keats, moved by the care that he bestows on his dying brother. She offers a gift of a beautifully embroidered pillow, which soon finds it way into the lad’s coffin.
Affected by the young man’s death and the mystery of poetry, Fanny flings herself at Keats, undeterred by Brown’s open disapproval of her lack of class, education and bearing. Flattering his work, she asks Keats for lessons in literature and then reveals herself to a reasonable judge of poetry. In spite of himself Keats is drawn to her and declares his love.
But the poet’s health is fragile. Funds are raised to send him to Italy, and Keats announces that he must go, because his friends have decided. He seems to know that he will die. Fanny is brave and hopeful. Chastened, Charles Brown comes to Fanny’s home to announce the death of Keats in Rome.
Summary:The story centers on Tsotsi (meaning thug), an adolescent in Soweto, the shantytown slum of modern Johannesburg, South Africa. There Tsotsi (Presley Chweneyagai) leads a loose-knit gang of menacing thugs. When gang members are first encountered, Butcher reveals his disturbing and sinister nature; Boston (Mothusi Magano), except for his alcoholism, represents a potentially thoughtful but ineffective source of goodness and decency; Aap (Kenneth Nkosi), a simpleton, is devoted to Tsotsi; and Tsotsi seethes with, as yet, inexplicable rage.
The Bonesetter's Daughter is divided into two major stories. One is the story of Ruth, an American-born Chinese woman, a ghostwriter for self-help books, in a relationship with a white man, stepmother to his two teenaged daughters, and finally, daughter of LuLing, who Ruth fears is becoming demented. Ruth begins to realize what her mother's memory loss means to both of them: for her mother, an increased need for attention, for Ruth, disappearing stories that could help Ruth understand her family and render a feeling that she is part of a larger story.
The second major story is that of LuLing, which Ruth discovers in the form of documents LuLing had given her several years earlier, written in Chinese, LuLing's attempt to hold on to fading memories of her life in China. This story within a story--LuLing's life in a village called Immortal Heart; the secrets passed on by her nursemaid Precious Auntie (who, we learn, is also her mother); a cave where bones are mined that may be the teeth of Peking Man; tales of ghosts and curses--parallels in many ways the present-day issues confronting Ruth: an inability to speak up to her partner and his two daughters; why she remains a ghostwriter, without a voice of her own; an increasingly problematic and confusing relationship with her mother. Answers to both women's puzzles and problems unfold as LuLing's story is translated in its entirety, providing answers through memory and words that could not be spoken, only recorded.
Summary:This is an anthology of 32 pieces, many directly relating to war and its aftermath, or, in general, kinds of violence humans inflict upon each other and the ensuing suffering: hence the title, "echoes of war." The pieces include short fiction, essay, a dozen poems, and a photo collection. Since none are lengthy, this is a good reader to supplement other longer texts or to serve as an anthology for a reading group. A short essay, "Suggested Longer Readers," mentions some three dozen pivotal topics, including "homecoming" and "sense of identity."
Sometimes overlooked by those attracted to Wharton's longer, more ironic novels, this novella is one of stark simplicity set against a bleak New England countryside at the beginning of the 20th century. With characteristic economy, Wharton tells a compelling story about the human need for passion and affection in a situation where only abject coldness exists.
Ethan Frome is introduced by the narrator in this way: "It was there that, several years ago, I saw him for the first time; and the sight pulled me up sharp. Even then he was the most striking figure in Starksfield, though he was but the ruin of a man" (3). Determined to learn more about Ethan, while temporarily located in an appropriately-named village, the narrator manages to gather pieces of information about the figure who seemed an "incarnation of frozen woe in the melancholy landscape" (11).
The spark of hope that might have led young Ethan toward education and escape expired when care for his chronically-ill mother fell first to him and then to a cousin named Zenobia. Unable to abandon his mother and their needy homestead, he was easily attracted to Zenobia, the kindly young woman who assisted in his mother's care. They married, the mother died, and Zenobia inexplicably assumed a sick-role that would make Ethan's life loveless and tragic. Permanently stuck in Starksfield, his years become emotionally and economically depressed. Barely able to eke out a living hauling lumber and subjected to his bed-ridden wife's petty and constant demands, Ethan's impoverishment seems unending.
Miraculously, a third person, Mattie, enters the narrative. A distant cousin with no resources, she has been summoned by Ethan's increasingly mean-spirited wife to do chores within the house. The scene is set for two lonely and isolated people, despite age differences, to discover small bits of warmth in stolen moments together. Walks through the snow or gentle kindnesses in the dull household routine sustain the otherwise desolate pair of innocent lovers. An unexpected turn of events transforms a hopeless set of circumstances into permanent desolation and trauma. The conclusion is one of unimaginable horror.
This film documents the quiet devastation of Alzheimer's disease from a daughter's perspective. Using home movie clips and up-close footage of conversations with her 84 year old mother (Doris Hoffmann), a skilled film maker/daughter (Deborah Hoffmann) provides a sustained and poignant documentary of Alzheimer's devastating ability to transform a vibrant and intelligent woman's life.
Interspersed with conversations that reveal her mother's disoriented recollections of the past and the glitches and confusion of daily life routines, home movies and other artifacts provide a contrasting impression of this woman's family and life then and now. Captions and clever title cards are used to organize events and to add gentle humor.
Frances Reid, the camera woman, is mentioned from time to time as someone known to both Deborah and Doris; eventually and without special emphasis, we learn that Frances and Deborah have a lesbian relationship and how Doris adjusted to the couple over the years.