Showing 171 - 180 of 210 annotations in the genre "Memoir"

Before I Say Goodbye

Picardie, Ruth

Last Updated: Feb-19-2002
Annotated by:
Belling, Catherine

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

Ruth Picardie was a journalist working in London. Shortly after her marriage in 1994 to Matt Seaton, also a journalist, she found a breast lump. After testing, she was told it was benign. Two years later, and a year after giving birth to twins, the lump enlarged and this time she was diagnosed with advanced, inoperable breast cancer. She rapidly developed bone, liver, and brain metastases and died in September 1997, aged 33.

This book consists of a selection of Picardie's e-mail correspondence during the last year of her life, the columns she wrote for the Observer newspaper (a series about dying she called "Before I say goodbye"), readers' letters responding to her column, and an introduction and epilogue by her husband. While not, then, strictly a memoir, this collection of texts constitutes an intimate view of a witty, angry young woman undergoing an intolerable illness.

The expected elements are there: diagnosis, chemotherapy, radiation, hope, the loss of hope. What is unexpected is the way these are presented, and the vividness with which we share the prospect of saying good bye to her children, her gradual detachment from her husband, and, as the brain metastases spread, the loss of coherence and the appalling silencing of her powerful voice.

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Walt Whitman's Civil War

Whitman, Walt

Last Updated: Feb-07-2002
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

This book presents the "War of Attempted Secession" through the eyes of America's great poet. It consists of letters, dispatches, articles, and prose selections from Specimen Days (1882), Whitman's quasi-autobiography. In addition, all of Whitman's Civil War poems are included, some interspersed through the text and others collected in an Appendix.

The editor has arranged this material into 14 thematic chapters, beginning with "an introductory section in which Whitman discusses the general character of the Civil War" and including chapters containing material on his visits to the front, life in Washington during the War, letters to his mother, his admiration for Lincoln, and other topics.

Of particular interest is "The Great Army of the Wounded," a chapter composed of dispatches to the New York Times and Brooklyn Eagle, in which Whitman describes the military hospitals surrounding Washington and his own work as a volunteer nurse, scribe, and friendly visitor. In "Dear Love of Comrades," he presents a number of "specimen" cases of sick or wounded soldiers. "O My Soldiers, My Veterans" consists of letters written to soldiers, or for soldiers to their families. Another chapter, "Ethiopia Saluting the Colors," presents Whitman's positive assessment of black regiments serving in the Union Army.

Many of the war poems appear in topically appropriate chapters; among the most effective of these are "A Twilight Song," "Over the Carnage Rose Prophetic a Voice," "Pensive on Her Dead Gazing," "Dirge for Two Veterans," "Ethiopia Saluting the Colors," "O Captain! My Captain," and The Wound Dresser (see annotation in this database).

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Annotated by:
Belling, Catherine

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

Nan Shin was an American woman living as a Zen Buddhist nun in France. She is diagnosed with advanced uterine cancer, undergoes surgery and chemotherapy and, by the end of the book, it appears, is dying. Her account does not, however, take the conventional form of the illness narrative; in fact its form might be called anti-narrative, for its focus is not on the story of Shin's illness and dying, but rather on the "every day living" that is at the center of her Zen beliefs.

The book consists of several strands that recur in alternating sections. One strand describes, in minute detail, the course of a single day's devotions and activities in the life of a Zen nun. Another traces the author's travels in the United States with her sensei, an astonishing man whose perspective on American culture is both detached and hilariously insightful.

A third tells of the author's frequent horseback rides through the French countryside, with beautifully focused and precise descriptions of the natural surroundings. Finally, there is the illness, presented matter-of-factly but conveying powerfully the author's (not always wholly successful) efforts to put into practice, in such trying circumstances, all she has learnt as a practitioner of Zen.

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Inside the Halo and Beyond

Kumin, Maxine

Last Updated: Nov-01-2001
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

In July 1998 the poet Maxine Kumin was thrown from her carriage when her horse bolted during a competition. The type of cervical (C1-C2) fracture that she sustained is fatal before reaching the hospital in 95% of cases, and if survived, usually results in quadriplegia. This book is a memoir written in the form of a journal that begins on the day of the accident. In fact, it was nearly a month after the accident that the poet's daughter brought writing materials to the rehab hospital, and Maxine began to dictate the journal, and the two of them filled in the temporal gaps.

The journal covers her experience in the acute care hospital, the rehab facility, and the following months of convalescence at home. It ends on April 23, 1999, when Maxine climbs a hill (unassisted) near her Vermont home, looks out over the early spring vista, and concludes, "I am letting myself believe I will heal."

The journal describes the poet's physical, emotional, and spiritual experiences as she struggles, first to survive, and then to live with the "halo vest" that for months she had to wear to stabilize her fractured neck bones, and finally to regain her function and equilibrium. Much of the story is about her family--husband, son, and daughters--who mobilize from various points around the world to support her. Comments about her doctors and the medical care she received constitute only a small, at times almost incidental, part of this narrative.

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Annotated by:
Kohn, Martin

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

A physician seeks solace at the South Pole. Her planned one year stay there is cut short when she discovers a lump in her breast. The attempts to care for her at the South Pole (with telecommunicated help from the U.S.) prove insufficient and a plan to rescue her is successful.

There's more than the drama of illness in a remote location in this book, however. Intertwined with this story of illness is the story of the author's troubled marriage (to her physician-husband), the eventual estrangement from her children, the support of her family of origin, and most fascinatingly the daily rhythms of living (and doctoring) at the South Pole. Scattered throughout the memoir are occasional critiques of "corporate" medicine and poems that inspired the author throughout her ordeal.

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Annotated by:
Belling, Catherine

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

At the age of 42, Barbara Rosenblum learns, after several misdiagnoses, that she has advanced breast cancer. This book, co-written by Rosenblum, a sociologist, and her lesbian partner, Sandra Butler, a feminist writer and activist, is a record of their lives together from the diagnosis until Rosenblum's death three years later. Early on, Rosenblum decides that her dying will be exemplary and self-conscious, and she and Butler use their writing as a way to create an illuminating examination of their lives over those three years.

The book's title is accurate; the writing takes the form of alternating meditations by two women, on the effects of cancer on their relationship, their work, their families, and their social, political, and spiritual beliefs. Especially significant are the differences between their voices, and the differences between the experience of the person who is dying and that of the person who is going to have to survive and grieve. The writers bravely explore the conflicts between them as well as their profound bonds.

After a mastectomy and eighteen months of chemotherapy, Rosenblum has a very brief respite, followed by liver and lung metastases, and prolonged further chemotherapy. A few months after ending treatment, she dies at home.

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Manhattan, When I Was Young

Cantwell, Mary

Last Updated: Aug-17-2001
Annotated by:
Dittrich, Lisa

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

In the second volume of her trilogy of memoirs (which begins with American Girl and ends with Speaking with Strangers), Mary Cantwell, a former fashion magazine editor and writer, describes her marriage, the birth of her two daughters, her career advancements, and her divorce, with Manhattan in the 1950s as the backdrop.

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Summary:

This memoir begins in Africa, where Dr. Grim is with Médecins sans Frontières managing a meningitis outbreak in Nigeria. Conditions are appalling, but she has come here because of burnout: "so I won't be back home and in the ER" (11). Later in the book, she describes her other "escapes" from the Emergency Room, caring for war refugees in the Balkans.

The book centers, however, on life in an American emergency department, as Grim remembers it from the vantage point of Africa (where she does eventually become nostalgic for well-stocked supply cupboards and a more comprehensible chaos). She organizes her stories into a series of "Lessons in Emergency Medicine," in which she addresses the reader directly. After going through a step-by-step account of death in the ER, illustrated with several moving and alarming cases, she concludes: "Congratulations: you have successfully declared someone dead. Now, as an encore . . . you'll get to do it all over again" (28).

The ironic, even bitter, tone warns us of the difficulty of working in such perpetually crisis-ridden circumstances, but it does not conceal a vulnerability that seems necessary to doing the job well, such as when Grim has to tell a family that the father has died of the heart attack he had at his daughter's wedding: "you just stood there," she says, "looking at the corsage, the tuxedo and the pearls . . . You had no idea what to say and you don't really remember what you finally came out with" (26).

The stories are organized around several lessons: "How to deliver a baby," "How to crack a chest," "How to write a prescription" (which includes a discussion of addiction to prescription medication and a withering account of the doctor who overprescribes), and, as if it's as inevitable as the rest, "How to burn out."

By the book's final chapter, emergency medicine has merged, along with the vaccination of refugee children and the impossibility of treating tetanus in Nigeria, into the story of almost unreasonable determination in the face of endless frustration--but this, Grim shows in her final chapter, "Why I do what I do," is the point. Against this backdrop her final story, about the rescue of a child, makes its point: the feeling of saving a life explains all the rest.

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Annotated by:
Donley, Carol

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

This work describes a young girl, Barbara, growing up in a poor rural Alabama family with a charismatic but abusive father and a nurturing mother unable to leave him, even for the sake of the children. Barbara suffers facial malformation, partly because of malnutrition and no access to dental or medical care.

Her gums cannot close over her buck teeth, her skull is longer and narrower than it should be, her bite does not close properly, and she has several black moles on her face. When she finally has major facial surgery, she is in her late twenties with a six year old son. He does not recognize the pretty women who comes home from the hospital.

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Lying: A Metaphorical Memoir

Slater, Lauren

Last Updated: Apr-13-2001
Annotated by:
Belling, Catherine

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

The first chapter of this memoir consists of two words: "I exaggerate." The narrator then tells us the story of her childhood and early adult experiences as an epileptic. After having her first seizure, at the age of ten, she spends a month at a special Catholic school in Topeka, Kansas, where the nuns teach epileptic children to fall without hurting themselves. This falling may or may not be literal; it is certainly symbolically apt.

During adolescence, Lauren begins lying, stealing, and faking seizures to get attention. She reveals that she has developed Munchausen's Syndrome, whose sufferers are "makers of myths that are still somehow true, the illness a conduit to convey real pain" (88). A neurologist, Dr. Neu, performs surgery severing Lauren's corpus callosum, effectively dividing her brain in half and markedly alleviating the seizure disorder.

Later she attends a writer's workshop where she begins an affair with a married man, a writer much older than she. After it ends badly, she starts going to Alcoholics Anonymous (although she does not drink) and tells her story with such authenticity that when she later confesses that she is NOT an alcoholic, no-one believes her, dismissing her true story as denial. The memoir ends both with her recognition of the value of narrating and with a silent fall to the snowy ground, as the nuns taught her to do, in the knowledge that the sense of falling (rather than the material certainty of landing) is all that is finally, reliably, real.

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