Showing 191 - 200 of 875 annotations tagged with the keyword "Society"

The Wall of the Plague

Brink, Andre

Last Updated: Aug-05-2009
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

South Africans, Paul and Andrea, are lovers living in France. Paul is fiftyish and white; Andrea is thirty and “coloured.” He has just asked her to marry him. She travels to Provence ostensibly to research sites for a film to be based on Paul’s endlessly forthcoming novel about fourteenth-century plague. But the real reason for the journey is to test her feelings about his proposal—she is leaning to ‘yes.’

As five days roll by, she relives the trajectory of her life: her impoverished parents, her thwarted education, her angry, imprisoned brother, and the previous affair with Brian, a British historian with whom she was captured ‘in flagrante,’ sent to trial, found guilty, and offered prison or voluntary exile. Brian and Andrea left South Africa together, but their relationship eventually crumbled. She had trouble understanding his passion for the past and his love of detail.

In Provence, Andrea avoids places that Paul had wanted her to go, finding strength in solitude and independence. But that feeling is shattered when he asks her to rescue their penniless, black friend, Mandla, an anti-apartheid activist who has been betrayed by a comrade who turned out to be a spy.

Andrea doesn’t like Mandla, his sanctimonious accusations, arrogance, and probing. He is a racist and a male chauvinist, given to violence. But his constant questioning finally unleashes deeper memories of the shocking abuses of her life in apartheid South Africa—memories she has suppressed or attempted to blame on class struggle rather than racial intolerance. She tries to provoke his empathy with the terrible tragedy of the long ago plague. He resists, being concerned far more with the present, but he relents a little and begins to see racism as a plague and walls as feeble, futile attempts to exclude others.

Andrea falls for Mandla, makes love with him near the plague wall, and decides to refuse Paul and return to South Africa. But Mandla rejects a future with her because he wants no vulnerability in his struggle. He is killed in the night by a car. Was the death deliberate? accidental? suicide? Andrea leaves anyway.

In a short second part, Paul writes to Andrea of his own growing doubts about their future together despite his love.

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The Ghetto

Bak, Samuel

Last Updated: Jul-18-2009
Annotated by:
Bertman, Sandra

Primary Category: Visual Arts / Painting/Drawing

Genre: Oil on canvas

Summary:

A tightly walled cube-shaped block of buildings seemingly made of child’s building blocks looms in the midst of a barren foreground of stony rubble and a background of hazy nondescript sky. No sign of life, human or vegetation, anywhere. Entirely in shades of muted yellow, orange, ochre and brown, coloring suggestive of a crematorium, the canvas reeks of desolation.The only window into the tomb-like image, seen from above, is a carved cut-out star of David through which can be glimpsed a more detailed view of the abandoned ghetto. Barely visible, a pale yellow cloth remnant of the star of David stitched to their clothes to identify Jews sits atop one of the rooftop slates.

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Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

In the 1527 sack of Rome, undiscplined troops of the Holy Roman Emperor rape, pillage, and destroy. The beautiful couresan Fiammetta Bianchini opens her house to the marauders, inviting them inside for food and comfort. The act gives her household a moment’s reprieve. Her golden tresses savagely shorn, she swallows her jewels and escapes north to her native Venice in the company of her servant and companion, the dwarf, Bucino Teodoldi.

Arriving with almost nothing, they set about establishing a reputation and securing backers. The small company is helped by Fiammetta’s friend and admirer the satirist and poet, Pietro Aretino. Her portrait is painted by his friend, Titian.

Clever and loyal to a fault, Bucino frets over finances and willingly engages in subterfuges that mesmerize their audiences. Fiammetta accepts the attentions of tedious but wealthy admirers in exchange for a house and status. She comes to rely on a blind woman healer, called La Draga who supplies medicine and cosmetics. Bucino is suspicious and jealous, but he tolerates the competition grudingly. He too has many ailments, including headaches and arthritis, because of his deformity.

Suspense swirls around a banned book, a Jewish shopkeeper, and La Draga’s mysterious origins in the glass-making town of Murano.

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Summary:

Born in 1921 in Belarus (White Russia), the author lost his father (a doctor) as a baby and was raised by his mother who worked as a surgical nurse and midwife. He excelled in school and was on the verge of entering medical school, but the political upheaval of World War II drew him away from studies.
 
Drafted to serve in the Polish army, the eighteen year-old became a sergeant in charge of a platoon by June 1939 fighting against Germany along its border with Poland. Three months later he was captured and imprisoned in cruel conditions. By November, he escaped and began a long walk home, helped by strangers, only to find that the Soviets had taken over. Arrested again, this time for being anti-Communist, he spent January to June 1941 in a Soviet prison, and narrowly avoided execution when the Russians retreated at the German invasion of Minsk. Another return home was met with the tragic news that his mother had been killed when German bombs hit the hospital in which she worked.

Enraged by the succession of destructive invaders, Ragula helped create a nationalist freedom army, the Eskradon, ironically with German support, and a Bulletin to inform citizens and lobby for better conditions. By the time World War II drew to an end he was married to Ludmila (in 1944) and on the move, seeking a medical education.

As refugees, the couple moved to Marburg, Germany in 1945, where Ragula began medical school. But money was always a problem and the post-war restructuring of Europe made them fearful. Hearing of a program for refugees in Louvain, Boris entered Belgium illegally in 1949 and finally completed his medical degree in 1951 at age thirty-one. In 1954, the couple settled in the medium-sized town of London Ontario, Canada. There Ragula interned and set up a family practice. He and Ludmila raised their family of four in peaceful security that contrasted starkly with their own upbringing.

Precocious in promoting health, Ragula campaigned tirelessly against smoking, inactivity, and overeating, and he worked in aboriginal communities, convinced that a doctor's role was to prevent disease as much as it was to treat it.  Here too he found enemies and friends.
 
In 1963, Ragula was involved in a non-related kidney donation between patients-a selfless act that touched him deeply. For him, it represented the pinnacle of scientific achievement and epitomized how humans should care for one another.

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Mr. Pip

Jones, Lloyd

Last Updated: Jul-05-2009
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Thirteen-year-old Matilda lives on a south Pacific island with copper mines. Rebels and other more official warriors are tearing the place apart. A blockade has made resources scarce and communication impossible; fathers are absent at distant work. Along with everything else, the local school collapses. 

Mr. Watts, the only island white man, offers to take over the education of the children, but he has no experience, few materials and just one book: his treasured copy of Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations. He begins reading a few pages every day. Captivated by the story, the children repeat it to their mothers when they go home each night.  

Matilda believes that she loves Mr. Dickens more than anyone else and she is both bemused and irritated by her stern mother's suspicion of the strange, possibly godless, white man and her feigned disinterest in Pip. Parents are invited to the school to pass on their own expectations about learning. Students accept these moments with pride and embarrassment.

The political chaos deepens, homes are destroyed, and the book vanishes. But Watts (nicknamed Mr. Pip) turns the loss to advantage by helping the students to recover fragments in a lengthy effort of collective recollection.

The ever menacing warriors return. Little more than frightened children in an incomprehensible conflict, they indulge in senseless brutality and killing. With courage absorbed from her mother, Matilda escapes, rediscovers her father, and finds a scholarly future—a life she embraces because of Mr. Dickens and Mr. Pip.

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This study sets forth the mystery of scurvy  which devastated the British Navy during the eighteenth century. Among several diseases common on board, including yellow fever, typhus, or typhoid fever, syphilis, tuberculosis, and dysentery, scurvy was the most devastating. Caused by a lack of vitamin C, scurvy’s symptoms appear as swollen and bleeding gums, livid spots on the skin, and prostration. Untreated, the illness results in agonizing death. When Commodore George Anson’s flagship, Centurion, sailed from Plymouth in 1741, rounded Cap Horn and returned to Britain, his ship carried home only two hundred of the two thousand men he set out with. A deadly combination of voyages lasting a year or more, unhealthy conditions on board, including malnutrition, filth, crowding, ignorance about basic facts of biology, as well as inexperienced sailors pressed into crewing on ships managed by violent officers using harsh physical punishment resulted in millions of deaths at sea from the age of Columbus to the nineteenth century, when scurvy remedies were finally found.

Bown credits three men with discovering a solution to the mystery of scurvy: a surgeon, James Lind (1716-1794), sea captain James Cook (1728-1779), and a  physician, Gilbert Blane (1749-1843). Lemon juice had been known to prevent and cure scurvy since the 17th century, but 18th century medical men disregarded empirical knowledge in favor of the theory of humours.

James Lind entered the Royal Navy as a surgeon’s mate in 1739 under appalling conditions similar to those described by Tobias Smollett in Roderick Random (1748). He initiated a two-week controlled experiment where he separated the afflicted sailors into 6 groups who each received a different diet: cider, vitriol, vinegar, sea water, oranges and lemons, and nutmeg paste. The group receiving the oranges and lemons obtained the best results. Lind published his treatise on scurvy in 1753. However, he was unable to explain the causes of scurvy and why oranges and lemons led to its cure.

James Cook circumnavigated the world 3 times. On his lengthy voyages, he stopped for fresh fruits and antiscorbutics wherever he could, as he noticed these kept the seamen free of scurvy. Cook showed that scurvy was curable, but not why.

During the War of American Independence, Gilbert Blane served as a physician on board several warships in the British Navy. He instituted a diet of fresh fruits and better hygiene on board ship. He published Observations on the Diseases Incident to Seamen, in which he advocated using oranges and lemons to cure scurvy. He advised that lemon juice be mixed into the sailors’ grog.

The British Navy encountered an historic ordeal in 1805 with the Battle of Trafalgar. Admiral Nelson, commander of the British Navy, had nearly died from scurvy in 1780. Now he faced Napoleon Bonaparte and the French fleet. Bown argues that the near- elimination of scurvy on board their ships contributed mightily to the British victory.

A timeline, from 1492 to 1933, concludes the volume. Recommended readings, a bibliography and an index are provided.

 

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This collection of stories offers a sidelong view of medicine from the perspective of a thoughtful, experienced doctor of internal medicine at a teaching institution (UCSF) in an urban setting that brings a wide variety of types of patients to his door.  In a context of evident respect and admiration for even the quirkiest of them, Watts admits to the kinds of personal responses most have been trained to hide-laughter, anger, bewilderment, frustration, empathetic sorrow.  The cases he recounts include several whose inexplicabilities ultimately require action based as much on intuition as on science.  He includes several stories of illness among his own family and friends, and makes it clear in others how his professional decisions affect his home life and his own state of mind.  

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Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

Twenty-one stanzas of couplets spin out stereotypes of Native Americans promulgated by white American culture.  Among those stereotypes that Alexie develops: the tragic Indian; Indian women as sexual objects for white men; Indian men as secretly desirable to white women; Indians as violent, alcoholic, childlike, mystical, and members of a "horse culture."  But in addition, Alexie emphasizes how American whites have co-opted Indian culture: "white people must carry an Indian deep inside themselves" until finally, "all of the white people will be Indians and all of the Indians will be ghosts."

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The Kite Runner

Hosseini, Khaled

Last Updated: Apr-16-2009
Annotated by:
Shafer, Audrey

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

In his debut novel, Dr. Khaled Hosseini tells a tale that begins in his homeland, Afghanistan, and ends in his adopted country, the United States. Amir, son of a wealthy Pashtun merchant, narrates the story. Amir and his father, Baba, are attended by two Hazara servants, Ali and his hare-lipped son, Hassan. Amir and Hassan are friends, but Amir is troubled by a guilty conscience over multiple slights and sly insults aimed at Hassan. The burden of guilt intensifies over an incident at a kite-flying contest when Amir is twelve years old.

Kite flying in Afghanistan is an intricate affair involving glass-embedded string that contestants use to slice the strings of other kites. The winner is not only the one with the last kite flying, but also the one who catches the last cut kite--the kite runner. At the close of the contest, Amir witnesses the traumatization of his friend Hassan, the finest kite runner, at the hands of an evil youth, Assef. Too shamed to help Hassan, Amir is nearly swallowed by his cowardice: the rest of the story follows the consequences of his guilt.

Amir and Baba emigrate to the United States during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, but Amir, as a young adult, returns during the Taliban regime in order to redeem himself and help Hassan's son. The story is filled with plot twists and revelations of secrets and hidden relationships, which enable Amir to confront some of his shortcomings. The oppression, torture, and murder of Afghanis by the Taliban are graphically depicted.

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In the Introduction the editors describe the "day of reckoning" they each experienced at one point--the sudden realization that they were "fat." Prior to this insight, they had identified fatness with negative characteristics, like being funny or undesirable; the breakthrough came when they were able to experience fatness as simply factual and not value-laden. This freed them to enjoy their lives without looking over their shoulders, so to speak, to see how other people reacted to them. Their liberating insight led to this anthology, which consists of "works of notable literary merit...that illustrate the range of ’fat’ experience." (p. xiii)

A number of the stories and poems in Who Are You Looking At? have individual entries elsewhere in this database. These include: Andre Dubus, The Fat Girl; Stephen Dunn, Power; Jack Coulehan, The Six Hundred Pound Man; J. L. Haddaway, When Fat Girls Dream; Patricia Goedicke, Weight Bearing; Rawdon Toimlinson, Fat People at the Amusement Park; Monica Wood, Disappearing; and Raymond Carver, Fat (annotated by Carol Donley and also by Felice Aull and Irene Chen).

One of the outstanding pieces in the anthology is a long story by Junot Diaz entitled "The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao" (42 pages). Oscar is a Dominican boy who is both fat and a nerd. He is obsessed with girls, but none will have anything to do with him, until he meets Ana who becomes his (platonic) "best friend" until her boyfriend Manny returns from the Army.

As narrated by Oscar’s sister’s boyfriend, things go from bad to worse until Oscar spends a summer in Santo Domingo and meets Yvon, an older woman whose former boyfriend, the Captain, is a cop. When Oscar pursues Yvon, he first gets beat up and later the Captain kills him, but before the end he actually makes love to Yvon. In his last letter to his sister, Oscar writes, "So this is what everybody’s always talking about! Diablo! If only I’d known. The beauty! The beauty!"

Editor's note (4/14/09): The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao was published as a full-length book in 2007 and won the Pulitzer Prize.

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