Showing 261 - 270 of 382 annotations tagged with the keyword "Cross-Cultural Issues"

Annotated by:
Kohn, Martin

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

This short novel is based on the student-led Mexican uprising of 1968. The reader discovers that the protagonist, Nestor, is in a hospital bed one year after the government's brutal suppression of the rebellion, recovering from a stabbing at the hands of a "prostitute-assassin" he had confronted in his post-rebellion duties as a "yellow journalist." With plenty of time to think about the failures of the previous year, Nestor decides to finish off the revolution from his sick bed, and elicits the help of his heroes, both actual and fictional, to carry out his plan.

The various heroes Nestor calls upon include "the hound" from Hound of the Baskervilles and Sherlock Holmes; the Earp brothers and their companion, Doc Holliday; the four Musketeers; the Light Brigade; and various other anti-colonialists and anti-imperialists, including Norman Bethune (see film annotation, Bethune: The Making of a Hero), the Tigers of Malaysia, and the Mau-Mau. These characters are summoned by Nestor (and Taibo) as a means to revivify the "Movement of '68" that ended in the massacre of 49 students, the wounding of 500 others, and the detention of 1500 persons on October 2nd of that year.

Jorge Castaneda notes in the preface to this novel, "only fairy tales or adventure stories could heal the wounds and keep the promises of the streets . . . "(p.vii). It is the imagined hero's power to reconfigure events to which the desperate Nestor turned in his attempt to heal the past.

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The English Patient

Ondaatje, Michael

Last Updated: Dec-06-2006
Annotated by:
Woodcock, John

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction — Secondary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

In the final year of World War II, in a bomb-damaged villa in the hills north of Florence, four characters seek shelter and in their various ways attempt to undo the damage of the war. Kip, the Indian munitions expert, by day disarms unexploded mines and bombs. The title character, badly burned all over his body when his plane crashed in the desert, lies in a bed, morphine deadening his pain and loosening his memory, reminiscing about a love affair and his career in military intelligence as a desert expert.

The young Canadian nurse Hana, emotionally shut down as the result of her work in the war and the death of her lover, has refused to withdraw with her unit and lovingly tends to the English patient and develops an intimate relation with Kip. Caravaggio, a friend of Hana's parents and with an ambiguous interest in her, dips into Hana's supply of morphine and uses his intelligence skills to steal things for the group and also to probe into the mystery of the history and identity of the "English" patient. The novel ends shortly after radio news of the dropping of atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki drives Kip away from the company of the companions he sees with angry irony as part of a destructive "Western wisdom" (p. 284).

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A Gesture Life

Lee, Chang-rae

Last Updated: Dec-06-2006
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Franklin Hata, comfortably retired from his medical supply business, reflects on his life--a life that spans several continents, three cultures (ethnic Korean brought up in Japan and emigrating in adulthood to the U.S.), service as a medic in World War II (in the Imperial Army of Japan), adoptive fatherhood, and a fizzled out romance with a well-to-do suburban Caucasian widow. At first out of place in the wealthy New York suburb where he settled, Hata has worked hard to achieve acceptance there, taking pains to fit in, creating no disturbances, never complaining, even when provoked by thoughtless schoolchildren or narrow minded adults.

The major disappointment of his adult life has been his tempestuous relationship with his adopted mixed-race daughter, Sunny, who left his home to live on her own when only a teenager. Even failed parenthood, however, has been absorbed by Hata. For although Hata claims that he had always wished to "pass through with something more than a life of gestures," (299) in fact he has labored to maintain equilibrium with a carefully designed "gesture life" of daily routine and superficial social niceties.

In the idleness of retirement and the solitude of his large, empty Tudor home, disturbing memories impinge on these routines and force a re-evaluation of his life and his relationship with the estranged Sunny. As a young medic during World War II, Hata had undergone an emotional and moral crisis when he fell in love with one of the Korean "comfort women" brought into his care in the Japanese army camp (in Burma) to which he was assigned. In the midst of rape and murder, Hata had to make choices, and these choices he can no longer justify to himself.

Further, he comes to understand that his relationship with his daughter has been colored by those long ago events. "In a way, it was a kind of ignoring that I did, an avoidance of her as Sunny -- difficult, rash, angry Sunny -- which I masked with a typical performance of consensus building and subtle pressure, which always is the difficult work of attempting to harmonize one's life and the lives of those whom one cherishes." (284)

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Annotated by:
Woodcock, John

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

This film rendition of Randy Shilts's documentary book by the same name tells the scientific, political, and human story of the first five years of AIDS in the U.S.--roughly 1980-85. Mainly it is a story of dedicated medical researchers groping to understand the horrifying and mysterious new disease and simultaneously battling the public fear and indifference that prevented, during those Reagan years, both public funding of their research and acceptance of their findings.

The central figure is Dr. Don Francis (Matthew Modine), veteran of the World Health Organization's smallpox eradication program, and the horrifying outbreak of hemorrhagic fever along the Ebola River in central Africa in 1976. Working at the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta with no money and no space, Francis pursues his theory that AIDS is caused by a sexually-transmitted virus on the model of feline leukemia. His individual antagonist is Dr. Robert Gallo (Alan Alda), the discoverer of HTLV (the human T-cell leukemia virus), who cuts off assistance when he hears that Francis has shared some experimental materials with French researchers. (Gallo sees the French team mainly as his rivals for a Nobel prize.) Gallo finally claims a French retrovirus discovery as his own and thereby acquires a coveted patent.

Besides lab work and big scientific egos, the film shows us lots of grass-roots, shoe-leather epidemiology, especially in San Francisco; the laborious questioning of AIDS patients about their sexual histories, in search of the chain of infection and its beginning, "patient zero." The film's plot ends with Reagan's 1984 re-election and Francis's departure for San Francisco to set up as an independent researcher. Preceding the credits are a number of updates that take AIDS and the story's heroes and villains from 1985 to 1993, all this appearing over stills of famous AIDS victims and crusaders.

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Summary:

It is part of the interest of this film that it is not easily summarized. The present tense of the film is the final year of World War II, the setting a bomb-damaged villa in the hills north of Florence, the action four characters seeking shelter there and attempting to undo some of the damage of the war.

The title character (Ralph Fiennes), whose identity is a mystery at the beginning of the film, was badly burned all over his body when his plane crashed in the desert. He lies in a bed, morphine deadening his pain and loosening his memory, reminiscing about a love affair with Katherine Clifton (Kristin Scott Thomas) and his career in military intelligence as a desert expert

The young Canadian nurse Hana (Juliette Binoche), emotionally shut down as the result of her work in the war and the death of her lover, has refused to withdraw with her Red Cross unit and lovingly tends to the badly burned patient and develops an intimate relation with Kip (Naveen Andrews), a Sikh munitions expert who by day disarms unexploded mines and bombs. An American nicknamed Caravaggio (Willem Dafoe), a criminal who has been recruited by military intelligence, shows up and probes with increasing intensity into the mystery of the history and identity of the "English" patient, who he believes in some way responsible for the amputation of his thumbs by the Germans.

Much of the film consists of flashbacks through the point of view of the English patient, who it turns out is a Hungarian count, Laszlo Almasy, an explorer and geographer of the north African desert, who in his deep devotion to Katherine Clifton did in fact commit a treasonous act that indirectly led to Caravaggio's amputations. The film ends with Caravaggio finally forgiving the badly wounded Almasy, Hana granting Almasy's request of a peaceful death, and she herself leaving for Florence, where we expect she will meet Kip, who has just been reassigned there.

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Summary:

Joel Garcia (Eric Stoltz) is a young writer who loses the use of his legs after a climbing accident and faces medical, existential, romantic, sexual, institutional, and social challenges on the way to resuming what is left of his former life. Joel has to acknowledge his condition, decide (as a liberal and Hispanic) how to stand up against the bigoted bragging of his fellow patient the crude biker Bloss (William Forsythe), and, somehow, how to make the right moves with his girlfriend Anna (Helen Hunt), who is married and whose ambivalence about her relationship with Joel is compounded by his disability.

Joel and Bloss come together, toward the end, in an attempt to ease the suffering of a third patient, Raymond Hill (Wesley Snipes), a self-styled ladies' man who conceals the fact that his wife has just left him. The film was written and co-directed by Neal Jimenez, who, according to Roger Ebert, has experienced much of what his main character goes through.

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Annotated by:
Woodcock, John

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

Set in a future when genetic engineering allows many couples to arrange for perfected babies, Gattaca tells the story of one imperfect man's successful fight against the odds. Born "naturally" with several serious imperfections, Vincent (Ethan Hawke) nevertheless grows up dreaming only of being an astronaut. As a member of the genetic underclass, he is able to work only as a custodian at Gattaca, the future version of NASA.

Vincent's frustration drives him to engage a sort of identity broker who arranges for him to appear to change his physical identity with Jerome (Jude Law), a member of the elite who has been paralyzed in an accident. Through this complex deception Vincent finally succeeds in being selected as an astronaut for an upcoming mission to a moon of Saturn. A large part of this future thriller consists of Vincent's heroic attempts to continue to pass as Jerome through a series of genetic checks.

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Summary:

Will Hunting (Matt Damon) comes from Southie, a rough district of Boston, and works at night as a janitor at the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Will writes on some math class blackboards when no one’s looking, and Professor Lambeau (Stellan Skarsgard) discovers that Will is a natural mathematical genius. Lambeau tries to bring Will out of his go-nowhere environment into the academic world where his talent will be appreciated.

Will half-agrees, but he still hangs out with his tough crowd in Southie (including Ben Affleck as Chuckie), and he winds up getting arrested after a fight. Lambeau keeps Will out of jail through an arrangement that includes his mentoring plus Will’s going for psychotherapy with Sean McGuire (Robin Williams). That course of psychotherapy is the core of the film.

Sean’s treatment of Will in therapy involves lots of risks, but through a combination of empathy, rule-giving, self-revelation, and provocation, Sean manages to bring Will to understand that the severe physical abuse he suffered as a child at the hands of his foster parents is not his fault, and that he really is a good person who has a lot to offer. (This can sound corny unless you are the one who is making the discovery.)

Sean gains some credibility with Will when he admits that he, too, had suffered abuse as a child. Will’s realization makes possible a much more positive self-image and a whole new vision of life. He decides to stop denying his talents and to recognize that he might be good enough after all for brilliant and charming (and independently wealthy) MIT student Skylar (Minnie Driver), who loves him, and whom he finally leaves Southie to follow as she heads west for graduate school.

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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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The Drowned and the Saved

Levi, Primo

Last Updated: Dec-06-2006
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

Primo Levi was imprisoned at the Auschwitz concentration camp in 1944. He survived the experience, probably in part because he was a trained chemist and as such, useful to the Nazis. Soon after the war ended, he wrote several books about his experience. The Drowned and the Saved, however, was written 40 years later and is the work of memory and reflection not only on the original events, but also on how the world has dealt with the Holocaust in the intervening years. Fundamental to his purpose is the fear that what happened once can happen (and in some respects, has happened) again.

Chapter 1, "The Memory of the Offense," dissects out the vagaries of memory, rejection of responsibility, denial of unacceptable trauma and out and out lying among those who were held to account by tribunals as well as among the victimized. Levi does not spare himself: "This very book is drenched in memory . . . it draws from a suspect source and must be protected against itself" (34). Even so, he insists, memory and the historical record are crucial to combating Nazi assumptions that their deeds would go unnoticed (they were destroying the evidence), or disbelieved.

In "The Gray Zone" (2) Levi challenges the tendency to over-simplify and gloss over unpleasant truths of the inmate hierarchy that inevitably developed in the camps, and that was exacerbated by the Nazi methodology of singling some out for special privileges. He outlines the coercive conditions that cause people to become so demoralized that they will harm each other just to survive. (And when they refused to collaborate, they were killed and immediately replaced.)

Chapter 3, " Shame," is, in my opinion, the most profound and moving section of the book. Levi begins it by discussing a phenomenon that occurred following liberation from the camps: many who had been incarcerated committed suicide or were profoundly depressed. This Levi attributes to shame and feelings of guilt. "Coming out of the darkness, one suffered because of the reacquired consciousness of having been diminished . . . Our moral yardstick had changed [while in the camps]" (75). Beyond that, there is the sense that "each one of us (but this time I say 'us' in a . . . universal sense) has usurped his neighbor's place and lived in his stead" (81-82).

In the concentration camp, says Levi, it was usually "the selfish, the violent, the insensitive, the collaborators of the 'gray zone,' the spies" who survived ["the saved"] while the others did not ["the drowned"] (82). Only the drowned could know the totality of the concentration camp experience, but they cannot testify; hence, the saved must do their best to render it. Since Levi was one of those saved, he is "in permanent search of a justification . . . " and although he feels compelled to bear witness, he does not consider doing so sufficient justification for having survived. In this chapter Levi also discusses why inmates did not commit suicide during their incarceration:" . . . suicide is an act of man and not of the animal . . . because of the constant imminence of death there was no time to concentrate on the idea of death" (76).

"Communicating" (4) deals with the emotional and practical consequences of not being able to understand the German commands of the captors, or the conversation of the mostly German speaking prisoners (Levi was Italian but spoke some German). Levi also describes the additional suffering of those who were cut off from all communication with friends and family. "Useless Violence" (5) gives examples of how the Nazis tormented their prisoners with "stupid and symbolic violence."

In "The Intellectual in Auschwitz" (6) Levi speculates about how and in what circumstances being educated or cultured was a help or hindrance to coping with the situation. In this chapter he considers also whether religious belief was useful or comforting, concluding that believers "better resisted the seduction of power [resisted collaborating]" (145) and were less prone to despair. Levi, however, was never a believer, although he admits to having almost prayed for help once, but caught himself because "one does not change the rules of the game at the end of the match, not when you were losing" (146).

Chapter 7, "Stereotypes," addresses those who question why many concentration camp inmates or ghetto inhabitants did not attempt to escape or rebel, and why many German Jews remained in Germany during Hitler's ascendance. As in all the other chapters of his book, Levi discusses the complexity of these situations. "Letters from Germans" summarizes his correspondence with Germans who read his earlier books. The book ends ("Conclusion") with the exhortation that "It happened, therefore it can happen again . . . " (199).

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