Showing 331 - 340 of 364 annotations tagged with the keyword "Catastrophe"

Outside Passage

Scully, Julia

Last Updated: Aug-17-1998
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

Subtitled, A Memoir of an Alaskan Childhood, this spare, compelling work recalls young Julia's difficult and unusual life in a splintered family living "at the edge of the world." When Julia was born in 1929 the family had just moved to Seattle and entered an economic crisis--"somehow, my father had been bilked out of their money." (17) The marriage went downhill as poverty and the father's serious illness compounded an underlying conjugal incompatibility.

Julia was only seven years old when she and her older sister Lillian found their father dead--a suicide. "Nothing is said about how my father died, or even, in fact, that he is dead." (8) Not long thereafter Julia's mother, Rose, without any explanation or advance warning, left the girls at the Pacific Hebrew Orphan Asylum; there they remained for two years. Rose went to Nome, Alaska to try to find work. "Meanwhile, I strive to be a model orphan. I do all my chores . . . I'm quiet, do well in school, am extremely polite. And most of the time, I'm afraid." (33)

There follows another stay in a different orphanage. Here "I never hear my name . . . No one ever touches me. And, in my memory of that time, that place, I am always alone." (72) Finally, they join their mother again in a remote mining outpost of Alaska where Rose operates a roadhouse. Moving with the seasons back and forth between the outpost and the city of Nome, Julia's life takes on a semblance of normalcy. The environment is strange but interesting, the men who frequent the roadhouse are rough but friendly--there is a sense of camaraderie.

As Julia reaches puberty she becomes subliminally aware of a relationship between her mother and the owner of the Nome liquor store, Cappy. Cappy is married--his family is back in Seattle. There is never any open display of affection between Cappy and Rose, but he eats his meals with them and is almost a surrogate father to Julia and her sister. Suddenly Rose decides to move the family to Fairbanks. Here there is a "secret scenario" that Julia only pieces together many years later. As the events unfold in Fairbanks, Julia knows only that her mother is "distracted, not there." And that a man "carrying a small black satchel" comes to the house and leaves her mother moaning in bed.

Once more, Rose leaves her now teenaged children behind as she returns to Nome. It is wartime and Lillian and Julia find jobs at the military base in Fairbanks. As suddenly as they came to Fairbanks, they are summoned back to Nome--no questions asked, no explanations given. Cappy's son is missing in action. Once again, Julia cannot understand the silence, the absence of grief displayed--"Isn't anybody sad? Isn't anybody upset?" (181) Rose's relationship with Cappy quietly ends.

As Julia finishes high school she fantasizes about leaving Nome, going to college, becoming a journalist--fantasies inspired by Rosalind Russell's role in the film, His Girl Friday, and by Sinclair Lewis's critique of small town life in the novel, Main Street. "I begin to discern, vaguely, tentatively, that somewhere there exists a world where the accepted language is the one that Sinclair Lewis speaks--a language of ideas and, even, of feelings." (212) Indeed, as the book jacket notes, the author graduated from Stanford and became a magazine editor; she lives in Manhattan.

View full annotation

Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Case Study

Summary:

During the Battle of Smolensk in the Second Word War, a soldier named Zazetsky sustained a severe head wound, causing "massive damage to the left occipito-parietal region of his brain." This injury shattered his whole perceptual world. His memory, his visual fields, his bodily perception, even his knowledge of bodily functioning--all break into fragments, causing him to experience the world (and himself) as constantly shifting and unstable.

Zazetsky coped with this fragmentation by writing a journal of his thoughts and memories as they occurred, day after day, for 20 years. He then arranged and ordered these entries, in an attempt to reconstruct his lost "self." From over 3000 pages of this journal material, the neurologist A. R. Luria has constructed this extended case history from which emerges a remarkable portrait of Zazetsky as a determined and courageous human being. Zazetsky's first-person account is interspersed with comments and descriptions by Luria himself, explaining the relevant structure and function of the brain.

View full annotation

A Widow for One Year

Irving, John

Last Updated: Jun-25-1998
Annotated by:
Wear, Delese

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

A family's tragic event--the death of two teenage boys in a car accident--is both the stimulus for a mother's abandonment of her husband and daughter and an ongoing thread weaving its way throughout the rest of this immense story (537 pages) told in three major parts.

Part 1 (1958) is the story of Marion and Ted Cole and their four-year-old daughter Ruth. Struggling to keep afloat in her grief-filled life, Marion is a beautiful, 39-year-old woman who, with her husband Ted, a hugely successful children's author/illustrator, lives an elegant life on Long Island. The focus of Part 1 is Marion's affair with Eddie, a 17-year-old hired by Ted to be his personal assistant but who turns out to be part babysitter to Ruth, and "companion" to Marion. This part of the story is sexy and comic, even as it is full of relentless grief.

Part 2 (1990) finds Ruth as a hugely successful novelist in her thirties. Her life is one long unending string of "bad" boyfriends, and one long question regarding how her mother could abandon her and why she fails to reappear. While in Amsterdam on a book tour, she comes up with the idea for a new book that takes her to the storefront prostitution district of the city, where her authorial curiosity and adventure is met with violence. In this section of the book she marries her agent, has a baby, and seems to be finding contentment for the first time in her life.

Part 3 (1995) occurs four years later, when Ruth as a 41-year-old widow and mother, falls in love. The story comes together finally with the reappearance of Marion Cole, now in her seventies and herself a moderately successful author who had been living quietly alone in Canada.

View full annotation

Annotated by:
Woodcock, John

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

The second film in Oliver Stone’s Vietnam trilogy, "Born on the Fourth of July" is based on the autobiography of Ron Kovic (played in the film by Tom Cruise), a good kid whose patriotism takes him to Vietnam in the late 1960s and brings him back home paralyzed from the chest down and burdened with the guilt of having accidentally killed a fellow soldier in combat. Living at home with his parents, Ron struggles fiercely with these challenges against the exacerbating background of his culture’s anti-war and anti-vet sentiments.

Things get bad for him, he gets very angry and leaves home for Mexico to forget it all with booze, drugs, and prostitutes. That false paradise eventually fails him, however, and he returns to the States and makes some positive moves, including visiting the parents of the soldier he had killed. He winds up being a spokesman for vets, anti-war ones in particular, and at the end he is wheeling himself out onto the stage of the Democratic Convention of 1976 to huge applause, feeling, as he has just said to a reporter offstage, "I’m home."

View full annotation

Cold Mountain

Frazier, Charles

Last Updated: Mar-26-1998
Annotated by:
Shafer, Audrey

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

This novel chronicles the long journey home of a Civil War soldier, Inman, to Cold Mountain in North Carolina. The story begins in a military hospital, and Inman's neck wound, a long difficult-to-heal horizontal slice received in battle, is drawing flies. Inman is a moral man, and the brutality and killing he has witnessed on the battlefield lead him to leave the hospital AWOL and journey secretively, by foot, back to Ada, his love.

The trip is perilous; Inman is subject not only to the difficulties of near starvation and a poorly healing wound, but also the cruelties of people he meets along the way. However, every so often, he is also succored by compassionate people, such as the goat woman who provides the cure for his neck wound, if not for the wounds inside. Intertwined with Inman's story is Ada's: her preacher father dies of tuberculosis, leaving her utterly unable to provide for her own basic needs on the farm. Fortunately, a self-reliant young woman, Ruby, joins Ada on the farm, and helps transform both the farm and Ada.

The book details the ways of nourishment: physical (precise descriptions of food, its paucity and preparation) and nonphysical (themes of love, generosity, intellectual curiosity, and spiritual questing underpin the book). Cold Mountain itself provides both types of nourishment by offering hope, goals, shelter, food and a place where love and forgiveness are possible despite the savagery of man.

View full annotation

Annotated by:
Bertman, Sandra

Primary Category: Visual Arts / Painting/Drawing

Genre: Watercolor on wood

Summary:

Blake's vigorous imagination is seen in this painting where he shows Adam and Eve discovering Abel's body as Cain prepares to bury it. Adam and Eve are kneeling in horror next to Abel's white and rigid body. Adam looks with shock at Cain, who runs away, tearing at his hair. Eve throws herself over Abel's body in a gesture of extreme grief. Her arms form a circle as she bends over Abel with her head thrown down and her hair falling in waves over his body. Although posed and awkward, Adam and Eve's gestures effectively express their emotions. The newly-dug, dark long horizontal grave, emphasized by the shovel laying parallel to it in the foreground, creates a deep gash that separates the fleeing son from his parents.

View full annotation

Inter Ice Age 4

Abe, Kobo

Last Updated: Mar-05-1998
Annotated by:
Fefferman, Stanley

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

The prelude describes a tidal wave approaching Japan. The story is a first-person narrative by Professor Katsumi, inventor of a self-programming computer which can predict the future. Katsumi and his assistant, Tanamogi, plan to predict the future of a private, individual destiny. They choose a subject from the street and follow him. The next day's paper announces his murder.

To solve the case and forestall suspicion, Katsumi downloads the contents of the man's brain, reconstructs his existence, and questions him/it. The victim did not see his murderer, but he tells the team his mistress had sold her aborted foetus for 7000 yen. Then the mistress is murdered. Katsumi's wife has a forced abortion and receives 7000 yen. Katsumi suspects an organization. His assistant Tanamogi volunteers the name of an organization experimenting with extra-utero development of foetuses, and arranges for Katsumi to visit their lab. Gradually Katsumi learns of a vast conspiracy to create an underwater nation, complete with genetically altered water-oxygenating humans and animals, bred in anticipation of the predicted destruction of Japan by a tidal wave.

View full annotation

The Cobra Event

Preston, Richard

Last Updated: Feb-19-1998
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

The threat of biotechnological warfare and/or terrorism is the focus of this carefully researched and riveting novel by the author of The Hot Zone. The term "science fiction" doesn't quite do justice to this tale which lies just to the other side of Preston's usual domain of literary nonfiction. Though the particulars of this story of a genetic engineer who designs lethal virus bombs to thin the population and the counterterrorist group of scientists who attempt to stop him are fictional, the possibilities of such threats are real.

The counterterrorists are a motley and sometimes contentious group of recruits from the FBI, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and the U.S. military. Their agendas and methods differ, but the immediate death threat to the unsuspecting inhabitants of New York and Washington D.C. unifies them into an effective if not always efficient team. They discover the virus when five cases appear of what seems to be an acute and horrifying permutation of a rare neurological dysfunction that induces violent seizures and compulsive self-destruction by chewing on one's own flesh. The virus turns out to be a graft that could only have been produced by artificial means.

The search for the "mad scientist" with equipment capable of this sophisticated work takes weeks during which a handful of people have to live with the secret that a potential pandemic could literally explode in a local subway. The resolution, while in some ways satisfying, hardly dispels the uneasy implications which invite readers not only to serious reflection on our collective attitudes toward weapons research and development, but to activism.

View full annotation

Theo's Story

Kovalchik, Michael

Last Updated: Jan-16-1998
Annotated by:
Squier, Harriet

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Essay

Summary:

A nephrologist is named in a lawsuit after serving as a consulting physician in a diabetes case. The diabetic patient had had a serious infection and later his leg was amputated; he apparently felt the doctors neglected the seriousness of his condition. When the dialysis unit treating this patient requests to transfer his care to the author, whose unit is in the patient's home town, the author is uncertain what to do.

The author is angry about the law suit, and his colleagues counsel him to refuse to take this patient. But after realizing that the lawsuit was merely a reflection of the patient's suffering, and that he needs the same compassion and care as any other human being, the author agrees to accept the patient. The author discovers that his patient is a meek, gentle man; over time, he helps him come to terms with his illness, his disability, and his approaching death. Eventually the patient drops his malpractice suit.

View full annotation

Leaf Storm

Garcia Marquez, Gabriel

Last Updated: Dec-17-1997
Annotated by:
Fefferman, Stanley

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

In a South American town during the early years of this century, a retired doctor long known as an eccentric flatly refuses treatment to victims of a riot. Years later, the doctor hangs himself. For the vengeful town, the issue becomes whether he will receive a proper burial or be allowed to rot in the house where he had lately secluded himself.

This issue becomes the focal point of recollections, from many points of view, of fragments of the doctor's bizarre history. An old military man, who was originally the doctor's sponsor and host, braves the town's anger and forces his family members to help him carry out the burial. As it turns out, no one remembers the outrage apart from a few town officials, and the burial takes place without incident.

View full annotation