Showing 51 - 60 of 360 annotations tagged with the keyword "Catastrophe"

Tainted

Pennie, Ross

Last Updated: Sep-01-2010
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 a seven-year-old, Max, because his wife could not deal with Max’s physical disability. But Sol thinks there is hope for Max in an injection of a miraculous new substance called “Endotox” that may loosen the contractures of his arm. Soon he his investigating a cluster of variant CJD (mad cow) cases that may be related to Endotox. But they also seem to be connected to the grocery store where Sol does his shopping. The products that all victims had in common were an imported candy and a sausage, both Max’s favorites.

Conspiracy theories about corrupt pharmaceutical companies and the antics of a pair of unethical mink farmers lead the investigation in many different directions, all personally threatening to Sol because of the health of his son or the ire of his boss. Pressure from his superiors to avoid publicity cramps Sol’s freedom. He seeks help from an attractive woman detective who, of course, sticks with him to the terrifying (and satisfying) conclusion.

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Dancing After Hours

Dubus, Andre

Last Updated: Jul-28-2010
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

This story is told from the perspective of Emily, a forty-year-old spinster and former high school English teacher, who tends bar in a Massachusetts town. Emily has built a "disciplined" life, seeking to protect herself from the emotional pain of earlier failed romantic attachments, and from the cynicism that propelled her out of teaching--a cynicism born out of the apathy with which the students responded to her own passionate love of poetry. She has held herself aloof from the cautious social overtures of Jeff, the bar manager.

One night, a white man in a wheelchair and his black male attendant drive up to the bar. The arrival of this pair leads Emily to examine and re-assess her life. "Emily had worked [t]here for over seven years, had never had a customer in a wheelchair, and had never wondered why the front entrance had a ramp instead of steps." The disabled man, Drew, is quadriplegic (the result of diving into a wave at age 21, as Emily later finds out). But he and his attendant, Alvin, seem to be comfortable in the bar and with each other, and Emily relaxes.

As she observes Drew and watches how Alvin helps him, she tries to imagine their lives. "She thought of Drew . . . learning each movement he could perform alone, and each one he could not; learning what someone else had to help him do, and what someone had to do for him . . . So, was anyone boundless? Most of the time, you could avoid what disgusted you. But if you always needed someone to help you simply to live . . . you would . . . become disgusted by yourself."

Emily also imagines Jeff's life as a divorced father, and she can even empathize with Jeff's former wife, who left him. Jeff, she learns, had had a friend who became quadriplegic, the victim of a land mine during the war in Vietnam--hence the ramp entrance to the bar. As the story ends, Emily agrees to let Jeff cook lunch for her.

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Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

In May of 1944 the author, a Hungarian Jewish physician, was deported with his wife and daughter by cattle car to the Nazi concentration camp, Auschwitz. This memoir chronicles the Auschwitz experience, and the German retreat, ending a year later in Melk, Austria when the Germans surrendered their position there and Nyiszli obtained his freedom. The author describes in almost clinical detail and with alternating detachment and despair what transpired in the crematoria and the dissecting room during his tenure as chief pathologist working directly under Dr. Josef Mengele.

From the first, Nyiszli suspected that there were horrors emanating from the crematoria but he singled himself out from a group of physicians by deciding to "[break] ranks" when Mengele asked those with forensic training to identify themselves. This act secured his survival: the remaining physicians, none of whom stepped forward, all soon perished, while he was assigned to the Sonderkommandos--the prisoners who carried out the exterminations, and who were themselves regularly exterminated to prevent the truth from becoming known. He writes, "As chief physician of the Auschwitz crematoriums, I drafted numerous affidavits of dissection and forensic medicine findings which I signed with my own tattoo number."

At times self-congratulatory about his forensic expertise, at times forcing himself to witness atrocities which he could have avoided, occasionally finding a way to delay death for some of the inmates, Nyiszli was determined to record what he saw--to bear witness, were he to survive. Uncannily able to read a situation and take advantage of it, the author relates how he managed to get his family out of Auschwitz just before they were scheduled for annihilation. Even in the final weeks of the war, when he and thousands of prisoners trudged on foot for weeks with the retreating German army, many dying along the way, he remained shrewdly assertive--and lived.

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The Family

Bak, Samuel

Last Updated: May-24-2010
Annotated by:
Bertman, Sandra

Primary Category: Visual Arts / Painting/Drawing

Genre: Oil on canvas

Summary:

A number of expressionless faces blindfolded, bandaged, many eyeless, some with hats of the 1930s, glasses, masks, bullet-ridden helmets, comprise three fourths of the canvas.  Anything but a group portrait, these totally disconnected faces staring straight ahead are all on different planes. None are connecting with another. Remnants of crematorium smoke stacks and a burned city are the only visible detail in the upper fourth of the canvas, from which a series of tired male refugees, painted in a much smaller scale, appear to be walking down into the portrait.

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Summary:

Some 40 years after a ceasefire that ended the Cylon wars, the 12 human colonies across the galaxy have been lulled into a state of calm complacence.  This is abruptly interrupted by a Cylon attack that annihilates billions of humans, leaving only 50,000 survivors in a small fleet of ships, led by the one remaining ship from the Colonial Fleet, the Battlestar Galactica.  Fleeing the Cylons, they set out to find the legendary 13th Colony: Earth.

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Summary:

The story centers on Tsotsi (meaning thug), an adolescent in Soweto, the shantytown slum of modern Johannesburg, South Africa.  There Tsotsi (Presley Chweneyagai) leads a loose-knit gang of menacing thugs.  When gang members are first encountered, Butcher reveals his disturbing and sinister nature; Boston (Mothusi Magano), except for his alcoholism, represents a potentially thoughtful but ineffective source of goodness and decency; Aap (Kenneth Nkosi), a simpleton, is devoted to Tsotsi; and Tsotsi seethes with, as yet, inexplicable rage. 

As the story unfolds, a petty crime leads to senseless murder and an old wheelchair-bound man is threatened and cruelly abused.  Finally, Tsotsi, without gang participation, shoots a woman during an auto theft.  When he drives recklessly away, he discovers an infant in the stolen car's backseat.  Rather than killing the baby, his first inclination, he puts it into a paper bag and takes the baby home.  This new relationship--and responsibility becomes the harrowing twist in the story.   

Throughout, short and disturbing flash backs of Tsotsi's childhood reveal unimagined beginnings that have led to the boy's simmering rage and the string of unforgiving actions.  While concerns about vulnerable children within a context of social injustices are foremost in the minds of film viewers, the overwhelming circumstances and complexities frustrate thoughts about realistic interventions. 


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The Sweet Hereafter

Banks, Russell

Last Updated: Mar-22-2010
Annotated by:
Wear, Delese

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

This is a novel that begins with a fatal school bus accident in Sam Dent, a small town in upstate New York. The circumstances leading up to the accident appear in the first chapter, whose narrator is the bus driver Dolores Driscoll. The remaining chapters have three different narrators: Billy Ansel, who lost a son and daughter and now drinks himself into a less painful state; Mitchell Stephens, a lawyer from New York City who appears days after the accident, fueled by his belief that there is no such thing as an accident, himself the grieving father of a drug-addicted daughter; Nichole Burnell, a teenage survivor of the crash, now a parapalegic. Each presents a different view because of the unique history each brought to the tragedy.

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Ethan Frome

Wharton, Edith

Last Updated: Feb-22-2010
Annotated by:
Nixon, Lois LaCivita

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novella

Summary:

Sometimes overlooked by those attracted to Wharton's longer, more ironic novels, this novella is one of stark simplicity set against a bleak New England countryside at the beginning of the 20th century. With characteristic economy, Wharton tells a compelling story about the human need for passion and affection in a situation where only abject coldness exists.

Ethan Frome is introduced by the narrator in this way: "It was there that, several years ago, I saw him for the first time; and the sight pulled me up sharp. Even then he was the most striking figure in Starksfield, though he was but the ruin of a man" (3). Determined to learn more about Ethan, while temporarily located in an appropriately-named village, the narrator manages to gather pieces of information about the figure who seemed an "incarnation of frozen woe in the melancholy landscape" (11).

The spark of hope that might have led young Ethan toward education and escape expired when care for his chronically-ill mother fell first to him and then to a cousin named Zenobia. Unable to abandon his mother and their needy homestead, he was easily attracted to Zenobia, the kindly young woman who assisted in his mother's care. They married, the mother died, and Zenobia inexplicably assumed a sick-role that would make Ethan's life loveless and tragic. Permanently stuck in Starksfield, his years become emotionally and economically depressed. Barely able to eke out a living hauling lumber and subjected to his bed-ridden wife's petty and constant demands, Ethan's impoverishment seems unending.

Miraculously, a third person, Mattie, enters the narrative. A distant cousin with no resources, she has been summoned by Ethan's increasingly mean-spirited wife to do chores within the house. The scene is set for two lonely and isolated people, despite age differences, to discover small bits of warmth in stolen moments together. Walks through the snow or gentle kindnesses in the dull household routine sustain the otherwise desolate pair of innocent lovers. An unexpected turn of events transforms a hopeless set of circumstances into permanent desolation and trauma. The conclusion is one of unimaginable horror.

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Annotated by:
Nixon, Lois LaCivita

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

This unusual story, beautiful and overwhelmingly sad, is set in Sicily on the craggy and barren island of Lampadusa surrounded by the bluest of seas. Everyone in the small fishing and canning village may be related; certainly, this is a place where secrets are not possible. Grazia (Varria Golino) appears to be the loveliest and most loving mother and wife, although her carefree, even childlike behavior is foreboding. The camera loves her and so do viewers who are ravished by her beauty and innocence.

With children positioned on the back of her Vespa, she and they escape to a deserted beach where she swims topless with her children; later, she releases hundreds of howling stray dogs from their inhumane confinement. Not surprisingly, spied-upon actions such as these produce critical response from more conservative neighbors whose norms are less capricious.

When signs of instability and manic depression become apparent, the community joins together to suggest hospitalization to her very supportive and heart-broken husband (Vincenzo Amato). She, like the caged-up dogs, seems to deserve the kind of freedom epitomized by her trips to the beach and will not, we sense, survive medical "imprisonment."

At this juncture, just as her wings are to be clipped, the story’s unexpected turn forces the mourning village to wonder about human frailty and reality. The ending, ultimately unclear and haunting, is a celebration of imaginative madness and ephemeral beauty. Visually stunning.

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Annotated by:
Nixon, Lois LaCivita

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

The story is based on an actual 1950's trip by two university friends, Ernesto 'Che' Guevara (Gael Garcia Bernal) and Alberto Granado (Rodrigo De la Serna). Guevara is studying medicine, Granado biochemistry. They plan to travel from Buenos Aires across the Andes Mountains to Chile, Peru, and, then, to Venezuela. Before too many miles their derelict 1939 motorcycle fails, and the two young men continue by whatever means is available. The journey intent is one of adventure--drinking, meeting women, seeing the world.

The young men do discover South America's impressive natural beauty but more strikingly, their eyes and sensibilities are directed to abject poverty and shocking injustices. These blatant inequities, as well as an extended period of time in a leper colony, contribute to the reframing of their original happy-go-lucky adventure and explain, in part, the impulses that eventually would shape Guevara's role in the Cuban Revolution.

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