Showing 151 - 160 of 514 annotations tagged with the keyword "Memory"

Unaccustomed Earth

Lahiri, Jhumpa

Last Updated: Jan-06-2009
Annotated by:
Nixon, Lois LaCivita

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Collection (Short Stories)

Summary:

The unusual title is borrowed from Nathaniel Hawthorne's story, "The Custom House," to suggest a shift in fortune when immigrants "strike their roots into unaccustomed earth."  Set almost entirely in the United States (the unaccustomed earth), eight separate stories are connected most obviously by cultural dissonances affecting characters who are Indian or have Indian parents.  Three of the stories, however, are linked by a strong narrative connection that is unexpected, profound, and unforgettable.

For Indian readers, the narratives describe complexities about migration patterns, cultural issues, alienation, and generational differences. The stories deal with well-educated children of immigrants who become offspring their parents barely recognize.  For other readers, the stories reveal situations about families and customs that are strangely familiar, especially those stories dealing with relationships between parents and children.
 
The forces of globalization have created and accelerated shifts that can seem staggering to all parents intent on preserving cultural patterns and traditions. Whether Indian or not, most parents experience a sense of alienation while watching their children flourish in a world that increasingly appears unfamiliar and foreign.

Not surprisingly, the stories concern strains and challenges affecting mixed relationships and/or mixed marriages and stresses on disapproving and disappointed parents, while others focus on children succumbing to drugs and alcohol(for the latter, see annotation of "Only Goodness").  All deal with some kind of emotional loss, but provide connections to feelings experienced by children and their parents in life's quiet and more kinetic negotiations.
 
The first story is about Ruma, a well-educated woman who lives in Seattle with her work-alcoholic American husband, and child, Akash.  Generational and cultural contrasts are revealed in overt and more subtle ways when her recently widowed father arrives for a short visit. Even though Ruma's complete assimilation into her non-Indian home as well as her on-going worries about her father's loneliness are major considerations, another story thread is spun, one that quietly reveals the father's thoughts about himself and a new relationship made recently during a vacation in Europe. Ruma's assumptions about her father, his loneliness, his possible dependency on her, and the Seattle vacation as a possible signal for relocating to her household turn out to be entirely wrong. 
 
The last three stories follow a boy, Kaushik, and girl, Hema, into adulthood.  In the first story, "Once in a Lifetime," Hema recalls her first memory of Kaushik when he was 9 and she was 6. The occasion was a farewell party for Kaushik's parents who were returning from the United States to live in Calcutta. The mothers, who grew up in Calcutta, but met in Cambridge, Massachusetts had become very close and were saddened by this separation.

Seven years pass before Kaushik‘s parents return to the Boston area and stay with Hema's family. Hema found the now 16-year old young man appealing, but brooding and totally uninterested in her. Even though Hema expected Kaushik to be Indian-like in behavior, he was more Americanized than she was. That the family had flown first-class shocked Hema's conservative family as did their new smoking and moderate drinking habits.

After a long search, and to the relief of Hema's parents, Kaushik's family found a  modern house on the North Shore.  Before they moved to their new home, Kaushik surprised Hema with confidential information-- his family had left India to seek treatment in Boston for his mother's breast cancer.  All medical efforts had been unsuccessful and his mother had only a short time to live.  Hema promised to keep this disclosure secret and grieved for the woman she had come to admire and love.
 
The second story in the link, "Year's End," is narrated by Kaushik.  With the opening line, "I did not attend my father's wedding," readers know that Kaushik‘s mother has died.  His father, in Calcutta for a visit, had married Chitra, a woman with two young daughters, and all would be returning to the North Shore house to live. Most of the chapter recounts the ordeal of the mother‘s dying, Kaushik‘s tremendous sense of loss, and the loneliness experienced by him at Swarthmore College.  No mention is made of Hema by the desolate narrator except to remember he had hated every day spent under her parents' roof, but later had come to think of that time with nostalgia.  

"Going Ashore" brings Hema and Kaushik together in Rome where she has a study grant and a visiting lectureship and he is on vacation from his work as an award-winning photo journalist.  Hema's parents have arranged for her to marry Navin in Calcutta.  Navin has accepted a teaching position at MIT. Until her unexpected reunion with Kaushik and the intense love affair that follows, neither had experienced any real connection with another person.  The story about them in Rome seems to represent an independence from the cultural forces that have shaped their lives, but this independence is short lived.  Ultimately, she is unable to set aside the expectations imposed by her parents.  The consequences of their final separation are more than any reader might imagine.

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Annotated by:
Miksanek, Tony

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Collection (Short Stories)

Summary:

New York is the setting for thirteen linked stories that profile a long line of curious and sometimes loony doctors who are passionate about medical science but often lack common sense and good judgment. Beginning with Dr. Olaf van Schuler in the seventeenth century and continuing over more than 300 years with generations of his descendants (the Steenwycks), missteps and madness loom large in this inquisitive and peculiar medical family.

Most of these doctors share common goals: They strive to eliminate pain. They attempt to expand the scope of medical knowledge. They seek the soul. In their quest for cures and enlightenment, many of these physician-scientists, their relatives, and patients embrace off-beat diagnostic techniques or unproven remedies: phrenology, magnetism, bloodletting, hypnosis, radium-emitting apparatus, electrical shocks, and lobotomy.

In "The Siblings," a doctor performs a lobotomy on his sister. She dies a few months after the operation. In "The Story of Her Breasts," a woman develops rheumatoid arthritis that may or may not be caused by her silicone breast implants. She also experiences guilt and worry after encouraging her 18-year-old daughter to undergo breast augmentation. In "The Baquet," hope is undeniable and a miracle cure is mesmerizing. In the book's final story, "The Doctors," two physicians - a father and his daughter - grapple with their strained relationship and the man's progressive deterioration that might be due to Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.

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The Human Stain

Roth, Philip

Last Updated: Dec-04-2008
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

The Human Stain is the third of Philip Roth's trilogy of novels that explore the relationship between public and private life in America during the second half of the 20th century. As in American Pastoral (1997) and I Married a Communist (1998), Nathan Zuckerman, Roth's favorite alter ego, serves as the narrator. After a prostate operation rendered him impotent, Zuckerman has retired from the world to become writer in residence at idyllic Athena College.

There he meets Coleman Silk, a former dean and classics professor who was forced to resign because of a supposed racial slur, in which he asked whether two students who had registered for his course but never attended a lecture were "spooks." They were African-Americans. Hence, political correctness dictated that Silk's academic career was history.

Zuckerman enters the scene a couple of years later, when the septuagenarian Silk is having an affair with an illiterate college janitor. This liaison has revitalized the old professor, whose wife died during the period of disgrace after his "racism" was exposed. However, Silk's enemies at the college, led by a bitterly proper young deconstructionist, have gone on the warpath again, this time condemning him for exploiting the young janitor.

The real story, though, lies deep in Coleman Silk's past. We eventually learn that Silk is a light skinned African-American who gradually drifted across the American racial divide and for 50 years has successfully passed as a white Jew. The irony in this situation is complex. A black man thought by the world to be Jewish is publicly disgraced for uttering the word "spook" in its correct denotation. (This is reminiscent of a case a few years ago in which a public official in the United States was chastised for using the word "niggardly" with reference to an inadequate budget allocation.)

The situation is doubly ironic because Silk has chosen to live his life as a white man, thereby in a sense establishing his own racism. Silk's original goal had been to live as an individual, and not as a representative of his race, but in choosing to deny his roots, perhaps Coleman Silk's guilt is deeper and more complex than his pursuers at Athena College realize.

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Summary:

Based on the memoir by British writer Blake Morrison, who is played in the film by Colin Firth, the story unfolds through Blake's eyes.  Blake's father Arthur (Jim Broadbent) is rapidly dying of cancer, cared for at home by Blake's mother, Kim (Juliet Stevenson).  Blake's parents are both physicians.  Blake is extremely ambivalent toward his father and reluctantly goes back to his childhood home to visit the dying man.  As his father lies dying Blake hashes out within himself his conflicted feelings toward his father -- long-standing anger, contempt, guilt, occasional grudging admiration.  The film flashes back and forth between the present and Blake's memories of the past.

As seen through Blake's eyes, his father is bombastic, overbearing, a deceiving and self-deceiving individual.  Blake recalls numerous instances where his father called him "fathead," barged unannounced into his room, humiliated him in front of others, competed with him for the attention of young women, and disparaged his choice of career as a writer.  Blake is deeply wounded by the knowledge that his father has been carrying on a romance with Aunt Beaty (Sarah Lancashire ) behind his mother's back -- although his mother is painfully aware of the infidelity.  In addition to recalling various humiliating and annoying situations with his father, Blake is enveloped in memories of his first sexual relationship with the family's maid and even makes a brief pass at her in the present, after his father's funeral.  He is so fixated on his obsessions -- with his first love and with his father -- that when his wife speaks with him on the telephone, he is distant and hostile toward her.
 
Blake's mother nurses her dying husband while Blake hovers in the background, hoping for an opportunity to talk to his father while he is still lucid, in what is bound to be a futile attempt at having a revelatory discussion about their fraught relationship -- such a discussion is bound to be futile because Arthur does not admit to his faults and even as he is on his deathbed, seeks reassurance from his wife that they had a happy life together.

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Summary:

This is a collection of Elizabeth Layton's work, organized chronologically from 1977-1991. Contents include a biography and epilogue by a 27-year-old reporter (Don Lampert) who discovered, promoted, and became a dear friend of "a depressed grandmother with a handful of drawings under the bed."

Layton discovered contour drawing when she was age 68 and claims to have drawn herself out of mental illness. Her subject matter is self-portraiture, marriage, aging, depression, grandmothering, dieting, and political commentary (nuclear holocaust, capital punishment, mythology and hospital death).

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A Better Angel

Adrian, Chris

Last Updated: Oct-03-2008
Annotated by:
Miksanek, Tony

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

A drug-addicted doctor, a dying father, and a cantankerous angel constitute a less than holy trinity. Carl is an impaired physician who is hooked on drugs. He happens to have a guiding angel following him around, but she is no guardian. Instead, she is moody and provides no protection. She offers warnings and advice. Carl met his angel when he was six years old. After being stung by wasps and experiencing an allergic reaction, she didn't lift a finger (or wing) to help him.

The angel is prescient. She can foretell who will grow up naughty or beneficent. She knows when a person will die. She tells Carl that not everyone has an angel. Only those individuals destined for greatness get an angel, but some people choose not to heed the suggestions of their spiritual attendants.

Carl is a pediatrician. He cheated in medical school and on his certifying examination but is pleased with his choice of careers: "I make my living praising the beauty of well children. I love babies and I love ketamine" (p121). His father is dying from metastatic lung cancer. Their relationship is terrible. To make matters worse, Carl cannot stomach sick adults.

His three pregnant sisters implore Carl to care for their father after discharge from the hospital. Carl reluctantly leaves San Francisco and heads to Florida. He takes his father to chemotherapy sessions, but the oncologist thinks it's time to stop further treatment. Carl administers painkillers to his dad and frequently consumes some of the prescribed morphine and Percocet for his own pleasure. The two men hardly speak to each other.

Carl's angel repeatedly implores him to reach out to the dying man. She knows that emotional and physical connection will heal both men. Carl's father longs for a storm but the weather won't deliver his wish. One night, Carl stages rainfall with the aid of the garden hose. He rests his head against his dad's chest, and they fall asleep. When morning arrives, Carl awakens and discovers that his father died during the night. The angel is weeping in the room.

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The Cure for Grief

Hermann, Nellie

Last Updated: Sep-22-2008
Annotated by:
Spiegel, Maura

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

The voice of a young girl leads us through this spare and tautly told story of a closely-knit family upon whom tragedy falls like a plague.  Before death and mental illness take up residence there, we meet the Bronstein’s, two parents and four children, in their comfortable, well-run home outside of Boston.  Hermann delicately renders the portents of change and pain that haunt all loving families. The novel opens with the nine year-old Ruby Bronstein’s discovering, while walking along the beach with her three older brothers on a winter afternoon, an old rusty pistol poking out of the sand. 

The family story deepens as the teenage Ruby recounts a sojourn with her parents to Terezin, the Nazi concentration camp where her father was interned as a child. Hermann’s restraint and precision in this sequence make this potentially familiar journey entirely new.  With her young eye trained on her father’s every muscle-twinge of reaction to what he sees, she crisply conveys the unknowability of even an adored father –let alone the events that took place within these walls. Her father’s inaccessible childhood memories are not miraculously jarred by this return to the scene of trauma – but he learns shortly thereafter of a brain tumor that soon will end his life.

One tragedy follows another, the emergence of mental illness in one brother, the death of another.  The narrative traces Ruby’s efforts to carry on in the face of these devastating losses.  Here is where the novel explodes in cold fire, in its quiet accounting of a young person’s grief as it is lived in its ordinary, daily course.  Loss begins to deform her social life, giving her the feeling that she is a freak.  The scale of things is too disproportionate; she dresses for the prom while her brother lies dying in the intensive care unit.  Carrying the stigma of disaster, she hides news of family developments for which she has no vocabulary.  What good would talking do anyhow, she asks –until she finds the listener she needs.  

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Summary:

A Place Called Canterbury by social historian Dudley Clendinen, former New York Times national correspondent and editorial writer, provides readers with an intimate and revealing account of aging in a particular place at a particular time--Canterbury Tower in Tampa, Florida. The story about the author's mother, Bobbie--and so many others--begins in 1994, a few years after the death of James Clendinen, Bobbie's husband of 48 years, and known to the community as the progressive editor of the Tampa Tribune. Although she had been "falling apart, a piece here, a piece there...collapsing vertebrae...bent, frail, and crooked...subject to spells and little strokes...." (p. xii),

Bobbie Clendinen was in reasonably good health. Nevertheless, her grown son and daughter did what most children their age do--they worried. When she finally agreed to move from the home where she had lived for twenty-nine years to Canterbury Towers, room 502, two bedrooms, two baths ($88,000 in cash, $1505 each month), Clendinen and his sister were relieved. She would be cared for and safe in "the small, cream colored, obsessively well-run geriatric apartment tower and nursing wing...across a broad boulevard from an arm of Tampa Bay" (see book cover).  And, so many of her old friends were already established residents!

Clendinen was fascinated by his mother's new circumstance and by what he came to regard as the new old age. As a writer, he could not resist the opportunity before him. Although he lived in Baltimore, he could come and go, but over the twelve-year period of his mother's residence--three in the Towers and nine years in the hospital wing--he spent more than 400 days as a live-in visitor, observer, listener, interpreter. This unusual arrangement provided Clendinen with a close-up view of a 21st Century phenomenon, the comings and goings of aging people in the final setting of their lives.

Canterbury is a well-run camp and life there is a soap opera. Between his exchanges with the witty rabbi and the former jitterbug champs, the enthusiasm generated by a nudity calendar proposal (declined) and the geriatric bib enterprise (thriving), the inhabitants provided Clendinen with an abundance of riches. Whether at lunch in the dining room overlooking the Bay, over daily drinks at 5pm, or in bed in the health center, everyone of this Greatest Generation had a story to tell. This ethnographic page-turner, with its cohort of named characters--the Southern Belle, the Rabbi who escaped the Holocaust, Emyfish, the ageless New Yorker, Lucile, the warm-hearted Fundamentalist, the raunchy Atheist, the crusty Yankee, the horny widower, and the maddeningly muddled Wilber--reads like fiction. Whether rich or poor, married or widowed, Clendinen listened as they spoke and in doing so became a trusted friend and chronicler of small and great events in their collective lives: childhood, Depression, World War II, medical advancements, healthcare costs, 9/11. Because Bobbie Clendinen spent so many years in the hospital wing, much of the story describes the kind of care and staff standards that we would hope for all--including ourselves. Mrs. Clendinen died at age 91.

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Diary of a Bad Year

Coetzee, J. M.

Last Updated: Jun-16-2008
Annotated by:
Henderson, Schuyler

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

 

A well-respected, but aging and infirm author living in Australia has been invited to submit his thoughts on the world to a German publisher. Consisting first of his 'Strong Opinions' on contemporary sociopolitical controversies (such as terrorism, paedophilia, Al Qaeda) and then his 'softer' opinions (on such topics as birds, compassion, Dostoevsky and writing), these short essays lie across the top of the page. Beneath them run one, then two narratives, laid out like ribbons underneath. These consist of the story of the writer's relationship with Anya, and of Anya's relationship with her boyfriend in light of her interactions with the writer, including his plan to scam the author out of his money.

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Second Opinion

Kendrick, Leatha

Last Updated: Apr-19-2008
Annotated by:
Davis, Cortney

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Collection (Poems)

Summary:

Poet Leatha Kendrick is the author of two chapbooks, Science in Your Own Back Yard (see annotation) and Heart Cake. In this full-length collection she continues to examine themes explored in her first titles: love and loss; the fleeting of time; and her personal experience of breast cancer. Second Opinion is divided into three sections: the first two sections have 14 poems each, the final section has 13, perhaps to indicate that for this passionate and articulate poet the the final poem is yet to be written. The first poem in the collection, "A lesson in Love Unleashed," sets the theme for the poems that follow: "yes, I think, even in their distorted flesh, / I still desire what's gone. What I'm leaving" (p. 3). In the first and third sections, the poet writes of marital and familial trials and triumphs, both past and present, and in the second section--for me the most vivid in the collection--she writes about breast cancer and how this experience weaves in and out of her other loves and losses. This weaving is given both visual and emotional expression in the poem "Tonight Weaving" (p. 28)

Throughout the book, Kendrick's poems take varying forms and tones, and yet there is always the assurance of a constant voice--personal, passionate and often humorous. In the second section, the poems become more visually complex and fractured, poetic representation of the "distortion" of the flesh as the narrator considers the diagnosis and treatment of her breast cancer. In this section's opening poem, "The Calculus of a Cracked Cup," the poet writes, "Our position is never certain, only our / velocity" (p. 27), adding the concern of the swift passing of time to the collection's overall theme. In "Second Opinion," the title poem, she notes, "I want to believe in sudden remission, / in some way to avert what we are certainly / headed for" (p. 34). But while time rushes on, the reality of cancer, the loss of a breast becomes a "stopped surface" under which a "lost life" wants "its old course, not subject to IVs or a knife" (p. 35).

It is life--difficult and sweet--that is ultimately celebrated in these poems and that overcomes the losses. The most wry poems are found in the breast cancer section: "Christmas, Adolescence, Yin and Yang" (p. 32) is a sort of ode to "Skeeter and Bite," so named by a first love; now "they'll lift / one out, the eye sewn shut by mastectomy." "Costume. Fakery. The Sell." is a tough, nervy poem that has the narrator claiming acceptance for who she is, post surgery: "Alive! Tender, I'm not hiding" (p. 39). Throughout the book there is a subtle triple play on the word "tender": woman as caregiver; woman as collateral in a society that values cleavage; and woman as injured, post op, and physically vulnerable.

In the collection's final poem, "What You Leave Me," the theme of love and loss balanced against time comes to some resolution as the narrator and her partner join in a "sweet tangle": "the blossoming / hide, this bounded / time against brevity" (p. 64).

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