Showing 151 - 160 of 362 annotations tagged with the keyword "Catastrophe"

Holy the Firm

Dillard, Annie

Last Updated: Apr-23-2007
Annotated by:
Shafer, Audrey

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Essay

Summary:

The narrator is a woman who lives alone in a rural area of Puget Sound. She is a writer, an observer, a spiritual thinker. "Each day is a god, each day is a god, and holiness holds forth in time" begins her musings about the first of three days. But on day two, a catastrophe occurs: a small plane crashes and a seven-year-old girl’s face is "burned off" as she is carried away from the explosion in her father’s arms.

The narrator had met the girl once before, at a neighbor’s farm, and had formed a connection--they looked alike and the girl playfully tormented the narrator’s cat with a dress-up game. The narrator imagines the girl in the hospital, imagines her future life as a nun with no face, and ultimately imagines a gentler future in which the girl’s face is restored, she is married and the narrator has assumed the function of the nun for her.

Throughout, the narrator wrestles with the hard questions of life: why are we here; why do horrible things happen; what is the relationship of God and the world; where is God and what is he doing? She is angry: "Do we need blind men stumbling about, and little flamefaced children, to remind us what God can--and will--do?"

A Christian, she seeks answers in her wide-ranging theology, and seems to find an inroad in the idea of "Holy the Firm"--a substance lower than salts and minerals, below the earth’s crust, in touch with "the Absolute." The narrator hence posits that "Holy the Firm" allows for an unbroken circle between God, Christ, and the created world.

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Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Treatise

Summary:

The book opens with a thought "exercise": thirteen short essays, each in a different national voice and beginning "We, the people of a nation . . . " The honest, intelligent "speakers" love their countries and traditions; however, they try to express the ugly truths about their homelands as challenges for the future.

For example, American smugness over its know-how and wealth combines with American failure to recognize the resentment sparked elsewhere by these same attributes. Similarly, the mutual intolerance of Canada's linguistic and religious duality is portrayed as a grotesque irony. The U.S.S.R. has exchanged an old tyranny for a new; Japan must face the issue of controlling its population, if it is to control its impulse to aggression.

Chisholm then returns to his role as a socially committed psychiatrist who hopes to avert a war that could annihilate the human species. World aggression, he writes, is caused by the "anxiety" that emerges from intolerance typifying narrow parental guidance and even narrower systems of education and religion. People must learn to be comfortable with differences in population, race, language, and wealth. The message is simple: "anxiety" leads to "aggression." The book ends with a ideal curriculum for "world citizenship," surprisingly different from any currently in use.

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Reading Lolita in Tehran

Nafisi, Azar

Last Updated: Feb-15-2007
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

The author reminisces about her experiences teaching English literature in Iran before, during, and after the revolution and the Iran-Iraq war. Chronology is not important and the book opens near the end of her sojourn in Tehran. A small group of young women who met when they were University students gather in her home to read and discuss English literature. They wear western clothes, remove their veils, and eat sweets. Some have been in prison. They conceal their simple purpose from fathers, husbands, brothers, because their gathering to read Western fiction would be construed as an act of defiance.

In four sections, two named for twentieth-century novels and two for nineteenth-century authors--"Lolita," "Gatsby," "James," and "Austen"--Nafisi constructs a series of flashbacks that describe the events of late 1970s to the 1990s in the inner and outer world of an academic woman. The books and writers used in the section headings have walk-on parts or starring roles that jar in this ostensibly alien context. Yet, they work surprisingly well for the women students, stimulating them to think in new ways about the situation in which they find themselves. Conversely, as the students assimilate the English and American writers into their world, we learn more about their Iran.

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Oryx and Crake: A Novel

Atwood, Margaret

Last Updated: Feb-15-2007
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Please note that in order to properly annotate this novel, the novel's surprise ending will be revealed here. Snowman--who used to be called, Jimmy--is a rare survivor of a dreadful catastrophe that seems to have been both the product and the demise of modern science. He lives in a tree, clad in rags, hiding from relentless heat and hoarding his precarious cache of food and alcohol, while he tries to obliterate consciousness and avoid contact with a peculiar race of beings, the Crakers. Through a series of reminiscences as he makes his way back to where he once worked, Snowman's past slowly advances to meet his future.

The world heated up to be uninhabitable desert and genetic engineering created more problems (and species! [pigoons, rakunks, wolvogs]) than solutions. People became increasingly reliant on artificial environments--both internal and external--while their purveyors--drug and technology firms--held ever greater but unthinking power. The world was divided into two: the rich, safe controlled spaces and the dangerous chaotic realm of the poor. Then an epidemic wiped out most of the human race.

Two friends are central to the story: brilliant but inscrutable Crake whose nerdy gift for science had a role in engineering the 'pure' Crakers and the horrifying world that they occupy; and beautiful, seductive Oryx whose regard of knowing innocence heaps scorn upon messy human desire and emotion. They are the Yin and Yang of the "constructed" world. Only at the end, the reader learns that Oryx was murdered by Crake, who was slain by Snowman. It seems that his arduous journey was simply to destroy the history of the events that he had written and left behind.

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Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

Canadian surgeon Norman Bethune, 1890-1939, (Donald Sutherland) journeys 1500 miles into China to reach Mao Zedong's eighth route army in the Wu Tai mountains where he will build hospitals, provide care, and train medics. Flashbacks narrate the earlier events of his life: a bout with tuberculosis at the Trudeau sanatorium; the self-administration of an experimental pneumothorax; the invention of operative instruments; his fascination with socialism; a journey into medical Russia; and the founding of a mobile plasma transfusion unit in war-torn Spain.

Bethune twice married and twice divorced his wife, Frances (Helen Mirren) who chooses abortion over child-rearing in her unstable marriage. By 1939, Bethune had been dismissed from his Montreal Hospital for taking unconventional risks and from his volunteer position in Spain for his chronic problems of drinking and womanizing. As his friend states: "China was all that was left." Even there, Bethune confidently ignores the advice of Chinese officials, until heavy casualties make him realize his mistake and lead him to a spectacular apology. The film ends with his much-lamented death from an infected scalpel wound.

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Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

In the year 2000, Nafas (Niloufar Pazira) a 29-year old Afghan-born Canadian journalist travels back to her homeland in search of her sister. The sister was maimed by the long war, and her life under oppressive Taliban rule is no longer worth living; she has resolved to commit suicide on the last solar eclipse of the century.

Dependent for her travels on the uncertain help of men, Nafas encounters many other charismatic women hiding under the seclusion of the burqas. The inquiries she makes to find her sister raise the veil just enough to reveal the torment of Afghan women, deprived of rights, education, and basic health care. A doctor must question his women patients, who are hidden from him by a canvas wall, through a child intermediary; he does not touch them. The ending is inconclusive.

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Robinson Crusoe

Defoe, Daniel

Last Updated: Jan-04-2007
Annotated by:
Kennedy, Meegan

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Young Robinson Crusoe defies his father's recommendation to seek a "middle way" of life, and runs off to find his fortune at sea. After a series of misadventures including storms at sea and capture by pirates, he succeeds in becoming a plantation owner in "the Brasils." When he sets out to add slave trading to his income, a storm shipwrecks him alone on a desert island. Here he must learn to support himself through farming, hunting, and simple carpentry, making whatever he could not salvage from the ship.

Cannibals from a nearby island use his domain for occasional feasts, but Crusoe rescues one "savage" from certain consumption and finally gains a companion, Friday, whom he teaches English and Christianity and learns to love. In Crusoe's twenty-eighth year on the island, Friday helps him engineer the takeover of an English ship with a mutineed crew nearby, and they journey to England with the ship's grateful captain.

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Heroes and Saints

Moraga, CherrĂ­e

Last Updated: Dec-14-2006
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Plays

Genre: Play

Summary:

This searing play takes place in California's central valley where Mexican immigrants are employed at survival wages to work in fields poisoned by pesticides. Their ramshackle government homes are built over dumps where toxic waste poisons the water. The community has suffered a high incidence of cancer--especially in children--, birth defects, and other illnesses related to long-term intake of toxic substances.

One of the main characters, Cerezita, has only half a body, and often occupies center stage encased in an altar-like contraption where only her head shows. She turns pages, points, and performs other basic functions with tongue and teeth. She is a prophetic figure, willing to see and speak, because seeing and speaking are all she can do, and to name the evils that others prefer to call the will of God.

She seeks and finds intellectual companionship in the local priest who is struggling to find an appropriate way to minister to a parish divided among disillusioned cynics turned alcoholic, pious women who want nothing to do with politics, and the angry young, including one young homosexual who feels driven to leave a loving but uncomprehending family, and reveals to the priest that he has AIDS.

The community has been involved in recent protests that consist of hanging the bodies of recently deceased children on crosses in the fields. This dramatic protest has caused public outrage and attracted media attention. The play culminates in a protest in which Cerezita and the priest are shot down and the young man with AIDS cries out for the community to burn the fields. The curtain falls on burning vineyards.

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The Spanish Doctor

Cohen, Matt

Last Updated: Dec-14-2006
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

The story of Avram Halevi of Toledo, a late 14th-century Jewish doctor forced to convert to Christianity at the age of ten. He becomes a physician and surgeon in Montpellier and returns to the poor Jewish sector of his native city to live a dangerous professional life, serving the Christian rich. His relationship with the beautiful, ambitious Gabriela founders as his people are scattered in yet another attack by misguided Christian zealots.

His cousin, Antonio, is cruelly tortured and Halevi euthanizes him in prison. Escaping Toledo, he returns to Montpellier where he finds friends, a wife, a family, and eventually a professorship--but religious rivalry again intervenes through the brutality of a worldly cardinal. Try as he might to remain above the fray of religious and political struggles, Halevi is stripped of all he holds dear and dragged into controversy again because he senses what is morally right.

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The Gifts of the Body

Brown, Rebecca

Last Updated: Dec-14-2006
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Collection (Short Stories)

Summary:

The narrator in each of the stories in this unusual collection is a home-care worker who helps people with AIDS. Each story focuses on a "gift," i.e. "The Gift of Sweat"; "The Gift of Tears"; "The Gift of Mobility" and so on. In each, we see scenes in the weeks or months shared by caregiver and patient. The patients vary widely in age, life situation, stage of illness, and attitude toward both the illness and the caregiver.

The caregiver/narrator also changes somewhat from one story to another, giving the reader some sense of the different stresses and rewards that come in the course of such work. The details of caregiving are elaborated in ways that are sometimes mundane, sometimes surprising, sometimes funny, sometimes harsh, often touching, and always straightforward.

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