Showing 341 - 350 of 515 annotations tagged with the keyword "Memory"

The Blind Assassin

Atwood, Margaret

Last Updated: Jul-26-2004
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Three stories are intertwined in this complex novel; in the end, they become one. In a series of flashbacks, the elderly Iris Chase Griffen writes of her long life. At the outset, newspaper clippings present three tragic deaths from 1945 to 1975: sister, husband, and daughter.

Iris's pretty, younger sister, Laura, died at age 25 when she drove her car off a bridge. Two years later, Iris published Laura's novel, Blind Assassin, to critical acclaim, projecting the author to posthumous fame. Only weeks later, Iris was widowed when her husband drowned. Then many years later, Iris's daughter, Aimée, breaks her neck and dies from the ravages of drug and alcohol abuse. Iris also loses care of her only grandchild, four-year old Sabrina. Iris looks back on the circumstances before and after these deaths.

Growing up in small-town Ontario without a mother, Iris was expected to look after Laura. But the younger girl's guileless intensity inspired exasperation and jealousy, as well as affection. In the 1930s, the sisters managed to hide a young radical, Alex Thomas, in the family attic before he escaped to Spain; they both fell in love. But at age nineteen, Iris is forced to enter a joyless marriage to wealthy Richard Griffen out of obedience to her father who hoped that the union would save his factory. It did not.

Laura is bossed by the politically ambitious Richard and his domineering sister, Winifred. Defiance and maternity allow Iris to carve out her own space within the confines of the social situation. But she is increasingly estranged from the romantic, inscrutable Laura who is eventually sent to an "asylum" where she has an abortion. Upon her release, the sisters reconnect, only to hurt each other with painful revelations (unrevealed here to avoid spoiling the effect for readers; some will have guessed them in advance).

The other two of the three stories stem from Laura's acclaimed novel "Blind Assassin," parts of which are interspersed. On one level, it relates the passionate affair of a refined woman (very like the author) and a political fugitive (very like Alex) who meet in his sordid hiding places. On another level, it is an Ali Baba-esque fairy tale, invented by the lovers, about a cruel society in which child-labor, ritualistic rape, and human sacrifice are routine. The killers are children who have been blinded by their enforced work knotting beautiful rugs.

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Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Leo comes back to sell off the run-down family farm on the Italian coast of Tuscany, hoping for enough to finance his return to Chicago. He is plagued by memories. A tour bus is lured into Santo Fico--by ruse or by accident--and once the British visitors are safely ensconced in the hotel restaurant, Leo and his old friend Topo launch into the lucrative scam that they invented as boys: storytelling to "sell" a viewing of treasures inside the local church.

The "miracle" is the stump of an ancient fig tree that once sheltered St Francis; and the "mystery" a luminous fresco by an anonymous artist, possibly Giotto. Leo is encouraged by his dramatic success. But in the night, an earthquake severely damages the church. Yielding to temptation, Leo "saves" the fresco by stealing it in large chunks and hiding it under his bed. Surely now he will have enough money to escape.

The old priest is grievously saddened and goes on a hunger strike to expiate his own sins, on which he blames the desecration. The priest is cared for by his niece, Marta. Embittered by her late husband's infidelity and early death, she frets over her two daughters: one dutiful but blind; the other healthy but headstrong. Marta already resents Leo for some transgression in their past; rightly guessing his crime, she demands that he "make a miracle" for the priest.

Topo and Leo invent several, ambitious but preposterous scenarios, each of which flops spectacularly. The priest good-naturedly overlooks (or fails to see) their transparent ploys; yet he manages to perceive miracles everywhere else in the everyday atmosphere of his beloved village. Of course, Leo returns the fresco, of course he stays, and of course he finds love with Marta after all.

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The Whistlers' Room

Selzer, Richard

Last Updated: Jul-02-2004
Annotated by:
Miksanek, Tony

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

Four soldiers with a similar wound--laryngeal damage after being shot in the throat--share a room in a German military hospital during World War I. Each of them has a tracheostomy tube, and they can only speak by covering the opening of the tube with a finger. Because every breath or laugh generates the sound of a little whistle, these men are dubbed "whistlers" and their hospital room is named after them. The injured soldiers are Pointner, Kollin, Benjamin, and an 18-year-old English prisoner of war, Harry Flint. They undergo a series of painful surgeries (without anesthesia) to dilate the narrowed and scarred air passage.

The surgeon, Dr. Quint, is a compassionate man with incredible physical strength. He holds the "whistlers" in high regard. They in turn venerate the devoted surgeon. Pointner and Kollin die. Surgery on Benjamin and Harry is successful and their tracheostomy tubes are removed. They can now breathe normally and soon discover their new voices.

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Atrium: October 2001

Selzer, Richard

Last Updated: Jul-02-2004
Annotated by:
Miksanek, Tony

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

While eating lunch in the hospital atrium, the retired doctor who narrates this story notices a boy in a wheelchair looking at him. The elderly physician and the youngster begin a conversation. The fourteen-year-old boy is terminally ill with cancer. The doctor quickly determines that the lad only has time left for honesty. The boy lies, however, about his name. He calls himself Thomas Fogarty but his real name is Tony. "What will you do on your last day on earth?" the moribund boy asks the narrator.

The doctor shares with Tony his own fantasy about dying. He envisions a former student who is now a great surgeon transporting him to an ancient forest. There he becomes part of the woods and keenly aware of the mystery of life. Soon his mind breaks with his body. Death is just "a painless transition."

Tony dies the next morning. He had dictated an unfinished letter to the doctor, and Tony's nurse delivers it to him. As a retired physician, the narrator has performed a valuable service by helping prepare the boy for death. As a writer, the narrator still hopes to save him. He has immortalized Tony by converting him into an enduring story.

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Body Art

Byatt, A. S. (Antonia Susan)

Last Updated: Jul-02-2004
Annotated by:
Miksanek, Tony

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

A young art student falls off a ladder and literally lands into the arms of a middle-aged doctor. Daisy Whimple is a poor, homeless woman with multiple body piercings. She has volunteered to decorate the Gynae Ward of the hospital where she had once been a patient undergoing surgery for a complicated abortion.

Dr. Damian Becket is an obstetrician and gynecologist. He is a lapsed Catholic who is separated from his wife. Becket is interested in modern art and attracted to an art historian, Martha Sharpin. The hospital has a collection of medical antiquities in need of cataloging. Some of the pieces are treasures but others are horrible relics. Martha is in charge of organizing the collection, and Daisy is paid to assist her.

Because she has nowhere to live, Becket invites Daisy to stay at his apartment. They make love every night for one week until she leaves. While attending an art exhibit, Becket and Martha spot a sculpture of the goddess Kali. The figure is comprised of artifacts "borrowed" from the hospital's collection including prosthetic arms, antiquated instruments, and body parts. It is designed by Daisy.

The sculpture is not the only unexpected thing created by Daisy. She is pregnant by Becket. Daisy requests an abortion but he insists that she have the baby. The pregnancy is almost miraculous given the damage done to Daisy's fallopian tubes from her previous abortion. It turns out to be a difficult delivery and Becket must perform it since he is the most qualified obstetrician at the hospital. The baby is a healthy girl. The newborn child radically changes the lives of Daisy, Becket, and Martha, yet the three of them have no clue what to do next.

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Song and Dance

Shapiro, Alan

Last Updated: Jun-30-2004
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Collection (Poems)

Summary:

In this collection of poems, Alan Shapiro looks unflinchingly at his brother David’s illness and death from brain cancer in 1998. David was an actor and a "song and dance" man on Broadway, hence the title and the frequent allusion to songs and show business. The poems trace an arc from the two boys’ childhood, when they dance together lip-syncing to Ethel Merman’s "There’s No Business Like Show Business" ("Everything the Traffic Will Allow," p. 1) through the diagnosis of brain tumor ("Sleet," p. 8) to the poet’s "Last Impressions" after his brother’s death (p. 57).

The everyday, ordinary world bursts its seams as the poet sits in a radiology waiting room waiting for his brother to return from his "Scan" (p. 10) The poet tries to watch a basketball game on TV, but "soon as my brother’s name / was called" a woman sitting next to him begins to tell the story of her husband, who has turned into "a well trained zombie." Soon his brother David moves toward zombie-hood as well. In "The Phone Call" (p. 23), he listens to "the mangled speech, aphasic / pratfalls halfway through the / sentences . . . " that tells him "you can’t imagine it at all."

But brain damage doesn’t mean the loss of wisdom. In "The Last Scene" (p. 33) the poet sits beside his dying brother, who bestirs himself from somnolence to ask, "Do you think / you have a / problem?" "Look at yourself," he says, "how you sit here / drinking all alone."

David dies without missing a beat, according to the script, but his brother loses his place in the text; he simply doesn’t know his lines. In the beautiful "Broadway Revival" (p. 43), he concludes, "I play / the brother / who doesn’t know his lines, / and you the actor / who waits there in the wings, / who holds the script, / who knows it all / by heart and / will not say."

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Summary:

Dr. Flaherty, a practicing neurologist, sets out to explore the act of writing and, more broadly, creativity, in the context of both neuroscience and emotion. She begins by describing several brain conditions that seem to enhance the need to write, even to the extent of obsessive hypergraphia. Next she turns to the opposite state, writer's block, looking at both psychological and neuroscientific perspectives.

Using some of the recent studies of the relationships between certain brain centers and language related phenomena, Flaherty further clarifies some of the cognitive bases for creating literature. Finally, the study turns specifically to the temporal lobe as the possible organic site of the perceived voice of the muse in religious and creative inspiration.

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The Blood Doctor

Vine, Barbara

Last Updated: May-27-2004
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Martin Nanther is a member of the British House of Lords, having inherited his title from his great-grandfather, Henry. Physician to Queen Victoria, Henry specialized in hemophilia, the disease that Her Majesty was known to have passed to her son, Leopold, and other descendants. While the House of Lords considers a Bill to abolish hereditary peerage and Martin's much younger, second wife is obsessed with becoming pregnant, he escapes into his slow research for a biography of Henry

His patient genealogical investigations uncover deaths in infancy of several young boys in his own family, and Martin soon realizes that hemophilia (rather than the family's legendary tuberculosis) is the cause. Was that irony merely a coincidence? Or was hemophilia in his own lineage the impetus for his grandfather's research and position in life? And why was the disease hushed? Was it possible that his grandfather deliberately sought a bride with the trait in order to investigate it in his own progeny?

Martin soon finds himself wondering if this well-respected, medical man actually committed murder, or was he merely waylaid by unexpected love? Without giving too much away, suffice it to say that the answers prove so surprising and so disturbing, that Martin decides to abandon the biography of his ancestor, even as he learns that his inherited peerage has been revoked and that his next child will soon be born.

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Forms of Devotion

Schoemperlen, Diane

Last Updated: May-27-2004
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Essay

Summary:

Ten "forms of devotion" are described briefly in one or two pages of accessible, everyday prose: Faith, Memory, Knowledge, Innocence, Strength, Imagination, Prayer, Abundance, Wisdom, Hope. Each is illustrated with an engraving of an allegorical image with Latin and gothic German text. In the first mini-essay, the narrator contends that "the faithful are everywhere." She demonstrates that faith in a future and in immortal continuity is the driving force, not only for religious folk, but for anyone who goes to school, gets up each day, drives to work, embarks on a journey, takes a pill.

The following mini-essays show how each of the forms of devotion are wielded by "the faithful" to carry on valiantly confronting the challenges of ordinary existence. Faith and Hope together beget power. By the end, the reader senses a certain irony--as if the writer is not a member of the faithful. She may acknowledge and sometimes envy their resolute success, but does she share it? Perhaps not, and we are left wondering if she even admires it.

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Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Essay

Summary:

The narrator has four loves--one for each chamber of her heart: right atrium, right ventricle, left atrium, left ventricle: music (from her mother), painting (from her husband), language (shared with her son), and light. Each section, introduced by an anatomical engraving of the heart, describes how the love entered and developed in her life. Their relative importance is related to the size and thickness of the cardiac chambers. Carefully placed engravings of domestic scenes and landscapes, mostly nineteenth century, complete the essay.

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