Showing 201 - 210 of 2728 Literature annotations

Someone

McDermott, Alice

Last Updated: Feb-13-2014
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Marie Commeford, daughter of Irish Catholic immigrants who grows up in Brooklyn, narrates her life story in episodes rich with reflection on the losses, failed fantasies, illnesses, and disappointments of a life at the edge of poverty, which is also rich with love and poetry and humor and the stuff of which wisdom is made.  The story unfolds as memory unfolds, in flashbacks and reconstructions shaped by a present vantage point from which it all assumes a certain mantle of grace.   From the opening story in which a neighbor girl slips on the steps to a basement apartment and is killed, to repeated glimpses of a blind veteran who umpires the neighborhood boys' street games, to the bereaved families Marie meets when she works for the local undertaker, to her gradual discovery of her brother's closeted homosexuality, and to her aging mother's death, the story keeps reminding us of how much of life is coming to terms with the "ills that flesh is heir to," and also how resilience grows in the midst of loss.  Because much of the story represents the vantage point of a child only partially protected from hard things, it invites us to reflect on how children absorb large and hard truths and learn to cope with them. 

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Immortal Bird: A Family Memoir

Weber, Doron

Last Updated: Feb-10-2014
Annotated by:
Schilling, Carol

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

Damon Weber's proud father, Doron, has written a searing memoir that enfolds a story of parental love and loss into a medical exposé. By the time Damon turned four, he had two open-heart surgeries to correct a congenital malformation that affected circulation to his lungs. His parents were led to believe that after the surgeries, their effervescent, sociable, academically and artistically talented son was set for life. However, as Damon turned 12, they became concerned about what his father calls "his unsprung height," his shortness of breath, and a strange protrusion in his abdomen (40). Returning to his attending physician, they were surprised that she withheld information from them about a condition known as PLE (protein-losing entropy), which can manifest months or years after the kind of surgery (Fontan) their son underwent. PLE enlarges the liver and allows proteins to leak from the intestines. Without adequate protein, Damon's body could not grow. His father worried that they might have passed the established window of opportunity to treat the complication.

The memoir, which reads like an extended eulogy to a beloved son, fuses scenes of family life with difficult medical decisions aimed at reversing the effects of PLE. However, none of the interventions succeed, leaving a heart transplant as Damon's last hope. As Weber recounts each decision leading to the transplant, he exposes flaws in the way hospital systems operate, in the way families are treated, and in the care provided by the medical team that lobbied to perform the transplant. Damon died after his transplant physician made herself scarce after misdiagnosing a post-operative complication, and an inattentive hospital staff ignored his parents' justifiable alerts to ominous symptoms. Scenes of the hospital staff waiting impatiently at the door to Damon's room to remove the machines sustaining and monitoring him, as his distraught parents say good-bye, are disturbing. When the Webers initiate a lawsuit, the transplant physician cannot locate Damon's medical records. The narrative fully absorbs Weber's sorrow and anger.

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Far From The Tree

Solomon, Andrew

Last Updated: Dec-20-2013
Annotated by:
Henderson, Schuyler

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Treatise

Summary:

The author of this long, compassionate and often startling treatise on identity interviewed over three hundred families to elicit stories about raising exceptional children, stories that also come from these exceptional children ('exceptional' is the term chosen to describe the children in the author's material about the book).

'Far From The Tree' explores the challenges children face in being raised in families where one prominent feature in their identity is forged by something out of their parents' control and generally not part of the family's experience until then. These identities are not 'vertical' (passed down from generations of parents to their children), but 'horizontal', springing up between those who share in that identity at any one time. Solomon begins by wondering about his own relationship with his parents when he was a child discovering his sexuality and ends with his own role as a father, 'the terrifying joy of unbearable responsibility' (702); between the two poles of his own experience, he meets parents and children who have experienced deafness, dwarfism, autism, schizophrenia, severe physical disabilities and diverse gender identities, prodigies, children who were concieved by rape and children who became criminal.  

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Under the Skin

Faber, Michel

Last Updated: Dec-04-2013
Annotated by:
Ratzan, Richard M.

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Isserley is an alien whose assignment on earth is to abduct male (preferably muscular and burly) hitchikers for their processing, in a subterranean area under a barn in Scotland where she and her fellow aliens are based, as farmed animals that are castrated, made mute by tongue-amputation and fattened up in pens like calves for their veal. After a few months, they are eventually slaughtered and butchered for meat and then transported back to Isserley's native land, which is portrayed as a dark, arid, unpleasant place where meat is a rare and expensive delicacy.

Vaguely canine in her original form, Isserley has had to undergo mutilating surgery to pass as a human whose day job is to drive on the A9 of Scotland picking up unsuspecting men and then, after sometimes quite interesting conversations, paralyzing them by flicking a switch that activates twin jets that come up through the front passenger seat injecting an immediately acting curare-like drug. Isserley then transports them back to the farm.

In constant physical pain from the surgery and the unnatural upright posture, and always questioning herself, her role on earth, her feminity amongst the otherwise all male alien workforce, Isserley falls in love with the earth's natural world (there are not oceans or lakes on her world), especially Scotland's lochs, rain, cloud and snow. Sheep hold a special place in her heart.

Amlis Vess, the son of the owner of the company that is selling earthmeat at exorbitant prices back home, shows up for an unnannounced site visit and curiosity since he is ideologically opposed to this killing of animals - he has no idea how sentient and intelligent earthlings are and this fact is carefully kept secret from him during his brief visit, which is also marked by his marvelling at earth's natural beauties and what appears to be an emotional or sexual attraction to Isserley.

After some rough handling by one of the hitchhikers who attempts to rape her, her troubling interactions with Amlis Vess, news that the police have taken notice of a missing hitchhiker and are conducting an investigation, and her discovery that there may be a replacement for her in the offing - Isserley decides to strike out on her own. The end of the novel is, although not shocking, not expected.

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The Way of the Physician

Needleman, Jacob

Last Updated: Dec-02-2013
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Treatise

Summary:

Jacob Needleman, a philosopher concerned with "applying philosophy to the questions of everyday life," taught medical ethics at San Francisco State University (SFSU). In this highly personal book he addresses what it means to be a "good doctor" and the role of physicians in contemporary society. The book is structured as a series of imaginary letters addressed to his childhood idol, the physician who treated him when he was 12 years old.

The aged Dr. Kaufman responds to these letters, although we see only the philosopher’s side of the correspondence. Toward the end of the book, Needleman makes a pilgrimage to Philadelphia to visit his ailing mentor. They talk for a while, then when the old man takes a nap, Needleman spends the rest of the day conversing with Dr. Kaufman’s daughter, a pediatrician who in some sense represents the "good" medicine of the future, just as her father represented the "good" medicine of the past.

In these letters the author addresses the deep questions of character and motivation in the form of a personal narrative. He recalls his experiences as a boy, his ambition to become a doctor, and several incidents from his life as an autopsy assistant and hospital orderly. For example, there is the bizarre story of the young man transporting an amputated leg by elevator; he accidentally drops the leg to the floor and the wrappings flip open, much to the astonishment of others on the elevator.

"People don’t trust science; people trust people." (p. 15) Similarly, Jacob Needleman writes, people don’t trust or distrust medicine as an institution; they trust or distrust doctors. "To be a good doctor, one must first of all be a good (person). And to be a good (person) one has to begin by discovering in oneself the desire for truth . . . truth is the only effective force." (p. 68)

To facilitate this quest for truth, Needleman describes in these letters a four-seminar sequence he teaches at SFSU: "To whom is the physician responsible?," "The art of living and the art of medicine," "Care," and "The financial disease of modern medicine." (pp. 71-72) Through these seminars the author hopes to re-awaken in prospective physicians the quest for truth, and the possibility of care, that he believes have been submerged by technology and infected by the financial disease. Dr. Kaufman’s daughter serves as a real-life example of the possibility of cultivating the contemporary version of the "good doctor."

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The Cure

Barrett, Andrea

Last Updated: Dec-02-2013
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

Nora Kynd (born in 1825) was a central character in Barrett’s Ship Fever (in this database). She survived illness and quarantine at Grosse Ile, but lost contact with both her younger brothers, Ned and Denis. She reaches Detroit by 1848 where she learns about herbal remedies from a kindly landlady. She marries late and has a son, Michael, but never stops searching for her brothers. Her husband dies. One day in 1868, Nora sees Ned’s name as the proprietor of a hunting and fishing lodge in the Adirondacks. She packs up everything and moves there with her young son.

Ned takes Nora and Michael into his home. He carries on with the hunting business and taxidermy, but they increasingly cater to people with tuberculosis who come for “The Cure” of good food, fresh air, and lots of rest—as a reflection of the famous nearby sanatorium (unnamed but likely the Trudeau Sanatorium at Saranac Lake). In this capacity, they meet lodgers Clara and her two daughters Gillian and Elizabeth—the almost abandoned family of the naturalist Max from Barrett’s story “Servants of the Map” (also this database).

Young Elizabeth has a cough and an eye for Michael, but he has eyes only for Gillian whom he eventually marries. Together they take over Ned’s Inn. For her cough, Elizabeth becomes a resident of the sanatorium and finds her own husband in fellow invalid, Andrew. Together they open a nearby boarding house for other invalids and Nora joins them in the endeavor as the nurse, serving until her death. But Nora was difficult to replace and Elizabeth is now searching for a new nurse to help with the care of her ailing clients.

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Secrecy

Thomson, Rupert

Last Updated: Dec-02-2013
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

In 1701, the wax sculptor Gaetano Zumbo is invited to the Court of the Grand Duke of Tuscany, Cosimo III de Medici. His talent in is portraying the human form in various states of decay – anatomically correct, each figure set in a box recreating scenarios, as chilling memento mori.

Zumbo is well received in Florence and befriends anatomists and physicians at the local hospital Santa Maria Nuova. But he cannot fathom why he has been invited until he meets the Grand Duke himself. Cosimo confesses the misery of his marriage to the much younger Frenchwoman, Marguerite Louise. She has left him, yet he loves her still. He asks Zumbo to fashion a wax woman for him—but the artist must be careful because Florence—under Cosimo’s own pious orders – is becoming increasingly intolerant of sexual deviation of any sort. Spies are everywhere.

Zumbo is given the corpse of a young woman, mysteriously drowned, and makes a cast of her body. Then he finds a way to make the dubious project “acceptable” by concealing a fetus inside her removable but flat belly.

Meanwhile, Zumbo spies a beautiful woman in an apothecary shop – and spends a long time searching for her. Her name is Faustina, and eventually they begin an affair, which is deemed unacceptable. They must flee from a murderous Dominican priest who plans to torture and kill them both.

Without giving too much away, the ending is poignant.

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Open Heart

Yehoshua, A. B.

Last Updated: Nov-30-2013
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Benjamin Rubin is completing his surgical residency in a Tel Aviv hospital when the director of the hospital asks him to accompany him and his wife to India to rescue their daughter who is critically ill.  This invitation distresses him, as he recognizes in it a way of removing him from competition for a position in surgery at the hospital.  He makes the trip, however, and is entranced by Indian culture and mysticism, and, eventually, not by the daughter but by the mother he accompanied.  Back in Tel Aviv, he has a brief affair with the mother, moves into an apartment she owns, leaving his mother's home, and, to allay his obsession with an unavailable woman, marries an independent-minded woman who has also traveled in India and absorbed Buddhist spirituality and Eastern philosophy she discovered there.  Working as an anesthesiologist, Benjy continues in that setting, conflicted about both work and life, unable to connect deeply with any of those whose love he has received or sought.  Eventually his wife leaves with their baby daughter to return to India, where she has found a spiritual home, and Benjy remains in a divided state of mind in a divided country where his own spiritual heritage remains to be plumbed.

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Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Kitty Fane is a beautiful young woman whose mother has raised her to make a suitable match. But Kitty refuses a number of suitors; several years pass and eventually she is reduced to marrying Walter, the colonial bacteriologist in Hong Kong. Walter is a shy and awkward man who loves Kitty passionately, but has no idea how to express it; Kitty is charming and socially adept, but vacuous. In Hong Kong Kitty engages in a yearlong affair with Charles Townsend, the assistant colonial secretary, and a married man whose celebrity potential far eclipses Walter's stolid scientific work. The novel opens when Walter discovers his wife's infidelity.

Kitty believes that Townsend is madly in love with her and prepared to divorce his wife and sacrifice his career to marry her. Walter, who suffers from a broken heart, gives Kitty an ultimatum--either Townsend must promise to divorce his wife and marry her, or Kitty must accompany Walter to a city in the interior where he has volunteered to go to fight the cholera epidemic. Townsend demurs; Kitty is crushed; and the desperately unhappy pair travels to the cholera-ridden city, where they move into the house of the newly-dead missionary.

There, Walter (who is also a medical doctor) sets to work, day and night, to institute public health measures and care for dying patients. Meanwhile, Kitty meets Waddington, the British consul, a cynical alcoholic, who is at heart a good and honest person; and the French nuns, who labor tirelessly to care for orphans and the ill. Impressed by the nuns' selflessness, Kitty begins to devote herself to assisting them and trying to understand their spirituality.

When he learns that Kitty is pregnant, Walter asks if it is his child; Kitty responds, "I don't know." This completes the destruction of Walter's heart, and he soon dies of cholera--presumably as a result of experimenting on himself to find a cure. Kitty learns that the nuns, the soldiers, and all the people of the city consider Walter a saint, who has sacrificed himself for their welfare. However, while Kitty has learned to respect her husband, she could never love him.

Kitty stays only briefly in Hong Kong before returning home to London. Shortly before her arrival, she learns that her mother, whom she believes is responsible for her (Kitty's) shallowness, has died. The novel ends with Kitty vowing to bring up her daughter as a strong and independent woman, and preparing to move with her father to the Bahamas, where he has recently been appointed Chief Justice.

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Annotated by:
Ratzan, Richard M.

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

This essay concerns a very unusual man, Washington Woodward, whom Donald Hall met as a young boy during his summers in New Hampshire and came to know even more from the tales he heard from his grandfather. Abandoned at age 6, Washington grew up on the author’s grandparents’ farm until age 12 when his “lazy and mean” father reclaimed him. Running away 4 years later, Washington began the highly eccentric life limned in this poetic mini-biography.

“Eccentric” probably does not do justice to Washington’s style, habits, skills, and foibles. He was entirely self-sufficient, from his clothes to his food - much of which he hunted or grew - to his handmade machines, including a complicated boulder-moving contraption designed to clear the way for cows, not humans. Washington could repair almost anything, from an outhouse to a baseball bat to a mowing machine.

The range of his skills is impressive by anyone’s standards, not just a 21st century reader: “I knew him to shoe a horse, install plumbing, dig a well, make a gun, build a road, lay a dry stone wall, do the foundation and frame of a house, invent a new kind of trap for beavers, manufacture his own shotgun shells, grind knives, and turn a baseball bat on a lathe” (page 23), reminding this reader of a similar passage about Nate Shaw in Theodore Rosengarten’s All God’s Dangers. Living the life of a hermit most of the time on Ragged Mountain, New Hampshire, Washington spent a great deal of his life with his beloved animals: Phoebe the pet Holstein and Old Duke the ox, whom he taught to shake hands and roll over.

The nails? Washington would gather stray nails he found in boards or discovered on walks, and take them back to his hut where he would straighten them and store them. Why? “He saved the nails because it was a sin to allow good material to go to waste.” (page 26)

He died in a state nursing home, a month after a visit by the author and his grandfather.


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