Showing 2961 - 2970 of 3304 annotations

The Island of the Colorblind

Sacks, Oliver

Last Updated: Jul-30-1997
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Collection (Case Studies)

Summary:

In Book I Oliver Sacks describes his visit to Pingelap and Pohnpei in the Caroline Islands (now a part of the Federated States of Micronesia). On Pingelap (population 700) 5-10% of the people are completely colorblind; i.e. they have a rare hereditary condition called achromatopsia in which the retina has no functional cone cells. Rod cells, which normally provide peripheral and night vision, are their only source of vision. While partial colorblindness is common, achromatopsia is normally very rare. Sacks and Knut Nordby, a Norwegian scientist who is himself achromatopic, examined dozens of achromatopes on Pingelap and in a village of Pingelapese people on the larger Pohnpei.

In Book II Sacks takes the reader to Guam where he investigates (with his friend John Steele, a neurologist who lives on the island) the neurological disease called "lytico-bodig." The "lytico" form of this disease is a progressive paralysis similar to amyotropic lateral sclerosis, while the "bodig" form resembles parkinsonism. Both appeared in Guam after the Second World Way and now seem to be dying out. However, no one has ever determined their cause.

Sacks tells the story of his visit, while also discussing various hypotheses that have been considered and discarded over forty years of study. The last section of the book describes a trip to Rota, a small island north of Guam, where Sacks visits a forest of cycad trees and discusses his life-long fascination with these primitive plants.

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Talk Before Sleep

Berg, Elizabeth

Last Updated: Jul-30-1997
Annotated by:
Ratzan, Richard M.

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Determined not to like Ruth Thomas, Ann Stanley is immediately smitten by her charm and force of personality, and especially by her vitality--a vitality that too soon succumbs to breast cancer. As one of a cadre of women almost obsessively devoted to the care of a dying Ruth, Ann nurses Ruth through her final illness, until--in a move curiously like the decision of Charity (also dying of cancer) to keep Sid, her husband, sequestered from her final trip to the hospital, in Wallace Stegner's far superior novel, Crossing to Safety--Ruth flies to Florida to die at her brother's house.

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Annotated by:
Willms, Janice

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Treatise

Summary:

Showalter identifies clusters of syndromes, or mini-epidemics, which she suggests represent late-twentieth century manifestations of the entity which was called hysteria in nineteenth century western culture. Opening with the history of psychiatry's involvement in hysteria in the time of Charcot and Freud, she traces the replacement of hysteria or conversion reaction by modern hysterical analogues such as: chronic fatigue syndrome, recovered memory, Gulf War syndrome, multiple personality syndrome, satanic ritual abuse, and alien abduction.

In separate chapters she examines each of these entities--how it presents, how it fits into her theory of mass hysteria as a cultural response to the millennium, and how it is being handled by health care professionals. Showalter contends that "Redefining hysteria as a universal human response to emotional conflict is a better course than evading, denying, or projecting its realities." (p. 17)

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World of Wonders

Davies, Robertson

Last Updated: Jul-25-1997
Annotated by:
Sirridge, Marjorie

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

This is the third novel in Davies’s major work, The Deptford Trilogy. While it is not necessary to read the novels in this trilogy in sequence, doing so makes each story more complete and interesting, and clarifies the relationships between some of the characters. This particular novel tells the life story of the unfortunate boy introduced in The Fifth Business, who was spirited away from his Canadian home by one of the members of a traveling side show, the Wanless World of Wonders.

Magnus Eisengrim, now a master magician, describes his life as an innocent child who was introduced not only to rape, but to the sad world of the "freak" show, as he traveled throughout his formative years with these unfortunate people. The main good which came out of this was that he developed empathy for the members of the side show, and that he taught himself the skills of magic and became an accomplished magician. A turning point in his life occurred when he got away from this terrible environment and became an understudy for a famous English actor. In emulating this man, he moved on to become a marvelous illusionist.

The last part of the story is concerned with Magnus’s role in making a film about the life of Robert-Houdin; he finally tells his life story to the group of people with whom he is working. In this group there is a friend from his early life--a man who treated him badly when he was the actor’s understudy and who doesn’t now recognize him--and the director who is trying to help the group work together. Another important character is a woman with a physical disability which had so altered her appearance that it had warped her world view; Magnus helps her come to grips with her situation. The descriptions of the interactions among these unusual characters are Robertson Davies at his best.

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One True Thing

Quindlen, Anna

Last Updated: Jul-24-1997
Annotated by:
Sirridge, Marjorie

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

This is a truly beautiful novel; its many stories remain with the reader for a long time. It is the semi-autobiographical story of the myriad of issues which are manifest as one family deals with the terminal illness of the mother from cancer.

A daughter, who has never considered herself close to her mother, is forced by her father to leave her job as a journalist in New York, to come home and become the primary caregiver. Over a period of several months the mother has chemotherapy and eventually gives up to the slow deterioration of the disease. During this time the mother and daughter rebuild a relationship and come to have mutual respect for each other. One poignant aspect of the relationship is their establishment of "The Gulden Girls Book and Cook Club" as they read old classics together and the mother teaches the daughter the cooking secrets which she has cherished.

The father, a college professor and former mentor of the daughter, absents himself from the home as much as possible, unable to deal with the issues. The female oncologist is very helpful and understanding with both the patient and the daughter. A wonderful hospice nurse gives welcome support. The question of assisted suicide becomes an issue after the mother's death; the daughter is arrested. There is a surprise ending which should not be revealed here, but offers a good forum for discussion.

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Adrift on an Ice Pan

Grenfell, Wilfred

Last Updated: Jul-22-1997
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

Easter Sunday April 1908, at St. Anthony on the tip of Newfoundland's Great Northern Peninsula. Grenfell is summoned sixty miles south to a boy with osteomyelitis who had been operated two weeks earlier. "The people had allowed the wound to close," he said, and the lad needed immediate attention to save not only his leg but his life. Grenfell set out with his komatik (dog sled) and his eight best dogs. "A lover of dogs, as every Christian man must be," Grenfell writes how each was as "precious as a child to its mother."

To save a few miles, he takes a short cut across a bay, but the ice breaks up beneath him, his komatik sinks, and one dog drowns. He and the other dogs climb out of the water on to an ice pan, which drifts out to sea in an offshore wind. In the cold and solitude, he decides to stab three dogs with a small knife, stifling their cries and struggles with his numb hands. He skins the animals for their warm hides and assembles their frozen legs into a flagpole from which he waves his tattered shirt.

After a day and a night on the ice, he is rescued by "five Newfoundland men . . . with Newfoundland muscles in their backs, and five as brave hearts as ever beat in the bodies of human beings." On shore the frostbitten and snowblind doctor is greeted with tears and rejoicing. Many feared he would be lost. But, he says, he had not been afraid in the face of immanent death; he felt merely regret for lost opportunities. And the sick boy? Two days later he was brought to hospital by boat, operated, and cured. Grenfell closes his "egotistic narrative" by describing the brass plaque dedicated to the memory of the three sacrificed dogs: it proclaims "not one of them is forgotten before your Father which is in heaven."

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Ivanov

Chekhov, Anton

Last Updated: Jul-22-1997
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Plays

Genre: Play

Summary:

Nikolai Ivanov is a young estate-owner, heavily in debt, especially to Zinaida Lebedev, the wife of the head of the County Council. Ivanov used to be energetic, creative, and unconventional, the "star" of the local gentry. He married for love--a Jewish woman (Sarah, now called Anna) whose parents disowned her when she married a gentile--and Anna is totally devoted to him. Yet Ivanov is suffering from profound depression.

It seems to him that all his good ideas (like building a school for the poor) were for naught and he has become a "superfluous man." He spends every evening socializing at the Lebedev estate, even though he knows how this hurts his wife. Doctor Lvov, Anna's physician, is a humorless and terminally sincere young man who has no insight into Ivanov's depression.

One night Anna gets fed up and follows her husband to the Lebedev house, where she discovers Ivanov kissing the Lebedevs' daughter, Sasha, who is hopelessly in love with Ivanov, although he doesn't reciprocate her affection. Some weeks later Anna's illness (tuberculosis) has gotten worse. Lvov condemns Ivanov, various hangers-on while away their time in Ivanov's study, and, to complicate matters further, Sasha shows up unannounced. After Anna dies, Ivanov and Sasha are set to be married, but at the last minute he can't go through with it. At the end of the play he runs offstage and shoots himself dead.

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The Second Coming

Percy, Walker

Last Updated: Jul-22-1997
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Will Barrett, the protagonist of The Last Gentleman (see this database), returns in this novel, having retired early from a lucrative law practice. A widower, he lives in an exclusive North Carolina suburb where he has become "the world's most accomplished golf amateur."

Suddenly, his golf game turns sour and "hidden memories" pop up. Among these memories is the truth about his father's suicide: when Will was 12, his father killed himself in a "hunting accident," but had also tried to kill Will to "protect" him from an inauthentic existence. While Will is struggling with his own "death in life," he meets Allison, a neurotic 20 year old woman who has escaped from a mental hospital and is living in an abandoned greenhouse on some property that she has inherited.

Other characters include Father Weatherbee, a decrepit old Catholic priest who was once a missionary in Mindanao, and Jack Curl, a charmingly smooth Episcopal priest, who is trying to establish affluent "love communities" in North Carolina. Will decides to challenge God, "I shall go into a desert place and wait for God to give a sign. If no sign is forthcoming, I shall die . . . . " Ultimately, he finds his "sign" in Allison; they choose life, fall in love, and get married.

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The Last Gentleman

Percy, Walker

Last Updated: Jul-22-1997
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Williston (Will) Barnett, the damaged son of an old Southern family, is the protagonist of this rambling, picaresque novel. While living in New York, Will meets Kitty McVaught, a young Alabama woman whose father owns the world's largest Chevrolet agency. Will, who suffers from bouts of amnesia and fugue states, follows Kitty back to Alabama and meets her family, including her mother, who believes the South lost the Civil War as a result of a Jewish conspiracy; her older brother Sutter, a failed physician and self-proclaimed pornographer; her sister Val, a devoted Roman Catholic who works among the poor black children; and a 16 year old brother Jamie, who is terminally ill.

Will's mission in this novel is to discover why his father committed suicide when Will was 12 years old, and thereby achieve some healing of his own memories, but most of the action in the novel involves various members of the McVaught family, especially Sutter and Val, who represent the warfare between animal desire (Sutter) and angelic spirit (Val) in this fallen world. The novel's climactic scene takes place in Santa Fe, where Jamie undergoes a deathbed conversion. Afterward, Will presumably returns to Alabama to marry Kitty and do something constructive with his life.

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Grief

Williams, C. K. (Charles Kenneth)

Last Updated: Jul-22-1997
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

The poet grieves over his mother's death, "Gone now, after the days of desperate, unconscious gasping, the reflexive staying alive . . . . " He records the details of her dying, the details of his pain. He wonderingly asks himself, "Is this grief?" upon realizing that he is not making a scene, nor crying, nor wishing to follow her in death.

He realizes, though, that his grief is not just for his 80 year old mother who died in bed with make-up on her face, but for his mother-in-law's face and all women's faces and "the faces of all human beings, our own faces telling us so much and no more, / offering pain to all who behold them . . . . " His grief is grief for the earth, the flesh, the body, the mind, "and grief for the moment, its partial beauties, its imperfect affections, all severed, all torn."

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