Showing 51 - 60 of 252 annotations contributed by Duffin, Jacalyn

Quicksand

Larsen, Nella

Last Updated: Jan-04-2012
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Helga Crane is a beautiful young teacher in Naxos, a southern American boarding school for black students. She is half Danish on her mother’s side, half African-American on her father’s side. Her only family is an aunt and uncle in Denmark.

Dr. Anderson, a distinguished black teacher professes love for her, but she feels stifled by him and the vision of their life ahead. She quits her job and flees to New York and the exciting cultural life of Harlem.

She thrives in that environment and men flock to her. There she meets James Vayle whom she likes and the Reverend Pleasant Green whom she does not—but once again, when Vayle proposes permanence, she flees to Copenhagen.

There, she spends an extended visit with her Aunt Katrina and Uncle Poul. At first the Danish couple are startled by her blackness, but they quickly adapt and enjoy the elevated status conveyed by having this intelligent, beautiful black woman in their world. Upon receiving another offer of marriage, Helga grows suspicious of her family’s use of her and flees once again.

She returns to America where she marries the Reverend Pleasant Green, although she doesn’t love him.  As babies come in succession, Helga develops severe post-partum depression. 

 

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The Book of Negroes

Hill, Lawrence

Last Updated: Jan-04-2012
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Aminata Diallo, called Meena, is born in mid-eighteenth-century Africa and leads a happy life with her Muslim parents. Her mother is a midwife and is teaching Meena her skills. But ruthless white men appear, killing her parents and imprisoning her. The eleven year-old girl is forced to march miles and miles to the sea. During the journey she makes friends with Chekura, a slightly older boy who seems to be employed by the white captors, but like Meena, has also been captured. They are kept at a fort, then herded on to ships and taken on an agonizing journey across the ocean.

Meena and Chekura are sold as slaves. They lose sight of each other and live on plantations in privation and squalor never knowing if they will be treated with kindness or cruelty. Meena is raped by an owner. She learns how to read and write English quickly (although her skill must be kept secret), and she is fascinated by maps, constantly plotting to return to Africa.

Meena and Chekura find each other and marry secretly - but soon they are separated. She has a baby girl. Her literary and midwifery skills are her salvation, and eventually she is sold to a Jewish duty inspector. He and his wife treat her well, and she and her child live in comfort, but the revolutionary war disrupts their world. Meena returns home one day to find that the Jewish couple have fled on ship to England, taking her daughter with them..."for her own good."

Meena moves to New York City, taking a room in a hotel and still intent on finding a way back to Africa. She writes the names and ages of the people clamoring to go to Nova Scotia as a reward for serving the British in the Revolutionary War: the original "book of negroes." The settlers arrive with hope and optimism, but they encounter more oppressions. Later she is lured by the attractive plan to build "Freetown" in Sierra Leone; again however, the promised resources never materialize and the fledgling community degenerates into crime and misery. Even Meena's attempt to find her original home is thwarted.

In 1802 London, as a frail elderly woman, the abolitionists treat Meena with reverence and curiosity. They encourage her to write her story, and there she finds her daughter again.

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A Murderous Procession

Franklin, Ariana

Last Updated: Jan-04-2012
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

In 1176, King Henry the II of England persuades the physician Adelia Aguilar to accompany his daughter, Princess Joanna, on her long journey from England to marry the King of Sicily. Adelia studied medicine in Salerno, but in the disbelieving, intolerant world of Northern Europe, she must hide her skills. She masquerades as the assistant of her own eunuch assistant, the Arab Mansur.  Her task is to protect and preserve the health of the princess. The King convinces her to make the journey by holding Adelia’s own infant daughter as a hostage.

The procession is troubled by a murderer, who could be trying to attack the princess or her doctor. Joanna falls ill, and Adelia diagnoses appendicitis, and then performs an operation to save her life. The question then arises whether or not her future husband will accept a bride with a surgical scar.

As in the other three novels, Adelia also uses her medical skills to solve the murders—a forensic pathologist avant la lettre. 

 

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Suite Francaise

Nemirovsky, Irene

Last Updated: Jan-03-2012
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Two novellas are brought together. In the first, “Storm in June,” a host of people flee Paris in June 1941- -as the Germans occupied the city. They gather their money and most precious belongings and leave their homes, reasoning that there will be more safety in the countryside. But everyone has the same idea. The crush results in shortages of fuel, food and accommodation that radiate in ever widening ripples around the city. Many are duped by employers or by lovers. Some are robbed and even murdered by unscrupulous fellow citizens, and new conventions of behavior and bureaucracy are forged in the stress of the situation. The fortunes of several different individuals are interwoven in short chapters to explore a wide variety of adventures--tragic, miraculous, and poignantly banal. Among the most memorable is the little saga of the Michaud’s – a couple driven out of Paris, then back – all the while anxious for news of their son at the front.

The second novella, “Dolce,” is the story of the unhappily married Lucile whose husband has gone to the front. She must bide time in the home of her austere mother-in-law, Madame Angellier, who treats her with frank hostility. They are forced to billet a German officer. Lucile soon finds that she and the German share many interests in art and music; gradually the two fall in love, although they act upon their sentiments in conversation only. The full extent of their involvement must be concealed, but the community is aware and Lucile understands the potential consequences of “sleeping with the enemy.” Her mother-in-law hates her all the more for growing close to the occupier; yet their neighbours shamelessly prevail upon her connections to obtain minor favors.

When a local Frenchman kills a German soldier for allegedly courting his wife, the uneasy calm is destabilized. Almost by default, Lucile agrees to hide the fugitive murderer in her attic in bold proximity to her German tenant. The brave act is discovered by her mother-in-law who then (wrongly) perceives Lucile’s friendship with the German as a clever plot; her hatred turns to grudging admiration. Using her influence and a lie to obtain a pass from her unsuspecting German friend, Lucile escorts the ungrateful murderer to safety in Paris. The deception drives a wedge into her new relationship. They part never to meet again as his company is transferred to another place.

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Stone's Fall

Pears, Iain

Last Updated: Jan-03-2012
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

The wealthy financier, John William Stone, is found dead beneath the window of his home, having fallen, jumped, or been pushed. The will charges his widow, Elizabeth Lady Ravenscliff, with finding Stone’s lost child. She had known nothing about this episode in his life, but she is determined to honour his wish.

The story centers on a financial mystery told in three parts that move further back in time: London 1909, Paris 1890, and Venice 1867. Each story gives a different version of Elizabeth – none refutes any of the others.

In the first part, Elizabeth is cool, superior and in charge, but her grief is genuine. She hires Matthew Braddock to look for the missing child, suggesting that he pose as a hired biographer. The writer is smitten with Elizabeth and concludes that there was no lost child.

The second part is narrated by a spy, Henry Cort. In this version, Elizabeth began as a waif who became a high-class prostitute, involved in affairs of state. Addicted to drugs, she was dangerous and selfish, but Cort never realizes that she is his sister.

The last (but earliest) part is told by Stone himself about an affair he once had in Venice and its sorry end. The last few pages draw the disparate threads together and account cleverly for all the mysteries.

 

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Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

In 1543—the time of Henry VIII-Matthew Shardlake a hunchback lawyer, and his Jewish assistant, Barak, strive to solve a string of murders that, they quickly realize, are based on the seven vials in the Book of Revelation (chapter 16). They can almost predict when the next death will happen.

Barak is having trouble with his wife owing to a recent stillbirth that has deeply affected them both and driven them apart. Shardlake’s friend, Guy Malton, a Spanish-moorish physician acts as a medical consultant to their investigation. They encounter a boy and a woman both confined in Bethelham Hospital, the asylum known as Bedlam. A diagnostic dilemma arises over a problem of religious melancholy versus demonic possession.

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Tampered

Pennie, Ross

Last Updated: Jan-01-2012
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Zol Szabo, is public health doctor for the Hamilton Ontario region. He is also a single parent to nine year-old, Max, because his wife could not deal with Max’s mild physical disability. He is dating Colleen an attractive woman detective whom he met in the previous novel. The story opens with Zol’s angst over his son’s expensive misuse of a cell phone that he’d been given for safety reasons.

Soon he and his team are investigating cases of diarrhea in a seniors’ residence.  The diagnosis is difficult—but the doctors are confident they know what it is; however, the recommended treatments prove ineffective. Gradually they begin to suspect that the drugs are not working because they might be fake. Even worse, they notice that the people infected are all taking the same arthritis medicine—could that drug be the source of the infection?

In the background an unbending hospital administration and a hostile boss make the situation even worse.

A team of elderly friends who reside in the senior’s home collaborate to help solve the mystery. And of course the son’s cell phone is crucial to the dramatic conclusion.

 

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Fire in the Blood

Nemirovsky, Irene

Last Updated: Jan-01-2012
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

In this tale, told by an aging Silvio, Jean the miller dies mysteriously in the river at his mill leaving his young wife, Colette, and a little boy. Was it suicide or murder – and why?  Colette is the daughter of Helene Coudray, a woman Silvio once loved and still admires deeply, although she married François. They remain good friends.

Silvio is also friendly with Brigitte. She is known to all as the adopted daughter of Helene’s late unmarried sister, Cecile.  Brigitte married a much older landowner who dies, leaving her well off, and free to marry handsome young Marc Ohnet.  But news of the engagement devastates Colette. Suddenly it is clear that her child was Marc’s– and that it was Marc who killed Jean, possibly by accident. Colette’s angry father wants to press charges against Marc for killing his son-in-law. But Brigitte reveals that she is the biological daughter of Helene and Silvio; Marc is to become another son-in-law.

The apparently worthy Helene has deceived both her husband and her old lover, Silvio, by concealing Brigitte’s existence and identity. She also abused the goodwill of her sister who cared for her child. 

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New Finnish Grammar

Marani, Diego

Last Updated: Jan-01-2012
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

During World War II, a man is found beaten and unconscious in the streets of Trieste and brought to a German hospital ship. The Finnish-born doctor serving the German naval forces recognizes the name on his uniform as that of a vessal originating in Helsinki, the “Sampo Karjalainen." When the man wakes up, he has total amnesia; his memory loss has extended to language. In a crazy gesture of compassion, the doctor arranges for the man to be conveyed across war-torn Europe and home to Helsinki to be tended by a specialist. The doctor hopes that exposure to his homeland, its culture, and especially its language, will help the recovery of the man now called Sampo. They never see each other again.

Isolated and confused, Sampo, is given a bed in an empty visitors' ward of the hospital. The much awaited specialist never appears and Sampo never understands why. His closest friend is a tippling priest who teaches him Finnish through a reading of the Kalevala legends, libated with shots of Kosenkorva. He befriends some Russians who are housed briefly in his ward and he contemplates the hostilities between the nations. He wanders the city of Helsinki looking for triggers that may hand him back his identity – his past, a narrative. One of the nurses takes an interest in his case, shows him a special memory tree in a Helsinki park – and accepts his rejection of her affection with good grace. She is transferred to another place, but writes to him. He is unable to respond. She is angry.

In desperation Sampo joins the Finnish army and leaves for the eastern front. An epilogue tracks his demise and the doctor’s later discovery of his massive error. 

 

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Summary:

In the eighteenth century, Europe began to take stock of the horrific infant mortality in foundling homes and hospitals. Infant feeding and care became a major preoccupation for charities and philanthropic doctors. Some organized systems of wet nurses in the communities and institutions to provide for motherless children. 

At the same time, syphilis was becoming a serious problem in newborns. The sexually transmitted disease, which swept the continent following the voyages of Columbus, was known to affect babies born to infected mothers. Since the early sixteenth century, doctors had been convinced that mercury was of benefit.

Founded in 1724, the Vaugirard Hospital of Paris was the city’s home for orphans. By 1780 it had made room for mothers with syphilis and their children.  Sometimes the mothers died, or well-off families would abandon their sick children. Healthy wet nurses were engaged to feed these babies.

Eventually, the wet nurses were viewed as a technology—a vehicle--for administering mercury to the babies through their milk. Many of these healthy women fell ill, either from the mercury or by infection from their charges. Nevertheless, the practice continued into the nineteenth century. The wet nurses did not know (or were not told) that the children were infected. The physicians in charge of this experiment also attempted unsuccessfully to vaccinate the wet nurses against syphilis. That experiment also spread the disease.

Remarkably, some wet nurses brought suits against the doctors or the birth families. Occasionally they won damages, and finally the law was changed to offer greater protection.

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