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The Good Doctor

Galgut, Damon

Last Updated: Dec-04-2006
Annotated by:
Belling, Catherine

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Frank Eloff, the novel’s narrator, is a white doctor working at a hospital in the former capital of one of South Africa’s now-defunct independent homelands (rural areas set aside by the apartheid government for black "separate development"). The hospital, in its deserted and decaying city, is understaffed and understocked, and there are hardly any patients. Those who do arrive usually need to be taken elsewhere if they need any significant treatment. The homeland’s former leader, the Brigadier, has returned as a criminal gang leader to loot the place, and a white former army commander, now in the employ of the present government, is trying to capture him.

Frank moved to this place when promised directorship of the hospital (and in flight after his wife left him for his best friend), but the previous director has not left yet, and Frank is in a kind of personal and professional bureaucratic limbo. He has a sexual relationship with a black woman who runs a roadside souvenir stall. It is not quite prostitution, not quite a love affair: she is married, speaks little English, and Frank regularly gives her money.

A new doctor, Laurence Waters, arrives. He is fresh from medical school, sent to the hospital in order to complete the rural community service year required by the government of all new physicians. He and Frank become roommates and begin an uneasy friendship. Laurence is an idealist, planning to make heroic changes, but he misunderstands the complex balance of tolerance, cynicism and patience that characterize survival at the hospital, and his well-intentioned efforts, such as trying to end theft from the hospital and to establish a clinic in a local tribal village, lead to disaster. The novel ends with Frank appointed hospital director at last, and things returning to their depressingly ineffective "normality."

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Annotated by:
Nixon, Lois LaCivita

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

The story concerns four sisters embarked on two concurrent journeys: one from adolescence to adulthood; the other from a comfortable, predictable life in the Dominican Republic to an uneasy resettlement in the United States. In addition to the normal difficulties associated with growing up, political turmoil abruptly uproots the lively young women from their native land with its Latin culture, tropical environment, and extended family life, forcing them to struggle with a strange language and even stranger culture.

Alvarez's collection of stories by each of the sisters cuts back and forth in time and place, shifting from childhood experiences on the vibrant Caribbean island to pubescent years and beyond in the Bronx and elsewhere. One episode vividly portrays an act of male exposure, the impact of that exposure on the confused adolescent, and the compounding of that confusion during an insensitive interrogation by police officers.

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Annotated by:
Jones, Therese

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, nearly thirty-one percent of the American public is obese; obesity accounts for 300,000 deaths a year, making it the second-most common preventable cause of death after cigarette smoking; individuals who are obese have a fifty to one-hundred percent increased risk of premature death from all causes.  On the opposite end of the scale, so to speak, is anorexia, which, as one of the deadliest of psychiatric diseases, claims up to fifteen percent of its sufferers who either die of suicide or complications related to starvation; about one-third spend their lives dominated by their obsession with food, and almost half never marry. 

How can we ever understand the psychological, physical, emotional, cultural and spiritual complexity of eating disorders, whether they result in morbid obesity or in a starving body digesting itself?  Ann Pai's memoir opens a window to reveal the inner world of a food obsession, her own, and holds up a mirror to reflect the outer experience of a dying, five hundred fifty pound woman, her sister.

The narrative weaves together three strands:  the sweet but unsentimental history of two sisters growing up in the midwest--Joyce, the elder of the two, and Ann, younger by almost five years; the detailed and horrific account of Joyce's sudden hospitalization on September 11, 2001, and her inexorable decline through multiple, undiagnosable and fatal illnesses as the result of her obesity; and the stream-of-conscious and raw monologue of Ann's own struggle to manage a compulsive eating disorder.

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Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

A young woman observes the slow decline of her grandmother into dementia and her grandfather’s reaction to the situation. Issues of denial, anger, autonomy, and intimacy rise to the surface—and expose the formerly private dimensions of their marriage. The illness also stresses her own relationship and invites the idea that someday she and her partner could be projected into a future with the same vulnerability.

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The Constant Gardener

Le Carré, John

Last Updated: Dec-04-2006
Annotated by:
Belling, Catherine

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Tessa Quayle, the young wife of a British civil servant in Kenya, is mysteriously murdered. Tessa, a lawyer, had been an outspoken human rights activist, and something of an embarrassment to her husband. But shaken from his marital and political complacency by her death and the rumors that quickly surround it, Justin Quayle sets out to solve the mystery and in doing so inherits her cause.

Tessa had discovered, as Justin now learns, that a new tuberculosis drug was being prematurely tested on Kenyan patients: clinical trials were effectively being carried out on the African population by the drug's giant pharmaceutical producer without the patients' knowledge or consent, but with the support and cover of a global corporation with African interests and of the British High Commission in Kenya. Lethal side effects and deaths were being concealed, the drug retitrated and retested in preparation for its safer and more lucrative release in the west in time for a predicted rise in incidence of multi-resistant strains of TB.

Justin, now a kind of rogue agent, uncovers the layers of sinister plotting to be expected in one of Le Carré's intelligence thrillers, but in the process we are led to consider, vividly, the interlocking roles of international biomedical research, postcolonial political interests, and global capital in determining the fates of impoverished, uneducated, and deeply vulnerable patients in developing countries--as well as the fates of those who try, often against all odds, to offer them the best available care. The novel also gives us, in Justin Quayle's odyssey, a moving study of desire, loss, regret, and, finally, outraged action.

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The Poisonwood Bible

Kingsolver, Barbara

Last Updated: Dec-04-2006
Annotated by:
Holmes, Martha Stoddard

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Southern Baptist missionary Nathan Price brings his wife Orleanna and his four young daughters to the Belgian Congo in 1959, just before its turbulent passage into independence as the state of Zaire. The Prices’ stay in the tiny village of Kilanga occasions escalating conflicts of cultures and values. The differences between the social, religious, and political habits of the United States and Africa are a source of both wonder and strife.

Orleanna and most of her daughters develop bonds with the people of Kilanga whose dimensions are much deeper than they first realize. At the same time, the family finds itself increasingly at odds with each other. All the women are engaged in a passage to personal identity and independence from Nathan: Orleanna, the dutiful minister’s wife; materialistic teenager Rachel; fervent, idealistic Leah, who emulates her father until it’s impossible to continue; her brilliant twin sister Adah, who walks with a limp and perceives the world in palindromes; and adventurous five-year-old Ruth May.

While all the women are changed by Africa, Nathan becomes more and more zealous in his refusal to change. The novel draws Nathan as a man whose identity has been definitively shaped by a World War II trauma that launches him on a downward psychological spiral from which there is no exit.

The novel is broken into seven books, all but the seventh bearing the titles and epigraphs from books of the Hebrew Bible and Apocrypha. Within the sections, the story is told as a round robin, with the Price women contributing alternating first-person narrative.

The daughters’ stories begin in 1959 in Africa and record events as they happen, gradually working their way forward to the 1990s. Their mother, in contrast, tells her story retrospectively, writing from Sanderling Island, Georgia, long after her return from Africa. Nathan is the only family member who never narrates.

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Annotated by:
Nixon, Lois LaCivita

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

This film, like Nair’s earlier films (Salaam Bombay!, Mississippi Masala) presents serious social issues for viewers to consider, but the story this time, is set in a happier context. As the title reveals, a wedding is central. Monsoon is added to account for two kinds of turbulence: the weather on the day of the wedding and discomforting family factors such as pedophilia, secret trysts, and class distinctions. For the Punjabi Verma family, it is Father of the Bride with the universal tension, stress, and chaos associated with such happy events, but also with distressing twists that are sorted out or washed away symbolically by the monsoon’s arrival.

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The Ultrasound

Divakaruni, Chitra Banerjee

Last Updated: Dec-04-2006
Annotated by:
Belling, Catherine

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

The narrator, Anju, and her cousin, Arundhati (Runu for short) are both young married Indian women who are pregnant for the first time, due to give birth within a few days of each other. The difference is that Anju lives in the United States and Runu in India. They write letters to each other, and when the story begins, Anju is planning a special telephone call to Runu because this is the day they are both due to get the results of their amniocentesis.

As Anju anticipates the phone call, she provides information about both women. She grew up in a relatively affluent family in Calcutta, went to college, and moved to San Diego with her husband, Sunil. Runu was less wealthy, and married into a large and traditional Brahmin family in the provinces. Runu is strictly controlled by her mother-in-law.

Anju receives her test results: her baby, a boy, is healthy. But Runu is expecting a girl, and because of this her family decides that she should have an abortion. She is devastated, and is planning to run away. Anju encourages her, but Anju's husband becomes angry, arguing that perhaps Runu should be obedient and have the abortion.

They argue, but then Anju remembers the ultrasound earlier that day, when she saw her son for the first time, and realizes that Runu must have had the same experience, and like her would do anything to protect the fetus. The story ends with her planning to help Runu to come to America, and imagining, almost certainly unrealistically, the future of their children together.

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Annotated by:
Belling, Catherine

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

Sarah (Whoopi Goldberg) is an African-American woman who runs a bookstore, the "African Queen," in San Francisco. She has an adolescent daughter, Zora (Nia Long), conceived with donor sperm after the death of Sarah's husband, Charlie. Zora believes she is Charlie's daughter until she discovers a discrepancy while learning about blood types in biology class. Sarah tells Zora about her conception and Zora, determined to find out the identity of her "real father," breaks into the computer records of the California Cryobank.

She discovers the name of the sperm donor, Halbert Jackson, and tracks him down, discovering that he is a white truck salesman (Ted Danson). She and Sarah are both horrified (Sarah had requested the sperm of a black man), as is Hal, but after some comic conflict, Sarah and Hal fall in love and Zora begins to think of Hal as her father. They then learn that there was a mix up in the records and Hal is NOT after all Zora's genetic father, but by this point they have nonetheless become a family.

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The Lynching

McKay, Claude

Last Updated: Dec-04-2006
Annotated by:
Nixon, Lois LaCivita

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

The title announces the event described in the poem: the lynching of a black man, already burned to a char by an angry mob. Opening lines emphasize ascendency of spirit, from the "swinging char" to the father in heaven in whose bosom the hanged man will dwell. The spiritual tone is replaced, however, by an account of the cruelties inflicted on this tortured man and the behavior of sorrowless women and children dancing around the "dreadful thing in fiendish glee."

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