Showing 211 - 220 of 360 annotations tagged with the keyword "Catastrophe"

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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Gassed

Sargent, John Singer

Last Updated: Jul-10-2006
Annotated by:
Shafer, Audrey

Primary Category: Visual Arts / Painting/Drawing

Genre: Oil on canvas

Summary:

John Singer Sargent was commissioned by the British War Memorials Committee to paint a work for the Hall of Remembrance. Sargent visited a casualty clearing station at Le Bac-de-Sud in France, which provided the inspiration for this vast work (7x20 feet) painted in 1918.

Mustard gas (yperite, or bis(2-chloroethyl)sulfide) causes terrible pain by blistering skin and mucous membranes, by blinding and choking its victims. Used during World War I, it caused intense suffering; dying could take weeks. In the painting, soldiers who were blinded by mustard gas, are being led to a dressing tent. The foreground of the painting has a jumble of bodies, soldiers in various poses lying on the ground. The colors are muted, the soldiers appear subdued. These elements, combined with the huge size, make the painting reminiscent of ancient Greek or Roman sculptural friezes.

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Remnant

Lieberman, Michael

Last Updated: May-12-2006
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Collection (Poems)

Summary:

This is a sequence of 45 poems on the Holocaust. Of course, "on" is impossible. These poems suggest, approach, reflect and consider. They range from the tale of the Maker of Walls in Krakow who chooses to make his new wall out of "jewstone," which is cheap and conveniently sized, since it consists of gravestones; to a paean in which the poet asks the blessing of "the god of small poets" to take pity on him: "May a self-righting gyroscope inhabit me and guide me. / May I smell the lilacs of my parents' yard."

The poems situate themselves in gnomic utterance ("Black Forest Cake" and "Women"), narrative movement ("Amsterdam" and "Grace Note"), ironic lyricism ("Idyll" and "Spring"), and reflective toughness; take "Nothing" for example: "He leaves us nothing / as a remnant of His people."

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Annotated by:
Willms, Janice

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

A holocaust memoir, this is the painfully honest and unsentimental account of one physician's experience in the Warsaw Ghetto. The author, who was a Jewish medical student of 22 when Germany invaded Poland, remained from 1940 through most of 1943, serving as caretaker of sick or orphaned children in a ghetto hospital. During this time, she tells the reader, she made some decisions she has never been able to fully reconcile-- such as to perform multiple acts of euthanasia involving adults as well as children when the waves of slaughter and deportation increased in brutality and frequency.

Eventually, the writer joined the active resistance and was a part of the movement which ended with the complete razing of the Warsaw Ghetto in 1944. After the liberation of Poland, Blady Szwajger resumed her interrupted career in pediatric chest diseases. Only after 45 years did she choose to write of her experiences and, in her introduction, she articulates her reasons for remaining silent and for her ultimate decision to speak out.

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Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Anthology (Poems)

Summary:

This large, wide-ranging anthology is subtitled Poems for Men. The editors consider 16 aspects of male life and experience, and present groups of poems illustrating each aspect. Each section is introduced by a few pages of commentary. Representative sections include Approach to Wildness, Father's Prayers for Sons and Daughters, War, I Know the Earth and I Am Sad, Making a Hole in Denial, Anger Hatred Outrage, Earthly Love, and Zaniness.

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Opera Therapy

Evison-Griffith, Traicee

Last Updated: Mar-29-2006
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Video

Summary:

This documentary video follows the making of an opera, based on the illness experiences of four Australians who have been diagnosed and treated for cancer. Their feelings about these experiences are translated into music (with lyrics) as they work closely with music therapist/composer, Emma O'Brien. As the three women and one man tell their stories of physical debility and emotional pain, the music therapist asks them to think in terms of color (they choose purple, black) and tones and rhythms that she plays for them on the piano.

When the narratives and their musical representations have evolved sufficiently, trained singers take on the roles "written" for them by the four former patients; the latter continue to be intimately involved in the opera's production, directed by David Kram. At the end of the project, which is also the conclusion of the film, the opera is performed in front of an audience (with musicians playing instruments, singing, and dramatic enactment) and the four people whose illness experience is performed take their bows together with the singers.

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The Year of Magical Thinking

Didion, Joan

Last Updated: Jan-30-2006
Annotated by:
Nixon, Lois LaCivita

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

Joan Didion has written a very personal, powerful, and clear-eyed account of her husband's sudden and unexpected death as it occurred during the time their unconscious, hospitalized daughter was suffering from septic shock and pneumonia.

Quintana, the couple's 24-year-old adopted child, has been the object of their mutual care and worry. That John Gregory Dunne, husband and father, writer and sometime collaborator, should collapse from a massive, fatal coronary on the night before New Year's Eve at the small dinner table in their New York City apartment just after their visit with Quintana can be regarded as an unspeakable event, beyond ordinary understanding and expression. "Life changes fast . . . in the instant. You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends" (3).

As overwhelming as these two separate catastrophes are, the account provided by Didion evokes extraordinary descriptions of the emotional and physical disorientations experienced by this very lucid, but simultaneously stunned and confused wife, mother, writer dealing with the shock of change. Her writing conveys universal grief and loss; she spins a sticky filament around the reader who cannot separate him or herself from the yearlong story of difficult, ongoing adjustment.

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Dying: An Update

Brodkey, Harold

Last Updated: Oct-04-2005
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Journal

Summary:

A chronicle of the author's perceptions, thoughts, memories, and personal relationships during the months after he was diagnosed as having AIDS. Brodkey's mind and prose are as sharp as a knife's edge. Beginning with the desperate struggle for breath that signaled pneumonia and, retrospectively, "how my life ended. And my dying began," continuing with the reactions and decisions of himself and his wife, the first half of the essay spins out an observant, introspective, cerebral, even amusing account of his particular experience.

But AIDS is often a disease associated with more emotional baggage than other fatal illnesses, and in Brodkey's case we learn that he traces both his dying and his homosexual experiences to "the major drama of [his] adolescence", daily sexual abuse by his adoptive father, with the implied knowledge and acquiescence of his mother. Writes Brodkey, "I experimented with homosexuality to break my pride, to open myself to the story." "Now I will die disfigured and in pain."

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Homework

Livesey, Margot

Last Updated: Oct-03-2005
Annotated by:
Ratzan, Richard M.

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Celia Gilchrist is an editor in London who is in her thirties waiting for the right man. She meets Lewis, clearly (at least clearly to everyone else in the novel and the reader but not, typically, to Celia) a cad and a womanizer. About the time she realizes this, she receives and accepts a job offer in Edinburgh where she promptly meets Stephen, who is separated from his wife, Helen--a Helen as elusive and mysterious as the Helen of Troy, and also as powerful to affect the lives of others, especially men--and their nine-year-old child, Jenny. Despite Celia's valiant effort to get to know and accept Jenny, Celia and Jenny do not get along. From the very first chapter, which is a flash-forward, to the last page, Celia encounters accidents, lies, damage to her personal property, from dresses to sweaters to jewelry--all when Jenny is in the vicinity. The ending is cataclysmic.

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Saturday

McEwan, Ian

Last Updated: Sep-13-2005
Annotated by:
Belling, Catherine

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

This novel spans one day in the life of a London neurosurgeon, Henry Perowne. It is set on a specific day, Saturday, February 15, 2003, when mass demonstrations were held in London protesting the coming war on Iraq. This actual historical and geographical context colors the fictional narrative, told entirely from the point of view of Perowne, who wakes in the early hours of the morning to see a burning aircraft descending towards Heathrow. Although this turns out not to be a terrorist attack, as Perowne at first fears, it sets up the book's atmosphere of foreboding and the powerful contrast between dangerous world events and Perowne's essentially happy family.

The Perownes are all talented and successful and fond of each other. Henry's wife, Rosalind, is a media lawyer; their son, Theo, a blues guitarist; and their daughter, Daisy, a published poet. This Saturday's highlight is to be a family dinner, where it is expected that Daisy and her grandfather, John Grammaticus, a famous poet, will reconcile after an argument.

Henry is on the way to his morning squash game when he is involved in a minor car accident with a dubious character named Baxter. He escapes theft and a beating by realizing that Baxter suffers from Huntington's Disease. He tells Baxter the diagnosis and offers hope of a non-existent treatment, shifting the power base of the encounter from brawn to brain and humiliating Baxter in front of his cronies. (This part of the novel was published in the New Yorker as a short story, The Diagnosis. See the annotation in this database for a more detailed account.)

Henry then plays an aggressive game of squash with Jay Strauss, his American colleague, and they discuss the Middle East and the impending war. He buys seafood at the market for the evening's dinner, and he goes to the nursing home to visit his mother, Lily, who has multiple-infarct dementia. He listens to his son's band, goes home and cooks dinner. He argues with Daisy, his daughter, just come from the protest march, about the coming war.

When the family is gathered for dinner, Rosalind returns from work and Baxter and his henchmen force their way into the house. They threaten Rosalind with a knife, break Grammaticus's nose, and force Daisy to strip, at which point Perowne realizes his daughter is pregnant. Then Daisy recites poetry--Matthew Arnold's "Dover Beach"--and, unlikely as it is, the effect of the poem is to distract Baxter enough that Perowne is able to lure him upstairs with the promise of more information on treating Huntington's, and he and Theo then throw Baxter down the stairs. Baxter is taken away in an ambulance, and later Perowne is called in to operate on his brain. The novel ends with Perowne back in bed with his wife.

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