Showing 201 - 210 of 513 annotations tagged with the keyword "Ordinary Life"

Sound Shadows of the New World

Mehta, Ved

Last Updated: Dec-07-2006
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Autobiography

Summary:

This account by the well known Indian/American blind writer describes experiences when he came to the United States at age 15 from New Delhi to attend the Arkansas School for the Blind. The title derives from an unusual ability (which Mehta possesses) to navigate one’s way by perceiving the physical surroundings "as sound-shadows by means of echoing sound and changes of air pressure around the ears." As a precocious teenager, Mehta had high ambitions for his future; this important period of his life represented both an opportunity and an impediment, requiring tremendous cultural, emotional, and physical adjustments.

Very well conveyed are the driving desire to be like sighted people, the need for independence and control, and to be accepted in the foreign culture while remaining in some ways superior to it. There are fascinating descriptions of how Mehta learned to travel with minimal assistance, high-dive, package ice-cream in a factory; of how he used money intended for other purposes to build an electronic retreat in a broom closet which allowed him to tape record, type, and to listen to Edward R. Murrow’s broadcasts, and of how he then paid back the money by taking correspondence courses in order to finish school one year early.

The normal adolescent awakening of sexuality, and the ambivalent dependence on parental guidance are also important aspects of the book. Writes Mehta in retrospect,"The three years of my life spent in Little Rock became sealed in a compartment of my mind which I dreaded to open . . . because . . . the near-total submersion in a residential school for the blind seemed to accentuate my blindness, when all along my aspiration had been to be a well-adjusted member of the seeing society outside."

 

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Annotated by:
Woodcock, John

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

Set in 19th-century Japan, the film’s action centers on the experience of the young doctor Yasumoto (Yuzo Kayama) in his work as an intern at a hospital-clinic for the poor run by the experienced and wise Dr. Kyojo Niide (Toshiro Mifune), nicknamed "Red Beard." Coming from a wealthy and influential family, and fresh from a Western-influenced medical education at Nagasaki, Yasumoto had believed he was on the path to become physician to the shogun (equivalent to a king).

He is initially insulted and deeply unhappy with conditions at the distinctly inglorious clinic. The poverty and suffering (and smell) of the clinic’s patients disgust him, and he tries his hardest to get fired. The mysterious Red Beard, however, is extremely patient, and simply waits. While he waits, we see Dr. Yasumoto slowly being converted as he is brought into close contact with the suffering in the lives of several patients.

Initially rebellious and emotionally unable to watch patients die or assist in surgery, Yasumoto gradually becomes a seasoned and enthusiastic member of the clinic’s medical team and announces that Red Beard is his idol. At the end, when Yasumoto is actually offered the position of physician to the shogun, he refuses, in order to continue his work at the clinic.

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Birthmates

Jen, Gish

Last Updated: Dec-05-2006
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

Art Woo, thirty-eight years old, Asian-American, and a salesman in a dying industry, finds himself housed in a welfare hotel during a sales convention--the unexpected result of trying to limit travel expenses for his company. His modus operandi is to "maintain a certain perspective," so he attempts to make the best of the situation.

We learn that his wife, Lisa, has divorced him--the outcome of Art's inability to grieve along with her when, after many months of fertility treatments and two miscarriages, Lisa's successful pregnancy was medically terminated at four and a half months because the fetus was afflicted with a severe genetic abnormality. Whereas Art reacted with hope for having another child, Lisa had seen only loss. Likewise, when his boss had insulted Art with a racial slur, Art had maintained "perspective," while Lisa thought he should have quit his job.

The "birthmate" of the title is Billy Shore, four years younger, American, and a business rival. Billy is obnoxious, but has advanced to a new job. Art thinks that if Billy can get ahead, so can he. But Art's equilibrium is ultimately destroyed by an experience in the welfare hotel. He realizes that he has lost not just a job opportunity and his wife, but also his child.

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Who's Irish?

Jen, Gish

Last Updated: Dec-05-2006
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

Told in the voice of an immigrant Chinese grandmother, this is a story of gaps--gaps of communication, cultural gaps, age gaps, gaps in family relationships. The narrator describes herself as "fierce." Now widowed, she and her husband had owned and operated a restaurant; her married daughter is also "fierce" because she is a bank vice president and quite ambitious. Grandmother takes care of little Sophie, her granddaughter, the product of a mixed marriage--her son-in-law is Irish.

The narrator is contemptuous of her son-in-law because he and his brothers are unemployed even though they are white and were born in the USA. To the narrator, the world is upside down. Her son-in-law (John) is at home but thinks that it would demean him to baby-sit for his own child; in China her daughter would be taking care of her but instead, she is baby sitting to help her daughter out. Grandmother cannot understand why her son-in-law needs to be pampered, why she needs to be "supportive"--"we do not have this word in Chinese, supportive." She and her daughter differ about how to discipline Sophie. There are indications that John would like to send his mother-in-law back to China.

Events come to a crisis when the willful Sophie--perhaps reacting to the strains on her parents' marriage--defies her grandmother, hiding from her in a playground foxhole. The child's parents are horrified by what looks to them like child abuse. Grandmother must move out. Yet, at the same time, the daughter is miserable, and grandmother feels useless. Says the daughter, "I have a young daughter and a depressed husband and no one to turn to." Narrates her mother, "when she says no one to turn to, she mean me." As the story closes, grandmother is living with her son-in-law's mother, a woman whom she admires.

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Annotated by:
Nixon, Lois LaCivita

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

Dash provides a visually lush and poetic portrayal of a little-known Gullah subculture existing on a barrier island off the coast of South Carolina. Because the small colony is isolated from the mainland and the dominant culture, the extended family exhibits unfamiliar behaviors and patterns of speech associated with their African heritage.

The story occurs on the day prior to the Peazant family's final departure from the island's familiar contours and rich customs. The wise old matriarch and conjure woman keeps both the oral history and a tantalizing box of relics. When her family leaves, not surprisingly, she intends to stay. Some members have already assumed characteristics of the mainland culture, such as Christianity and mainland manners, and are eager to leave; others are more reluctant and even frightened about forsaking the world they know.

Without any careful delineation of specific problems, audiences recognize inherent tensions between an inherited tribalism, and alien belief systems. If the island and the relic box's strange contents reference safety, stories about lynching and rape on the mainland cast a dark shadow for many family members. A breathtakingly beautiful picnic scene at the beach is central because it celebrates and symbolizes the paradisal innocence of the island people.

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Annotated by:
Nixon, Lois LaCivita

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

As this highly original and provocative film once again demonstrates, John Sayles is not a traditional storyteller. Audiences are caught in the detective story focusing at one level on murders and abuses committed more than 20 years ago; but the filmmaker guides their attention to the survivors, the current and very ordinary folks inhabiting the small border town where secrets are closely kept.

Imagine a blank canvas on which seemingly unrelated splotches of paint appear; then imagine those splotches as members of various ethnic groups inhabiting Frontera on the U.S. side of the Rio Grande. First, we have custodial white men who hang around the local coffee shop or fish on previously-owned Indian land transformed recently, and with some controversy, into a lake by the construction of a dam. Then we have Mercedes Cruz (Miriam Colon), a successful business woman and council member who curiously shows little compassion for "wetbacks" and those relapsing into the Spanish language. Her daughter, Pilar (Elizabeth Peña), of whom she is a constant critic, is a school teacher and single mother of two teenagers, a figure whose importance will increase as the composition develops.

Also, there is Otis Payne (Ron Canada), the African-American owner of the town’s black bar, a refuge for that minority group; and there is his estranged son, a rigid and unyielding colonel at the nearby base. Finally and less developed, are the Indians whose land has been claimed by the town’s ruling forces.

As fragments from the past and present provide dimension and meaning, increasingly the disparate colors are transformed into a representational form with clear connecting lines. Shapes and textures gradually become familiar and palpable. Within the context of good and evil, narrative lines blur and thicken. With tantalizing flashbacks, past and present fuse, allowing puzzle pieces to fit together; then engaged audience members realize that the narrative threads have twisted to expose unimagined patterns of sacrifice and love.

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Annotated by:
Nixon, Lois LaCivita

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

This film, like Nair’s earlier films (Salaam Bombay!, Mississippi Masala) presents serious social issues for viewers to consider, but the story this time, is set in a happier context. As the title reveals, a wedding is central. Monsoon is added to account for two kinds of turbulence: the weather on the day of the wedding and discomforting family factors such as pedophilia, secret trysts, and class distinctions. For the Punjabi Verma family, it is Father of the Bride with the universal tension, stress, and chaos associated with such happy events, but also with distressing twists that are sorted out or washed away symbolically by the monsoon’s arrival.

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Recitatif

Morrison, Toni

Last Updated: Dec-04-2006
Annotated by:
Holmes, Martha Stoddard

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

"My mother danced all night and Roberta’s was sick. That’s why we were taken to St. Bonny’s." Thus begins Twyla’s narrative of her long-term, intermittent relationship with Roberta, another eight-year-old who shares her failing grades and "not real orphan" status at St. Bonaventure’s, the shelter where they live for a few months.

The two girls become fast friends despite the discomfort occasioned by the situation, their problematic mothers (Roberta’s is hyper-religious and unfriendly; Twyla’s is pretty but childlike, an embarrassment to Twyla because of her casual clothing and behavior), and their racial differences (one is white, one African-American). They also share a defining moment, in which they watch bigger girls assault Maggie, a disabled woman who works in the institution’s kitchen.

The girls meet by accident four more times; as young adults in a Howard Johnson’s, where Twyla works and Roberta stops in with two young men on the way to the coast for "an appointment with Hendrix"; in a grocery store in Newburgh, the blue-collar town on the Hudson river where Twyla lives (Roberta lives in white-collar Annandale); at a picket line against a busing plan (Roberta is protesting the busing; Twyla ends up picketing for it); and finally in a diner on Christmas Eve. Each time they meet, they piece together what has happened in their lives, but also return to the defining moment of Maggie, arguing about what really happened and what role they played in the abuse.

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Cracking India

Sidhwa, Bapsi

Last Updated: Dec-04-2006
Annotated by:
Holmes, Martha Stoddard

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Lenny's development from childhood to adolescence concurs with India's independence from Britain and the partitioning of India into India and Pakistan. The interwoven plots give each other substantial meaning. Partly because Lenny's family are Parsees, a religious and ethnic minority that remained relatively neutral in post-Partition religious conflicts, she has access to people of all ethnicities and religions, both within Lahore and in other locales. More significantly, she has access to a wide variety of viewpoints both pre-and post-Partition through her Ayah, a beautiful woman whose suitors are ethnically and religiously diverse.

Lenny's passionate love of Ayah and the loss of innocence that accompanies their changing relationship through the Partition is an energetic center to the plot. Lenny's relationships with her mother, her powerful godmother, and her sexually invasive cousin are also important to the novel. Lenny's polio forms a significant early narrative thread. Other minor but compelling subplots include Lenny's parents' changing relationship, the murder of a British official, and the child marriage of the much-abused daughter of one of Lenny's family's servants.

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The Good Doctor

Galgut, Damon

Last Updated: Dec-04-2006
Annotated by:
Belling, Catherine

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Frank Eloff, the novel’s narrator, is a white doctor working at a hospital in the former capital of one of South Africa’s now-defunct independent homelands (rural areas set aside by the apartheid government for black "separate development"). The hospital, in its deserted and decaying city, is understaffed and understocked, and there are hardly any patients. Those who do arrive usually need to be taken elsewhere if they need any significant treatment. The homeland’s former leader, the Brigadier, has returned as a criminal gang leader to loot the place, and a white former army commander, now in the employ of the present government, is trying to capture him.

Frank moved to this place when promised directorship of the hospital (and in flight after his wife left him for his best friend), but the previous director has not left yet, and Frank is in a kind of personal and professional bureaucratic limbo. He has a sexual relationship with a black woman who runs a roadside souvenir stall. It is not quite prostitution, not quite a love affair: she is married, speaks little English, and Frank regularly gives her money.

A new doctor, Laurence Waters, arrives. He is fresh from medical school, sent to the hospital in order to complete the rural community service year required by the government of all new physicians. He and Frank become roommates and begin an uneasy friendship. Laurence is an idealist, planning to make heroic changes, but he misunderstands the complex balance of tolerance, cynicism and patience that characterize survival at the hospital, and his well-intentioned efforts, such as trying to end theft from the hospital and to establish a clinic in a local tribal village, lead to disaster. The novel ends with Frank appointed hospital director at last, and things returning to their depressingly ineffective "normality."

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