Showing 231 - 240 of 354 annotations tagged with the keyword "Freedom"
Summary:Poet Jane Kenyon, very ill with leukemia (from which she died after a 15 month illness), describes what it is like to be so weakened by illness that she prefers to wait in the car while her husband buys the groceries. She is aware of how weak, helpless, and out of place she is--a middle aged woman, sitting in the car in a parking lot in the middle of the day--"she had learned what it's like / not to be able to button a button." She watches enviously as those around her--"even the old and relatively infirm"--scurry about "with such freedom" and drive off in their cars "so briskly . . . ."
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.
The story begins as a young woman enters the hospital for cancer treatment. She struggles to maintain her identity despite the institutionalized depersonalization typical of the hospital environment. Later, loss of hair from her cancer treatment also threatens her identity, for her appearance is a large part of who she is. Although she is rather proud of the fact that she refuses to buy a wig, preferring scarves instead, she covers all the mirrors in her home. Finally, she learns that even her naked skull can be beautiful, and dares to walk outside bareheaded for the first time after her treatment.
The title of this variegated narrative hardly does it justice. Though some of the most eloquent passages are about the lingering death of the author's mother, Ruth Johnson, from esophageal cancer, it is, just as centrally, the writer's memoir of growing up with the woman she has just seen through her final years of diminishment and loss, and commentary on her mother's art as testimony to her quirky, original, unconstrained, sometimes jaundiced, often hilarious view of the human comedy.
Hillary Johnson returned to Minneapolis from New York to be with her mother and stepfather after years of only intermittent contact and in the process of reentering her mother's life, came to reassess her own. Ruth chain-smoked, drank freely, lived spontaneously, painted uninhibitedly (40 illustrations include examples of her artwork) and often bestowed her art without price wherever it was appreciated. She was a local celebrity and the daughter, who has achieved her own success, finds in her mother's life a new measure of her own. In retrospect, she recognizes the costs, both to her mother and to herself, of the bohemian way of life she knew as a child, and the pain she didn't at the time fully recognize as such.
Margaret returns one afternoon from tennis to discover that Lewis, her husband, has committed suicide by taking an overdose of pain medication. Lewis had been bedridden from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). They had thoroughly discussed his plan to kill himself before he was unable to do so, but Margaret is surprised when it happens because she expected Lewis to leave her a message. There is none.
As Margaret prepares for her husband’s cremation, she recalls the circumstances under which he left his teaching job--not because of the ALS, but because he used to teach human evolution in his high school biology class, without giving "equal weight" to creationism.
Because this upset many of his students’ parents and local clergy, the principal several times suggested that Lewis might at least give a nod to creationism. However, Lewis, an outspoken opponent of religion, was insulted by this proposal and quit his job.
The undertaker encourages Margaret to hold a wake--to comfort her and their many friends--but she insists that Lewis wanted no wake and no service. The next day the undertaker brings her Lewis’ ashes; she goes out into the country at night and disperses them.
While driving away from a dangerous city in an area of north Afghanistan ravaged by war, three men must journey by foot when their car is damaged in an accident. Donk is an American combat photographer. Hassan is a young Afghan translator. Graves is a British journalist suffering from a severe case of malaria and in desperate need of medication.
They arrive at a remote village ruled by a warlord, General Ismail Mohammed. Medication is unavailable there and transportation to a larger city is not possible for at least another day. The local doctor recommends an herbal remedy for the treatment of malaria, and General Mohammed attests to its effectiveness. The medicinal grass grows only in a nearby mountain valley. Two soldiers escort Donk and Hassan to the vale. They encounter a convoy of transport vehicles that have been incinerated by a bomb blast.
When the grass is finally in sight, Donk and Hassan race towards it even as the two soldiers shout at them. Too late! Donk steps on a bomblet and the device detonates. Badly injured (and maybe even mortally wounded), Donk and Hassan lie on their backs and gaze at the sky. They are surrounded by the thick grass they hoped might save the life of their companion, Graves.
During a sabbatical year in Florence, English professor and writer James McConkey immersed himself in reading Anton Chekhov’s works, as well as biographies of the Russian writer. He began to feel a particular affinity for Chekhov’s crisis of 1889-1890 and his resolution of that crisis by traveling alone to Sakhalin Island off the eastern coast of Siberia to investigate conditions in the penal colonies that the Russian government had established in that distant region. Perhaps because McConkey himself was recovering from a series of traumatic experiences in his own life, he felt a kinship to this depressed young Russian author and his search for a new direction in life.
McConkey responded to this feeling of kinship by writing To a Distant Island, which is partly biographical, in that it retells the story of Chekhov’s six month long journey to Sakhalin Island in 1890; and partly a memoir, in that McConkey relates Chekhov’s life events to the feelings and events of his own life at the time. McConkey establishes this perspective from the beginning, when he explains why he refers to Chekhov throughout the book as "T": "I honor the man too much to call him by name throughout an account, which. . . is bound to be a fiction of my own" (8).
To a Distant Island dwells especially on the motivation for Chekhov’s journey to Sakhalin, a question scholars have debated for a hundred years now. Of the many contributing reasons for the trip, McConkey chooses to highlight and fictionalize "the suicidal tendency that surfaced again a decade later in the marriage his health simply couldn’t afford" (26). McConkey refines this to "T. wants to escape--he wants out, at whatever the personal cost" (27). It is in this state of mind (or soul) that the brilliant and sensitive T. begins his journey to the end of the earth.
Perhaps as a metaphor that characterizes any human quest, McConkey devotes most of the writing and energy to T’s justification, preparation, and outward-bound journey. Only 37 pages remain for the story of what happens to his hero once the goal is achieved; and less than 6 pages for the homeward trek (or homeward "sail" in this case). [This is a technique, come to think of it, quite the opposite of Homer’s in "The Odyssey"!]
The conclusion? "Sakhalin, then, gave to T. nothing he hadn’t known all along. . . Perhaps despair--that absence of hope--is a requisite for any deepened understanding of a universal hope for something never to be found in the present time or place" (82).
It is 1820 and Cassie lives on a farm in Maine with her parents and three brothers. One of them, Will, damages his leg with an axe as he hears Cassie scream while he is chopping wood. The gangrene and days of near-death suffering that ensue eventuate in amputation of the leg. During this crisis Cassie is Will's primary caretaker, partly because she feels the accident was her fault.
Their father wants to let Will die, as he feels there will be no life for him as an amputee. But Will survives and he and Cassie go to live with an older married sister in town where Will finds he has talents and options that might never have occurred to him had he simply grown into the farming life he loved. The year following the accident in this way opens both Cassie's and Will's imaginations to other kinds of lives to be lived. For Cassie it awakens a longing to do medical work, as caring for Will has made her aware of the deep satisfactions of caregiving.
A stray bull has been grazing on Mrs. May's farm for several days. She is outraged that her tenant/farmhand, Mr. Greenleaf, hasn't chased the bull away; and her outrage only grows stronger when she learns that the bull belongs to the tenant's sons, who have settled not far away with their French wives and bilingual children.
Mrs. May is a widow lady whose two sons, both in their mid-30s, live on the farm with her, but have no interest in farming. One sells life insurance to black folks; the other is an intellectual. Mrs. May thinks she knows how to "handle" Mr. Greenleaf; she has employed him for 15 years despite his stupidity and shiftlessness. His wife is a religious fanatic and faith healer. His twin sons, unlike Mrs. May's, went away to the war in Europe, rose in the ranks, came home with European wives, and now each had a piece of good land and three children in a convent school. They also have a bull that escaped, but they evidently don't it want back.
Mrs. May becomes more and more obsessed with the bull that is eating her out of house and home. Finally, she demands that Mr. Greenleaf shoot it and insists on accompanying him to make sure the deed is done. When the bull escapes to the woods, Greenleaf follows it. Shortly thereafter, it comes charging out of the wood directly toward Mrs. May. Mr. Greenleaf finally shoots the bull just after it has gored Mrs. May in the chest and killed her.
It is a sad world when Pelayo discovers an old man with large, weathered wings stuck in the mud. It has been raining for three days. The beach is a mixture of rotting crabs and sludge. Stench is everywhere. Worst of all, Pelayo's baby is ill with a fever.
Because the strange visitor possesses wings and speaks an unknown dialect, no one knows for certain who or what he is. He seems awfully decrepit to be a supernatural being. A neighbor thinks he's an angel who has come for the baby. Pelayo and his wife, Elisenda, suspect he is a sailor or castaway. The parish priest, Father Gonzaga, believes the old man is not an angel but rather an imposter.
After examining the man with wings, the doctor decides it is impossible such a creature is even alive. The old man is locked in a chicken coop and treated like a freak. People pay five cents to view him, and before long, Pelayo and Elisenda make enough money to build a mansion. Their newborn child regains his health.
When the boy is older, both he and the old man with wings contract chicken pox. The old man is mistreated and burned with a branding iron. All he eats is eggplant mush. The town is visited by many carnival attractions including a woman transformed into a spider because she defied her parents. People eventually lose interest in the old man. One winter he has a fever and is delirious. He not only survives but grows new wings. His clumsy attempts at flight eventually improve and one day he disappears into the horizon.