Showing 161 - 170 of 298 annotations contributed by Aull, Felice
This is a poem of acceptance and personal strength. The narrator has given up the effort to NOT be like her father, a self-pitying, "defeated" failure. She accepts him, she becomes him, she is transformed: "I /myself, he, I shined." She understands that fate planted her, like a tulip bulb, in that family, and she is now "sure of [her]rightful place."
Note, entered 12/99: The authenticity of this account has been called into question. Legal documents and school records contradict the author’s claim of being a Holocaust survivor. The author, however, maintains that his story is true. News accounts of this controversy first appeared in Weltwoche, a Swiss publication, in an article written by author, Daniel Ganzfried, who researched Wilkomirski’s background (August 27, 1998). Among later reports are those in The Times of London (Sept. 8, 1998), and The New York Times (Nov. 3, 1998). In October, 1999 (Oct.,14, 1999 NY Times report) the German publisher, Suhrkamp Verlag, withdrew from stores all hardcover copies and Schocken Books suspended publication on November 1, 1999.
My Summary and Commentary below were written under the assumption, which appears to be false, that Fragments is a memoir, and not fiction. All indications are that Wilkomirski believes his story to be true. Readers might consider the metaphoric significance of the Holocaust in ongoing individual suffering.
Note, entered 10/01: Interestingly, in relation to my final comment of 12/99 above, a recent article places Wilkomirski’s book within the context of scholarly work on trauma, memory, and testimony. See "Beyond the Question of Authenticity: Witness and Testimony in the Fragments Controversy" by Michael Bernard-Donalis (Proceedings of the Modern Language Association, 116/5, October 2001: 1302-1315).
Note: 2/02: The recently published book, A Life in Pieces, by Blake Eskin (New York: W. W. Norton, 2002) tells the story of Wilkomirski, Fragments, and the research into Wilkomirski’s claims, and places the affair into sociohistoric context.
Subtitled "Memories of a Wartime Childhood," this Holocaust memoir unveils the memory "shards" of a childhood spent in the Nazi death camps of Poland. The author, now a musician living in Switzerland, believes himself to have been born around 1939, in Riga, Latvia. He can’t be certain because his father was shot by militia as young Binjamin watched; later he was separated from his brothers; he remembers his mother only from one brief, forbidden visit with her in Majdanek concentration camp when they were both confined there.
Because the memoir is narrated primarily in the present tense, from the perspective of a confused, frightened child, in disjointed flashbacks, the reader viscerally experiences the bewilderment, physical hardships, the viscious cruelty of the guards, the sickening realities of existence (rats, lice, beetles; standing barefoot, ankle-deep in excrement), the fear and guilt [yes, guilt!--for inadvertently betraying another child]. But there was kindness as well--the wise older child, Jankl, who taught Binjamin survival techniques; the women inmates who hid Binjamin and other children under cloths in the laundry room--for weeks on end.
Near the end of the war, camp guards deserted and the surviving inmates staggered out--Binjamin was literally dragged along, against his will, by a camp inmate who recognized him. Somehow he ended up in an orphanage in Krakow, Poland. Here, there was fear of a different kind--distrust of all adults, fear of being "discovered" as a camp survivor (to be held responsible for another child’s death, and for abandoning his mother), total unfamiliarity with the habits of "normal" life.
Wilkomirski’s memoir begins and ends in Switzerland, where he was placed in foster care. In Switzerland there are other nightmares. Spastic attempts to verbalize his experiences are ridiculed, disbelieved, squelched. Not until a high school teacher--a German who fled to Switzerland during the war--shows documentary footage of the allied liberation of Mathausen concentration camp, does Binjamin realize that HE was never liberated. "Where was I when everyone else was being freed? . . . nobody tended us . . . the way it happened in the film. Nobody ever told me that the camp was . . . finally, definitely over . . . that . . . I could go forward without fear or threat into a new time . . . Not even later."
An even-handed consideration of the essence of doctoring, this poem packs into a few short lines the paradoxes, frustrations, rewards, and dangers inherent in the profession. It depicts the doctor’s power, skill, humanity, dedication, and sometime arrogance, and the arena in which the work is done--"they are only a human / trying to fix up a human." Sexton warns that arrogance has profound consequences: "If they [doctors] are too proud, . . . then they leave home on horseback / but God returns them on foot."
The scene is painted on the diagonal, which is both destabilizing and draws the viewer immediately into the picture. In the right foreground looms a large oval or round brown table on which sit a box of matches and a half-full tumbler of clear liquid. As the viewer’s eye follows the tumbler diagonally back, a gray-haired, balding man wearing a brown suit or robe is seated at the table, leaning back in his chair, smoking a cigar.
Behind the cigar smoker, near a corner of the room, standing with her back to the man, is a woman dressed in a white blouse and black skirt. She leans with her bent left arm on a chest of drawers and rests her chin on her right hand, leaning on her bent right elbow. Her features are not clearly visible, but her eyes appear to be closed. A painting of a woman’s upper body hangs above her on the wall that faces the viewer.
Summary:A witty and wildly imaginative evocation of a female patient’s encounter with a male physician. The poem is full of the counterplay of eroticism and sterile technology, of the body as love object and object of diagnosis, of the doctor’s cool clinicality and the patient’s desperate neediness. To her, the doctor is an "abstracted lover" for whom she willingly lies down "while he unfolds / her disease . . . ." Orgasmically, "he warms / to his consummation" which is for him "a most enjoyable diagnosis." He is finished with her but she feels cheated--he hasn’t grasped her essence. "Don’t leave me! Learn me!" " . . . taste my living texture. / Sweat to hunt me with love, and burn with me."
Summary:Subtitled, "Essays from a Cancer Limbo Time," this collection of essays constitutes a memoir of living while dying. It was written during the time following the author’s acute treatment for Stage IV lung cancer, when she felt well enough to write--a period of approximately one year during which she was still taking oral anticancer medication. Based on journal entries and memory, Cumming reflects on what it is like to be in a state of "recovery" while at the same time, and variably, anticipating death. "I knew that my kind of cancer was not curable, and yet, for a spell, it seemed to have vanished" (xvi). How does one go about living in the face of "a very good partial response" to treatment?
Mackay’s story begins in the 1940s when, at age 5, he was sent to a "boarding school" run by the Catholic order of the Pauline Brothers. Mackay’s mother had herself been institutionalized for paranoid schizophrenia and his father was not in the picture. In the school Mackay was exposed to pervasive violence: "intramural" violence wherein the stronger children taunted and beat up the weaker ones; classroom violence in which the instructors slapped or beat with a razor strop those boys they deemed to be errant in any respect; organized boxing matches; and, most feared, "statutory evening punishment" where students had been selected out by a Brother to be humiliated and beaten after the evening meal and prayers. The latter violence was characterized by "the absence of mercy" and a sadistic ritualism that induced "sick-making terror" in its victims.
We follow Mackay through additional episodes of violence as he progresses through delinquent adolescence--now living in a welfare hotel with his mother--through a stint in the Navy, marriage and fatherhood, and, finally, to an episode in the New York City subway that is the crisis point of the story. In the Navy he is once again victimized by a drill instructor who humiliates Mackay into losing the "instinctive cringe" he had developed during his years at the institution.
Mackay reads in the newspaper that an old buddy--"they had suffered shame and pain together that could never be explained to anyone (38)"--has been murdered in the subway while coming to a woman’s aid. Mackay is terribly troubled by this incident, not only because of the earlier close relationship, but also because he finds himself intrigued by the story. A year later, Mackay is in a similar situation--in his presence, a well dressed but deranged man is threatening a woman in a subway station.
This is a poem that celebrates the divided self and disconnection. The speaker wonders whether his tendency to be scattered--to not "find out till tomorrow / what you felt today"--is natural, is in fact, "what makes our species great." Is this "dividedness" what allowed "surgeon Keats to find a perfect rhyme / wrist-deep in the disorder / of an open abdomen"? The poem ends with another kind of disconnectedness: a deliberate separation of self from "the whole world in unison" that is preparing itself for the onset of winter: "I have this strange conviction / that I am going to be born."
A woman dressed in simple clothes sits sideways in a small room. The furniture is sparse and primitive; a shaft of daylight shines from above into a corner--the effect is almost dungeon-like. In the left foreground is a standing object--perhaps a churn or other implement.
The woman is leaning forward, facing the floor, the left side of her head resting on her bent left arm. Her eyes seem to be closed. Close by, in a corner, two young children are tangled up with each other--playing or fighting.
Summary:The narrator is both sympathetic observer and harsh judge, evoking the conflicting emotions, and human and ethical considerations surrounding the abortion of a fetus. The choice and juxtaposition of words is powerful and shocking: "more monster than murdered . . . autumn in our terrible breath."