Showing 121 - 130 of 932 annotations tagged with the keyword "Suffering"

A Question of Power

Head, Bessie

Last Updated: Nov-18-2011
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

In this autobiographical novel, written while the author was under severe mental strain and as she recovered from psychotic breakdown, Head tracks the protagonist Elizabeth’s struggle to emerge from the oppressive social situation in which she finds herself, and from the nightmares and hallucinations that torment her. Elizabeth, like Bessie Head, was conceived in an out-of-wedlock union between a white woman of social standing, and a black man--a union outlawed by her country of birth, South Africa.

Like the author, Elizabeth leaves South Africa with her young son--but without her husband, from whom she is fleeing--to live in neighboring Botswana, a country that has escaped some of the worst evils of colonial domination. But in rural Botswana she is once again faced with a constricting social system as the African villagers are suspicious of her urban ways and frown upon her individualistic behavior. Further, they bear her ill will on racial grounds because she is light skinned like the "bushmen" who are a despised tribe there.

Elizabeth suffers not only social isolation but intellectual deprivation as well. One of the few people with whom she can converse as an intellectual equal is the American peace corps volunteer, Tom, who acknowledges that "men don’t really discuss the deep metaphysical profundities with women" (24). During the four years in which Elizabeth is plagued by tribal suspiciousness, terrifying dreams, economic hardships, and two hospitalizations for mental breakdown, it is Tom, and her own love for and obligation to her young son that help her to survive this ordeal.

View full annotation

The Story of San Michele

Munthe, Axel

Last Updated: Nov-14-2011
Annotated by:
Ratzan, Richard M.

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Autobiography

Summary:

The author takes us on a highly colorful autobiographical tour of his medical career - his personal life never enters this account - from a classical medical education in Paris as a young expatriate Swede (he remains expatriate the entire book) to his internal medicine practice in France, including a tour of Naples as a volunteer during the cholera epidemic of 1881 and his finally settling in Italy. There are also anecdotes - many of them side-splitting and told with uncommon skill - about conducting a corpse back to Sweden, a truly thrilling journey to Lapland,  encounters with the legendary Charcot, his return to San Michele whence the book begins with a mythopoetic retelling of his first visit there, and his last years at San Michele as patron of a community (both local and international) and as collector and explorer of the nearby Mediterranean.        

View full annotation

Townie

Dubus III, Andre

Last Updated: Oct-13-2011
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

This memoir spins out in detail the despair and violence that emerges from a childhood of poverty and parental absence. When Dubus was preadolescent, his writer father of the same name (see Andre Dubus), took up with a student of his, and the parents divorced. Andre's mother became a social worker, working full-time with no support system, exhausted. Although Andre's father lived nearby and paid child support, it was never enough to keep the four children and their mother out of poverty. They moved frequently, always to the rough sections of depressed Massachusetts towns on or near the Merrimack River. The memoir describes vividly the smells of the polluted river; garbage strewn lawns; smoky, raucous bars; afternoons and evenings spent aimlessly watching television and, in adolescence, neighborhood kids and punks doing drugs and sex in Andre's home - before his mother arrived back from work each evening  .

At school, in bars, and around the neighborhood, kids and adults beat each other up - violence was a constant. Andre was slight and fearful but also drawn to watch the frequent fights. He avoided direct involvement when he could, was beaten up when he couldn't, and loathed himself in either case. He felt like a non-person: "There was the non-feeling that I had no body, that I had no name, no past and no future, that I simply was not. I was not here" (78). Finally, after being unable to help his brother during a fight, Andre resolved to build himself up physically--lifting barbells, bench pressing, and eventually taking boxing lessons.

Now when there was the threat of a fight, he plunged in quickly, inflicting damage. He could defend himself and those he cared about. But always there was the need for vigilance and the need - frequently actualized - to explode in rage. Later, he came to realize that being quick to jump into fights was a way "to get out what was inside him. Like pus from a wound, it was how [I] expressed what had to be expressed" (191). Gradually Andre came to think there might be other ways "to express a wound."

In the second part of the memoir, Dubus writes of how that other way evolved into creative writing. Training for physical prowess had imposed some discipline in his life, which meant being able to concentrate in school, do homework, and read. There were stints in and out of college (eventually he graduated from the University of Texas in Austin), making ends meet as a gas station attendant, construction worker, fast food manager, bartender, and later-- halfway house counselor. At the local Massachusetts college he attended for a while, he overheard himself being called a "townie." He navigated at the interface of the old neighborhood where he still lived and the life of the more privileged. He became more self-aware, more interior, and at the same time, more interested in the larger world. Threaded throughout this period is a developing relationship with his father, whose writing he admired and whose approval he craved.

In spite of the author's ambivalence toward his father - "where were you when I needed you?" (333)--one probably cannot overestimate the role that the senior Dubus played as a writer model for his son. Dubus read and admired his father's stories. He saw the discipline required to write, even though Dubus senior's weekends were often spent unwinding in bars (sometimes with the younger Dubus). Andre met his father's academic colleagues, met other writers, met writers who had stable relationships with a spouse.

He even learned that a writer can be a sports fan (Boston Red Sox), and avid sports participant (jogger). One of the most moving chapters in the book describes the first baseball game Dubus ever attended or watched - at age 13 - (with two tickets from his father), to see the Red Sox play the Yankees in Boston. Dubus went with a friend who explained the game to him as it unfolded. Dubus was stunned: "Every time one of them walked up to home plate with his bat, hundreds of men and boys would yell insults at him I couldn't quite make out, just the tone, which I knew well, but it wasn't directed at me or anyone I would have to try to protect, and I felt relieved of everything, part of something far larger than I was, just one of thousands and thousands of people united in wanting the same thing, for those men from our team to beat the men from the other team, and how strange that they did this by playing, that one beat the other by playing a game" (161-162).

View full annotation

Annotated by:
Bruell, Lucy

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close takes the reader inside the mind of nine year-old Oskar Schell who lost his father in the collapse of the Twin Towers.  Oskar lives with a terrible secret − on that day he arrived home from school shortly after the planes hit the towers and listened to messages from his father on the answering machine.  Hoping to protect his mother from the awful truth and not wanting to face his own helplessness − after all, his father was usually at his jewelry store, and it was just a tragic coincidence that he was attending a meeting at Windows on the World − Oskar hides the machine and replaces it with a new one.  In the days that follow, he accompanies his mother and paternal grandmother to the cemetery with his father’s empty coffin and vows to find out all he can about his father’s death.

Oskar begins by searching his father’s closet.  In a blue vase he finds an envelope with the name “Black” written on it and a small key inside.  Determined to find the lock that this special key will open, Oskar sets out on a journey through the city, contacting all of the Blacks in the telephone book.  As he searches for clues about his father and tries to make sense of a world transformed by terrorism, he connects with people who are enveloped in their own grief and overwhelmed by the world outside themselves. 

View full annotation

Summary:

Johanna Shapiro, Director of the Medical Humanities Program at University of California Irvine School of Medicine, brings her considerable skills and experience as medical educator, writer and literary critic to this unique volume of medical student poetry. Shapiro collected over 500 poems by medical students not only from her home institution but also from other US medical schools and performed a content and hermeneutic analysis. As Shapiro carefully details in her methodology section, she treats "poetry as a form of qualitative data, and [therefore] techniques of analysis developed for other sources of qualitative data (such as interviews, focus groups, and textual narratives) can be applied to an understanding of poetry." (p. 42)

Relying on the work of Arthur W. Frank (see The Wounded Storyteller), Shapiro devises a typology of student poems: chaos, restitution (and anti-restitution), journey, witnessing, and transcendence (this last category was not Frankian in origin). These categories are developed and explicated in Chapter 2: Functions of Writing for Medical Students. As the author notes, poems traverse the boundaries between types; nonetheless, the framework of the analysis rests with this typology. Further, Shapiro explores the metaphors of topography (illness as a foreign land) and quest (student on a heroic, however tentative or confused, journey) throughout her study.

The book contains many fully reproduced medical student poems, contextualized with academic theory on medical education. Hundreds of references, particularly in the fields of narratology and medical education, are cited. After three chapters of theory and methods, eight topics are explored using the outlined analytic tools: anatomy class, becoming a physician, patient experience, doctor-patient relationship, student-patient relationship, social and cultural issues, death and dying, love and life. Prefacing each of these topics is a scholarly essay providing historical and research foundations; every chapter concludes with a summation.

Within the chapters are examples of poems, not only organized by typology, but also by content. For instance in the patient experience chapter, the topics are: "patient pleas for empathy and compassion," "patient fears and suffering," "stigmatized voices," "vulnerability/courage of child patients," and "personal experiences of illness." Within each topic/subtopic, different poems are highlighted and fully analyzed. Additionally, other poems, not reproduced, are quoted as illustrative examples. Summary arguments are provided at the conclusion of each chapter as well as in the final chapter: "Strangers in a Strange Land: What Matters to Medical Students on Their Journey and How They Tell About It."

Although Shapiro states that her purpose "is not to address the literary and aesthetic attributes and value of the poems", she also notes "when students write authentically about their own experience, the results are uniformly moving, compelling and impossible to ignore." (pp 44-5) Indeed many of the poems are rewarding to read not only for content but also for word choice, word play, imagery and narrative line. For instance, in "Ode to the Peach" Brian McMichael explores the senses Neruda or Pollitt-like: "you invite me with / your voluptuous curves / your feminine little cleft". (p 236) Another example is the humorous, self-deprecating "Piriformis" by Curtis Nordstrom relating an early clinical experience by a medical student who hopes against hope that the patient's presenting complaint will require the student to demonstrate his acumen. Unfortunately the sum total of the student's knowledge base is limited to the location of the piriformis muscle; both the student and patient are "so screwed" when, "Alas, the patient presents with / an upper respiratory infection." (p. 16)

Shapiro's sensitivity and generosity of spirit vis-à-vis the medical student experience are evident throughout the volume. She concludes that "what may be most noteworthy about the analysis of these poems is that, amidst their own difficulties and fears, time and again these students reported engaging deeply with their patients." (p 259) She hopes that medical educators will be encouraged to support "in solidarity" the "idealism and high aspirations" expressed in these student poems. (p. 260)

In a postscript, Shapiro reveals her own experiences as a poet-patient. After noting that "[m]edical students are mostly annoyingly healthy, energetic, smart, and capable young adults who like order, structure, and control", (p 261) she also acknowledges how frequently students grapple with the topic of death and dying in their poems. That her poems emerged from advising a student creative writing group demonstrates how poetry can be renewing and vital not just to the student, but to the educator as well.

View full annotation

Summary:

Creation tells the story of Charles Darwin (Paul Bettany) at home with his family in Down House during the last decade he researched and wrote, but hesitated to publish, The Origin of Species (1859).  The film represents the sorrow of those intellectually ripe years when he worked out his insights into the process of natural selection as his "radiant," beloved daughter Annie-Anne Elizabeth-(Martha West) became fatally ill.  These events were compounded by Darwin's own mysterious chronic illness, which he attempted to relieve through laudanum and trips to Great Malvern for Gulley's cold water cures.

In 1851 he took a very sick ten-year-old Annie with him to the waters and, inconsolable, left her to be buried in the local churchyard.  Through his physical and emotional suffering, he continued to dissect barnacles, breed and skeletonize pigeons, engage the village parson and local farmers alike, consult with supporters Thomas Hooker and Thomas Huxley, exchange hundreds of letters, and remain an affectionate father and husband. 

The loss of "the joy of the Household" strengthened his wife Emma's (Jennifer Connelly) religious beliefs, as it exhausted whatever might have existed of his. The story, artfully told in beautifully sequenced flashbacks, keeps the tensions and accommodations between Charles and Emma on the subject of religious faith in balance, emphasizing their loving partnership as spouses and parents.  Emma supported his work, read his manuscript, and understood its importance, even as she disagreed with its implications for her spiritual life.  Darwin contributed to the local parish church Emma attended.    

Some of the most compelling moments in the film occur during Darwin's joyous outings with his children when they suddenly witness the demise of woodland creatures.  In these scenes, the ineluctable struggles between life and death that Darwin's theory of natural selection eloquently describes resonate with his personal experience.  We see a fledgling fall from its nest near a sheep's skull and decay before our eyes.  We hear Annie explain to her horrified siblings that if the fox they encounter didn't kill the screeching rabbit in its jaws, its pups would die.

These scenes, along with the earlier view of the captive Fuegian child Boat Memory dying of small pox in an English hospital, suggest the fragility of the young that Annie's death makes devastatingly personal for Darwin.  The film simultaneously acknowledges Darwin's empirically derived logic of such deaths in his scientific treatise and his suffering from the brutal manifestations of that logic in the life of his family.  While scientific explanation fails to console him for the loss of Annie, the film suggests human affection as the best, though still potentially painful response.     

View full annotation

Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

On July 5, 1998, physics Professor Alan Cromer suffered a heart attack on a plane, and survived after almost an hour of resuscitation efforts, but sustained brain injury from lack of oxygen.  In this chronicle of caregiving, his wife, a psychiatric nurse by training, gives a very personal, detailed account of the radical adaptations his disability required of both of them.  Her story includes reflection on his and her own emotional adjustments to loss of parity in communication and awareness, practical adjustments to physical limitations, and social adjustments to family, friends and professional colleagues.

Arduously, over time, Alan regained some ability to read and speak--indeed, he spoke to groups with Janet about their life together during the peak of his rehabilitation.  But the road to even partial recovery was bumpy, and the writer fully acknowledges the pain, grief, irritation, and deep frustrations that intersected moments of authentic pleasure, discovery, and mutual kindness.  Professor Cromer died September 3, 2005.

View full annotation

Annotated by:
Donley, Carol

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Investigative Journalism

Summary:

In 1951 when Henrietta Lacks was dying of cancer in the colored ward of Johns Hopkins, cancer cells taken from her without her knowledge "became the first immortal human cells grown in a laboratory"(4).  Known as HeLa cells, they are still reproducing today and are used world wide in research for cancer, cloning, genetics, Parkinsons, and many technologies. Henrietta's family did not know she was the source of these immortal cells until scientists began testing the family members too.  Poor and black, they were very angry to find the white establishment had made fortunes using HeLa cells while the family got nothing for it and couldn't even get good health care. In her thorough and careful investigation, Rebecca Skloot interviewed the Lacks family; scientists, doctors, and others who worked with HeLa cells; historians; journalists; ethicists. This book traces the complex stages of her search for the truth about what happened to Henrietta Lacks, her HeLa cells, and her family.

View full annotation

Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Collection (Essays)

Summary:

Perillo's essays offer a lively, variegated view from the wheelchair of a woman with multiple sclerosis who is also a naturalist, an outdoorswoman, a wife, and an award-winning writer.  Not all of them focus on her condition, though observations about living with the disease occur in most, and are thematic to some.  Most are also laced with wry humor.  One comes to see in these sketches from the Pacific Northwest how full and rich a life it is possible to live while also fully acknowledging and even lamenting the loss of mobility.  She invokes Thoreau several times, and her work may be easily situated in his tradition of personal, reflective essays on the natural world.  For her, the natural world extends to the world of the body, linked as it is with the bodies of all living things.

            

View full annotation

My Life as a Doll

Kirschner, Elizabeth

Last Updated: Oct-27-2010
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Collection (Poems)

Summary:

In this collection, which is really a poetry memoir or lengthy poetry sequence, the speaker develops her narrative of a tormented childhood and adolescence, psychological breakdowns, and ongoing struggle in a more "normal" present.  The poems are labeled only by section, of which there are four, and are separated simply by their spacing on the page.  Section 1, "Cuckoo," reveals the origin of the poet's "life as a doll": "After my mother hit the back /of my head with the bat's /sweet spot, light cried / its way out of my body. . . . I was  . . . a doll carved out of a dog's bones . . . my life as a doll / was a life of waiting" (4-5).  Mother was an abusive alcoholic (there seems to be no father ever on the scene).

Section 2, "An Itty Bitty Ditty," concentrates on the speaker's adolescence, which was one of promiscuity and parental neglect.  "Pretty, said Mom / on the night of the prom . . . Pretty, she said as though / I were a ditty, an itty bitty / ditty not even God would pity. / Ditty gone silent.  ditty gone numb" (27).  At age 19 the poet/speaker "took a razor to my wrists"; she was pregnant with an unwanted child at age 20: "Cold walked into me and through me . . . How do you undo someone who's / already undone?" (32-33).

In the third section of the collection,"Tra-la-la," we are whisked ahead to the time when the poet is married and has an 11- year-old son.  At her son's birthday she has a psychotic break and her husband brings her to the hospital.  "When I / stepped out of the car, I sang, /  "tra-la-la," as if I were / Cinderella going to an enchanted ball"  (41).  This section is concerned with her institutionalization and psychotherapy with "Dr. Flesh."  The poet is not enamored of Dr. Flesh, who puts her on display for a group of students "who wanted to be  / just like Dr. Flesh  / who was special, / very very special / unlike me" (43) and who yawns during therapy sessions (44).  The poet also satirizes her diagnostic workup -- a 500 question survey:"Do you like golf? it asked / and when I wrote 'no' / I was diagnosed" (49).  The final section, "O Healing Go Deep," is both a railing and incomprehension about the way the poet's mother treated her, and a plea for sanity: "enough I say of my careening / craziness, of being /a thing in thin wind / running away from Mother" (59).

View full annotation