Showing 201 - 210 of 360 annotations tagged with the keyword "Catastrophe"

In the Shadow of Memory

Skloot, Floyd

Last Updated: Aug-29-2006
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

I used to be able to think. My brain’s circuits were all connected . . . I had a memory and an intuition that I could trust. So begins Floyd Skloot’s memoir of living his life with "a scatter of white spots like bubbles" in his brain, as a result of a viral illness in 1988 that led to chronic fatigue syndrome and persistent brain damage. The first section ("Gray Area") consists of essays that re-create a texture of mistaken words and memory lapses, as well as the author’s creativity in discovering ways to minimize or bypass disability in his daily life. The temporal vector of this section begins with the onset of illness; continues through his marriage to Beverly and their settling on a hilltop in Oregon; and ends with an idyllic stay on Achill Island off the western coast of Ireland.

The second section draws us back in time to "The Family Story," a series of stories about childhood. In "Kismet," which begins section 3, the author returns to a description of his post-illness experience, in this case to his fateful final visit with an older brother, who is dying of diabetes and kidney failure. Later, in "A Measure of Acceptance," he tells of his encounter with a Social Security psychiatrist, whose task is to determine whether Floyd Skloot is "really" sick. The Social Security Administration provides one measure of acceptance; but the author creates a more important measure of acceptance for himself: "I can say that I’ve become adept at being brain damaged. It’s not that my symptoms have gone away: I still try to dice a stalk of celery with a carrot instead of a knife . . . Along the way, though, I’ve learned to manage my encounters with the world." (p. 196)

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Into the No Zone

Metcalf, Tim

Last Updated: Aug-29-2006
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Collection (Poems)

Summary:

Metcalf explores relationships between the worlds of science and experience in the three parts of this collection: devolve, involute, and evolutional. He makes it clear at the beginning: "the radiant truth is not alive / it is a sin to call consciousness dead" (10). At the same time, though, "Nobody needs YOU. Complete this form" (14). If consciousness devolves on matter, then the soul--where presumably consciousness used to live before it devolved--may be permitted to involute without consequence. "Yes, yes, / the dawn," our Bard writes, "it is beautiful. I try to miss it" (25). "Never mind who my parents were. / They dropped me off down here / on their way to somewhere else." ("Stork’s Kid," 41)

The final section, "Evolutional," suggests the direction in which our species might be moving: "Maybe I can live to one hundred and eight . . . by transplantation." ("Last to Go," 49) Perhaps the poet has already found his niche in this process, "It took me many years to find a market--niche / in speculative contemporary Australian social evolution . . . " (67) And yet, beneath all this (or above it), the poet comments, "I promised myself to speak in love only . . . You push me / for that poem I have not written yet." ("Our Poem," 43)

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Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

An imaginative recreation of profound personal loss, the resulting changes wrought by unexpected responsibility as well as opportunity, all occurring during the progression from late adolescence into young adulthood, this work is centered on the death and its aftermath of the author’s parents 32 days apart, when the author was 21 years old (in 1991). With two siblings embarked on their own careers, it was Dave who took on "parenthood" of their eight-year old brother, "Toph."

The book details first, the mother’s death, then, the life that Eggers and Toph negotiate for themselves and with each other after they move from suburban Chicago to Berkeley, California, and, finally, Dave’s return visit to his hometown, wherein he seeks to exorcise some ghosts. In between these landmarks are reflections on family relationships, including that with a shadowy, alcoholic father; the launch of a satiric magazine, "Might" (a title meant to signify both power and possibility); concern for wounded friends; attempts to lead a "normal" life.

While the bare facts of Eggers’s story are unusual enough, the writing is arrestingly original--performative, conversational, brash, yet self-deprecating, funny, and often moving. It is not inaccurate, and will give a flavor of the writing style, to describe the book’s "themes" in the author’s own words (from the 21-page Acknowledgments), for example: "The Unspoken Magic Of Parental Disappearance"--the admission that this traumatic experience of loss "is accompanied by an undeniable but then of course guilt-inducing sense of mobility, of infinite possibility, having suddenly found oneself in a world with neither floor nor ceiling" (xxv); "The Brotherly Love/Weird Symbiosis Factor"; "The Knowingness About The Book’s Self-Conscious Aspect"--an acknowledgment that self-reference is "simply a device, a defense, to obscure the black, blinding, murderous rage and sorrow at the core of this whole story" (xxvii); "The Telling The World Of Suffering As Means Of Flushing Or At Least Diluting Of Pain Aspect"; "The Putting This All Down As Tool For Stopping Time Given The Overlap With Fear Of Death Aspect."

Dave Eggers is on his way to New York with Toph as the book ends. They currently live in Brooklyn, where Eggers produces a quarterly literary journal (Timothy Mcsweeney’s Quarterly Concern, A Journal Created By Nervous People In Relative Obscurity) and a related Web site.

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Summary:

This collection of contemporary poems published by the National Association for Poetry Therapy Foundation is accompanied by an introduction and materials for use in support groups and poetry therapy groups dealing with loss and grief. Organized under the rubric, “Seasons of the Heart,” in sections entitled “Autumn,” “Winter,” and “Spring,” they reflect a range of responses to loss, both sudden and gradual.

Poets include Rainer Maria Rilke, Naomi Shihab Nye, Billy Collins, William Stafford, Denise Levertov, and other well-known and widely anthologized poets as well as some less known, but well worth reading. The poetry is skillfully selected, of consistent literary quality, and the accompanying materials helpful in suggesting ways and reasons to enter into the work of reading and writing poetry in time of loss.

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God's Grace

Malamud, Bernard

Last Updated: Aug-22-2006

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Cohn surfaces from a deep-sea dive to find that the world has been destroyed by nuclear war. His boat is still there, though all the crew members are gone. He hears the voice of God say that He is creating a second flood to wipe out the humans who have once again disappointed him. Yet Cohn is not another Noah, merely someone overlooked. He waits for his death or the ebbing of the flood, whichever comes first.

He discovers that a highly trained chimpanzee, Buz, has also survived and lives on board. Soon, Buz and Cohn sight a tropical island. Crusoe-like, they set up a home on the island, which apparently has no animal life. The two survive on fruits and rice. Cohn discovers that Buz’s former owner, an eccentric German scientist, implanted a voice box in the chimp’s throat. Cohn connects the wires that jut from his throat and the chimp begins to speak fluid English. Other animal life begins to appear on the island, all of it simian. A gorilla shows up first, a troop of chimps follows. Buz teaches them English.

Cohn imagines that chimpanzees are meant to replace man as the dominant creature on earth and he tries to teach them to avoid the mistakes of man. But the chimps have their own agenda. The dominant male, Esau, tries to "rape" the female when she first comes into heat and threatens all the other chimps. When Cohn mates with the female, producing a human/chimp child, the jealousy of the other chimps becomes a destructive force. Baboons appear by the shore and the young chimps hunt, kill, and eat the baboons, calling them dirty, stupid creatures. When Cohn complains, they steal his child, finally killing her. They then force Cohn to carry wood up the mountain. They slit his throat and throw him onto the fire, built from the wood he carried.

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Guernica

Picasso, Pablo

Last Updated: Aug-22-2006
Annotated by:
Bertman, Sandra

Primary Category: Visual Arts / Painting/Drawing

Genre: Oil on canvas

Summary:

This 25-foot-wide by 11 foot high mural was created in one month. Picasso’s most famous work depicts the Spanish Civil War event in which Fascist dictator Francisco Franco hired the Nazi Luftwaffe to destroy the small Basque town of Guernica. Thousands of civilians were slaughtered and wounded as the undefended town was razed in a single 3-hour bombing attack. Commissioned to design a mural for the Spanish Pavilion on any subject of his choosing, Picasso drew on photographs and published accounts of this bombing to provide the symbolic images and theme. (Pablo Picasso, A Retrospective, ed. William Rubin, New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1980. p. 303). The black and white newspaper text is suggested in the patterned treatment of the horse’s body.

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The Time of Death

Munro, Alice

Last Updated: Aug-22-2006
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

The neighborhood women sit in the kitchen comforting Leona Perry, whose baby has just been seriously scalded. "I was only out of the house for 20 minutes," she cries. But Allie McGee knows that she was gone for at least 45. "The last thing I said to her . . . keep an eye on the kids," Leona howls. In fact, 9-year-old Patricia had conscientiously looked after her three younger siblings, until she decided to scrub the floor. After all, Patricia thought, why can't our house be as clean as everyone else's? Why do we have to be the laughing stock of the neighborhood? So she began to boil some water for scrubbing, as she had seen other women do.

Baby Benny was 18 months old, but "Bram" was one of the only words he could say. This was the name of the scissor-sharpening man who came around every week. After Benny dies, Patricia maintains her composure, in the face of Leona's hysteria. Patricia seems to be putting the incident behind her, until one day she sees the scissors man coming down the road and she begins to scream, "I hate him! I hate him!"

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Fragments

Wilkomirski, Binjamin

Last Updated: Aug-21-2006
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

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.

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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."

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Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

Dr. Forrest Janney, once a prominent surgeon, has given up his practice in the city and retired to his hometown in Alabama due to alcoholism. He runs the local pharmacy and keeps up his medical license, but doesn’t practice. His brother Gene begs Forrest to operate on their nephew, who is comatose from a gunshot wound in the head; he was sent home to die. Other doctors have refused to operate because the bullet is lodged close to a major artery at the base of his skull. Dr. Janney examines the young man. Although Janney declines to operate, citing his drunkenness and tremor, he encourages his family to keep trying to find a surgeon because he estimates a 25% chance of survival if the bullet is removed.

Shortly thereafter, a violent tornado plows through the town, leaving dozens of dead and wounded. Dr. Janney immediately pitches in with several other doctors to treat the wounded and makes supplies from his pharmacy available at no charge. The comatose nephew is also found in the wreckage, barely alive, and in order to give him at least a chance, Janney operates on him, despite being fortified by a heavy dose from his flask.

A few days later, the nephew presumably dies (not clear from the text). A little girl whom Dr. Janney has befriended is sent to the orphanage in Montgomery because her father died in the tornado. Shortly thereafter, Dr. Janney leaves town, after giving his house to his brother and his family. He is on his way to save the little girl from the orphanage.

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Summary:

This is a complex and, at times, very amusing story about modern life in an affluent Mexican family. Generational differences--and similarities--between a physician-grandfather (Xavier Masse) and his children and grandchildren, are important to the story, but the relationship between the wise grandfather and his most charismatic grandson, Rocco (Osvaldo Benavides), is central. Family issues concern money and greed, but also surprising expressions of love.

The story begins in a lovely Mexico City home where family members feud and fuss continuously. After the grandfather’s sudden death during a heated dinner table outburst with his selfish adult son, Rodrigo (Otto Sirgo), two grandsons kidnap the old man’s ashes and head to Acapulco in a "stolen" car so as to dispose of them according to their beloved grandfather’s request. Their journey is funny and full of adolescent shenanigans. In Acapulo, a secret is discovered about the grandfather that gives the story a wonderful twist.

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