Showing 201 - 210 of 383 annotations tagged with the keyword "Narrative as Method"

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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The Duel

Chekhov, Anton

Last Updated: Aug-17-2006

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

A group of ex-Muscovites are living in the hot and humid Caucasus. Among them are Laevsky, Nadyezhda Fyodorovna, Von Koren, Samoylenko, and a deacon. Laevsky and Nadyezhda are lovers. They came to the town to flee Nadyezhda’s husband and to live together in their own home. Instead, they remain in rented rooms. Laevsky drinks, gambles, and blankly performs the few tasks necessary in his government job. He spends much of his time figuring out how to get away from Nadyezhda, whom he has grown to hate. Nadyezhda herself is bored and has affairs.

Von Koren is a rigid marine scientist who deplores Laevsky for his indecision and apathetic philosophy. Von Koren believes that creatures like Laevsky who do no good should be killed, because natural selection ought to guide ethical decisions. He tries to act out his plan when the two duel, but is surprised by the Deacon and misses his shot. Laevsky’s shock at his close call drives him back to Nadyezhda.

Samoylenko is a physician and tries to be a peacemaker, but ultimately gets walked on. The Deacon dreams passively about glory in the Church or even in a remote village, but does little except laugh at his neighbors. The story is composed of a series of visits and conversations among the characters.

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Dr. Haggard's Disease

McGrath, Patrick

Last Updated: Aug-17-2006
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

In this first person narrative, Dr. Edward Haggard addresses his story to James, the son of his former lover Fanny Vaughn. Haggard, once a surgical registrar at a major hospital in London, has isolated himself in a coastal town, where he serves as a general practitioner. The "present" of Dr. Haggard’s story is the early stages of World War II, when James Vaughn, a Royal Air Force pilot, lies dying in Edward Haggard’s arms.

The story’s "past" has multiple dimensions. The outermost, framing story recounts the relationship between James and Edward that began several months before the war and a year or so following Fanny Vaughn’s death from kidney disease. James sought out the reclusive Dr. Haggard to discover the "truth" about Haggard’s relationship with his mother.

The inner story consists of Haggard’s description of his reckless and passionate love affair with Fanny, an ultimately hopeless liaison between a young registrar and the wife of the hospital’s senior pathologist. Their few brief months of happiness ended when Dr. Vaughn learned of the affair, and Fanny made the realistic choice to remain with her husband and adolescent son. In a confrontation between the two men, Vaughn knocked Haggard to the floor, causing a leg injury that resulted in chronic pain and permanent disability.

Haggard resigned from the hospital and withdrew to a solitary life, in which "Spike" (the name he gives to his deformed and painful leg) is his only companion. He must constantly "feed" Spike with intravenous morphine to quell the emotional, as well as physical, pain. The situation only worsens when Haggard learns of Fanny’s death from kidney failure.

The obsession worsens further still after James Vaughn shows up at his door. As Haggard treats the young pilot for a minor wound (he has become the local RAF surgeon), he notices that James has a feminized body habitus--gynecomastia, lack of body hair, broad hips, narrow shoulders, and pre-pubertal penis. He interprets this as "a pituitary disorder" and attempts to convince James that he needs treatment. James is repulsed by these advances, which eventually escalate.

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Doctor Faustus

Mann, Thomas

Last Updated: Aug-17-2006
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

The full title of this novel is "Doctor Faustus: The Life of the German Composer Adrian Leverkühn as Told by a Friend." Mann wrote it during the latter part of World War II when he was living in exile in the United States. The Faust character in this story is a German composer named Adrian Leverkühn (1885-1940), whose biography is recounted by his childhood friend, a schoolmaster named Serenus Zeitblom. Zeitblom presents the tale in his own voice--in essence, the novel is an extended reflection on the composer’s life (the past) set into the context of the deteriorating military situation in Germany (the present) as he is writing; i.e. the same period that Mann is actually writing the novel.

Adrian Leverkühn starts out as a student of theology, but succumbs to his passion for musical composition. His early pieces, though technically skillful, lack energy and imagination. However, all this changes when the young man experiences himself as having made a pact with the devil. In a confession written years later, Adrian recounts that he "voluntarily" contracted syphilis in an encounter with a prostitute, an episode that he believed was emblematic of this Faustian bargain.

In the confession he recreates his dialog with Satan, who promises the composer an artistic breakthrough, if he agrees to forego human love. As a result of the pact, Leverkühn sets off on a brilliant 24-year career, becoming the greatest German composer of his time. Throughout the novel Serenus intersperses technical details of Leverkühn’s many compositions, culminating with his masterwork, an oratorio called "The Lamentation of Doctor Faustus."

Adrian Leverkühn had been a self-centered youth who failed to reciprocate the friendship and devotion that others, especially Serenus, had lavished upon him. As an adult he leads an austere, solitary, monk-like life. Yet, while he lives only for his music, he also yearns for love. His personal life consists of a series of aborted relationships. Leverkühn becomes attracted to a female acquaintance and asks a friend to court her for him, only to learn that she has fallen in love with the friend.

Toward the end of his career, Adrian’s 5-year-old nephew comes to live with him in the country. The nephew ignites in him another spark of love, only to be snuffed out when the boy suddenly dies of meningitis. Finally, just as he is in the process of "unveiling" his great composition to a select group of friends, Leverkühn experiences a "stroke" and lapses into a coma from which he recovers physically, but not mentally. He survives for another decade in a demented, childlike state, and cared for by his mother.

The larger theme of this somber work relates to the decline of German culture during the decades before the onset of the Nazi era. Mann explores the collapse of traditional humanism and its replacement by a mixture of sophisticated nihilism and barbaric primitivism. In "The Story of a Novel" (1949),

Mann wrote that "Dr. Faustus" was about "the flight from the difficulties of a cultural crisis into the pact with the devil; the craving of a proud mind, threatened by sterility, for an unblocking of inhibitions at any cost; and the parallel between pernicious euphoria ending in collapse with the nationalistic frenzy of Fascism." In Zeitblum’s narrative comments, Mann subtly relates the composer’s personal tragedy to Germany’s destruction in the war. Mann also claimed a "secret identity" between himself, Leverkühn, and Zeitblom.

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Recovering from Mortality

Cumming, Deborah

Last Updated: Aug-16-2006
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

Subtitled, "Essays from a Cancer Limbo Time," this collection of essays constitutes a memoir of living while dying. It was written during the time following the author’s acute treatment for Stage IV lung cancer, when she felt well enough to write--a period of approximately one year during which she was still taking oral anticancer medication. Based on journal entries and memory, Cumming reflects on what it is like to be in a state of "recovery" while at the same time, and variably, anticipating death. "I knew that my kind of cancer was not curable, and yet, for a spell, it seemed to have vanished" (xvi). How does one go about living in the face of "a very good partial response" to treatment?

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Doctor Zhivago

Pasternak, Boris

Last Updated: Aug-09-2006

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

This complex novel is difficult to summarize. The main characters are introduced separately. We meet Yurii Andreievich Zhivago (Yura) when he is ten, at his mother’s funeral. He goes on to study medicine, write poetry, and marry a young woman named Tonya. We first encounter Larisa Foedorovna (Lara) as the adolescent daughter of a widow who has been set up in a dressmaking business by Komarovsky. Komarovsky later harasses and seduces the young woman. In her anger and guilt, the impulsive Lara tries to shoot Komarovsky at a grand Christmas party, but she misses and inadvertently wounds another man. Subsequently, Lara marries Pavel Pavlovich (Pasha), her childhood sweetheart.

All this takes place against the background of social upheaval in pre-World War I Russia. When the war begins, Yura joins the Army medical corps. Pasha leaves Lara and their daughter Tanya to enlist in the army. When Pasha is reported lost behind enemy lines, Lara becomes a military nurse in order to search for him. Thus, Lara and Yura meet at a hospital where his wife Tonya has just delivered a baby boy. Lara and Yura feel attracted to one another, but neither one expresses it. At this point the Revolution breaks out in Petersburg.

As the fighting rages, Lara and Yura are posted to a hospital in a small town, where Yura struggles with his feelings. When he reports his friendship with Lara, Tonya assumes incorrectly that they have become lovers. Over the winter there are food shortages and the threat of a typhus epidemic. As the war ends, Yura returns home to Moscow, and to his old job at the hospital, but his co-workers are suspicious of him. Influenced by Bolshevism, they dislike his use of intuition instead of logic. The family resolves to travel to the Urals. Amidst Marxist rebellions, Yura's family finds room in a cargo train. During the long train ride, Yura reflects on the suffering of peasants and prisoners caused by the revolution. He shares the desire for equality and freedom, but is disenchanted by the revolutionaries' pedantic, insensitive opinions.

The family safely arrives in the Urals and set up a farm. During the long winters, Yura returns to writing poetry. While visiting the local library, he re-encounters Lara. They begin an affair, sharing a common joy in a fully-lived existence. Lara is aware that her husband is still alive, having become a feared member of the Red faction under another name (Strelnikov). Yura resolves to tell his wife about his unfaithfulness and to ask forgiveness, but as he rides home, he is kidnapped by a faction in the Civil War (the Reds) and forced to serve as their doctor.

After some years, Yura escapes from the Reds and walks back to find Lara, who still lives in the same place.  To escape being informed upon, Lara and Yura flee to the farm house where Yura and his family once lived. Again, Yura turns to his poetry, expressing his fears, courage, and love for Lara. He learns that Tonya and a new baby daughter have been deported from Russia. One night, Lara's old lover, Komarovsky, appears and tells them that the triumphant revolutionaries know where they are and will inevitably kill them both. He offers to take them abroad, where Yura could rejoin his family. Yura refuses to accept help from Komarovsky. To save Lara's life, though, he tells her that he will follow them out of the country, but actually remains behind. Alone, he turns to drink.

One night Lara's husband, Strelnikov (Pasha), who is fleeing the new government, arrives. When he learns of Yura and Lara’s love, he leaves the house and shoots himself. Yura then goes to Moscow where he strikes up an affair with Marina and becomes a writer of literary booklets.  His brother finds him a job at a hospital, but on his way to his first day at work, he dies, presumably of a heart attack. Lara, who had been living in Irkutsk, has returned to Moscow and wanders accidentally into the house where his body lies waiting for burial. After several days, Lara disappears, presumably captured and sent to a concentration camp.

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Absence of Mercy

Stone, Robert

Last Updated: Aug-01-2006
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

Mackay’s story begins in the 1940s when, at age 5, he was sent to a "boarding school" run by the Catholic order of the Pauline Brothers. Mackay’s mother had herself been institutionalized for paranoid schizophrenia and his father was not in the picture. In the school Mackay was exposed to pervasive violence: "intramural" violence wherein the stronger children taunted and beat up the weaker ones; classroom violence in which the instructors slapped or beat with a razor strop those boys they deemed to be errant in any respect; organized boxing matches; and, most feared, "statutory evening punishment" where students had been selected out by a Brother to be humiliated and beaten after the evening meal and prayers. The latter violence was characterized by "the absence of mercy" and a sadistic ritualism that induced "sick-making terror" in its victims.

We follow Mackay through additional episodes of violence as he progresses through delinquent adolescence--now living in a welfare hotel with his mother--through a stint in the Navy, marriage and fatherhood, and, finally, to an episode in the New York City subway that is the crisis point of the story. In the Navy he is once again victimized by a drill instructor who humiliates Mackay into losing the "instinctive cringe" he had developed during his years at the institution.

Mackay reads in the newspaper that an old buddy--"they had suffered shame and pain together that could never be explained to anyone (38)"--has been murdered in the subway while coming to a woman’s aid. Mackay is terribly troubled by this incident, not only because of the earlier close relationship, but also because he finds himself intrigued by the story. A year later, Mackay is in a similar situation--in his presence, a well dressed but deranged man is threatening a woman in a subway station.

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About Love

Chekhov, Anton

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

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

In "About Love," two friends who were caught in a storm while out walking have sought shelter in a third friend's country home. They stayed the night and at lunch the next day their host, Alehin, tells them a story about his lost love. It seems that when he was young, he worked closely with Luganovitch, the vice-president of the circuit court, and became close friends with Luganovitch and his beautiful wife Anna Alexyevna.

Over the years, Alehin and Anna spent a great deal of time together; he fell passionately in love with her and felt confident that she reciprocated his feelings. Yet, they never acted on their passion. At last, after many years, when Anna was setting out on the train to join her husband, who had been transferred to a distant province, Alehin took her into his arms and proclaimed his love. They collapsed in tears. But alas, the train left: "I kissed her for the last time, pressed her hand, and parted forever."

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Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

The Canadian narrator, Marie, is in a Paris archive, reading and translating excerpts from the diary of the Jewish mother of Marcel Proust. The entries cover the period from 1890 to 1905. Mme. Proust and her physician husband make excuses for their son's lax behavior, and they worry over his chronic asthma, his social agenda, his apparent lack of interest in women, and his risky future as a writer. Like the entire country, the Proust family divides over the anti-Semitic Dreyfus affair. Later, Mme. Proust writes of her own illness with cancer.

Nearly half a century later, young Sophie Bensimon is sent to safety in Canada from France by her Jewish parents who were never heard from again. In reaction to this loss, Sophie walls herself from emotional expression. Her childless, adoptive parents, the Plots, have difficulty understanding her return to France to search for evidence of her birth parents' demise. She too must cope with archives, papers, and bureaucracy, but she discovers some details of their fate at Auschwitz. She marries a doctor, keeps a kosher kitchen, and worries over every minor event in the life of her son, Max.

As Marie struggles against a pressing deadline to research and translate without reinterpretation, she is aware that her choices will inevitably skew her findings. With this work, she imposes herself, her tastes and her needs on another woman's past. And she remembers her passionate love for Max whose genuine fondness for her finds no sexual expression because he, like Marcel Proust, prefers men.

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The Body Beautiful

Onwurah, Ngozi

Last Updated: May-12-2006
Annotated by:
Holmes, Martha Stoddard

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

This documentary, narrated alternately by the daughter-filmmaker and mother whose stories it tells, focuses on how two women move apart and together while experiencing, respectively, adolescence and mid-life. The mother has cancer, a mastectomy, and then rheumatoid arthritis, and these experiences intertwine thematically and structurally with the narrative of the mother-daughter relationship.

Another provocative juxtaposition cross-cuts scenes from the daughter's modeling career (and the social and erotic body that context constructs for her) with scenes of the mother's illness, stigmatization, and erotic daydreams. Both women come to a new awareness of the social meaning of mastectomy within heterosexual and same-sex contexts by the documentary's end; they also come to a place of recognition of the mother's personal and social value and the nature of their relationship.

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