Showing 51 - 60 of 366 annotations tagged with the keyword "Catastrophe"

Blue Nights

Didion, Joan

Last Updated: Dec-22-2011
Annotated by:
Shafer, Audrey

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

Joan Didion's memoir, The Year of Magical Thinking, chronicled the overlap of two catastrophes: the critical illness of her adopted daughter Quintana Roo and the sudden death of her husband of forty years, John Dunne. Between the writing of that memoir and its publication in 2005, Quintana died at age 39. She had suffered a 20 month illness which started as a flu, advanced to pneumonia and sepsis, with intracranial hemorrhage and other complications necessitating 5 surgeries and extended intensive care unit stays. Blue Nights is a meditation on Quintana, and her mother's consuming sense of loss over the tragedy of her only child.

Blue nights refer to the quality of the light during evenings around summer solstice, a time of year which the author feels starts the whole cycle of diminishment and death. The memoir begins with a reminiscence of Quintana's wedding in July 2003 (the same year she falls ill and Dunne dies), as seen 7 years on by Didion. Throughout the description of the wedding are particulars of dress, flowers, design choices and locale which are not only precise, but also hold tremendous meaning to Didion. The branding of clothing, furniture, dishware, hotels etc, is dominant in many parts of the book - the Didion-Dunnes' family life was filled with movie stars, glamorous restaurants, and the hard work of writing. We see Didion on book tours and backstage during the Vanessa Redgrave one woman show of A Year of Magical Thinking.

Although Quintana's death and dying are prominent in the book, her whole life is explored. Issues of her adoption, her mental illness(es), her precociousness and talents, and above all, her relationship with her mother are intimately explored. The reader is given her childhood poems and descriptions of her nightmares and toys.

Another prominent theme is aging. The author was born in 1934, the same year, she notes, as Sophia Loren. Didion experiences neuromuscular problems and describes a particularly frightening episode of loss of consciousness and bleeding. She fears the deterioration of her cognitive abilities and laments she is unable to gain weight. She has a supportive and loving family and network of friends, but ultimately she ponders her aloneness, the lack of someone's name to write down on hospital forms as her emergency contact.  

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Wings

Kopit, Arthur

Last Updated: Nov-17-2011
Annotated by:
Kohn, Martin

Primary Category: Literature / Plays

Genre: Play

Summary:

In the well-written preface, Arthur Kopit describes how he came to write Wings, a play about stroke and language disorder. And he explains there how his fictional account of strokes and their aftermath, "is a work of speculation informed by fact." One fact important to Kopit was that his father suffered a major stroke seven months before Kopit was commissioned by National Public Radio to write an original radio play.

Wings, (which has been sucessfully staged as well) however, is not based on Kopit's father, but on the life of a character, Emily Stilson, who is an amalgam of people, both stroke victims and their stroke-recovered caregivers, from the rehab center caring for Kopit's father. The title of the play refers to an early career of Emily Stilson--she was an airplane wingwalker. Kopit deftly employs the sounds of an airplane in the scenes in which Emily is experiencing a stroke. In fact, the sounds and sights inside and outside of Emily as well as her private dialogue are combined masterfully by Kopit to bring about a high degree of verisimilitude to the chaos produced by stroke.

The play is divided into four sections: "Prelude," the moments before her first stroke; "Catastrophe," her trip to and stay in an institution; "Awakening," a longer section dealing primarily with her struggle to reorient and regain language skills; and "Explorations," where further therapy, including group therapy, and her eventual demise are portrayed.

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Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

This novel takes place during the Ice Age at a time when modern humans (Cro-Magnon) have immigrated into northern Europe and begun to interact with the Neanderthal people, who have already been successful inhabitants of Europe for perhaps 100,000 years. Within several thousand years of this fateful encounter, which took place about 35,000 years ago, the Neanderthal people had completely died out. Early mitochondrial DNA evidence indicated that modern humans are unrelated to the Neanderthal--their gene pool simply disappeared--although more recent studies show that perhaps 2 to 3% of our mitochondrial DNA was inherited from the Neanderthals, who prbably died out as a result of modern humans' greater success in competing for food and other resources.

In this scenario modern humanity originated from a version of the Biblical story of Cain and Abel, of brother "killing" brother, except in the paleontological case the younger brother was responsible for the demise of the elder. Bjorn Kurten, an eminent European paleontologist, used this novel to present his ingenious theory to explain what happened.

The story is told from the perspective of Tiger, a young black (Cro-Magnon) man whose father is killed in a raid by men from another band of blacks. Later, he devotes his life to searching for his father's killer. In the process he travels widely and encounters a band of whites (Neanderthal), a seemingly primitive form of humanity known to Tiger's folk as "trolls." The trolls have a high-pitched, bird-like language that Tiger is eventually able to learn, even though it is virtually impossible for whites (trolls) to learn the black language, because they are unable to articulate the broad range of vowel sounds it includes.

The whites are also different in that their bands are equalitarian, with women playing major leadership roles, while black tribes are strictly hierarchical and patriarchal. Tiger travels with the white band and mates with Veyde, one of its prominent members. However, one day the band is decimated by a marauding black tribe led by the warrior, Shelk.

In the story's climax Tiger carries out a scheme to infiltrate the "bad" tribe and kill Shelk, who he believes is his father's murderer. In fact, ther real murderer was Shelk's twin brother, also called Shelk. The two had used the same name to make it appear that "Shelk" could be in two places at once, thus proving he had supernatural powers. We learn that the Shelk twins had mixed black-white parentage. Children of such unions seem god-like in that they are stronger and more attractive and creative than "normal" people of either group. The "good" Shelk finally finds the white father he has been searching for all his life. And, Tiger lives happily ever after with his white mate Veyde, but their children, though strong and resourceful, will inevitably be sterile. 

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Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Treatise

Summary:

This short, gripping book describes Taylor's massive stroke, a burst blood vessel in the left side of her brain. Ironically, she was at 37, a neuroanatomist at Harvard, well versed in the anatomy and function of the brain. Her knowledge allowed her to understand from the inside her rapid loss of mental function and, with treatment, her very long (some eight years) recovery to health and, once again, professional activity.

Taylor presents an overview of brain structure and function, emphasizing the different roles of the left and right hemispheres. Since her left hemisphere was damaged and needed to be "rebuilt," in her term (learning to read, to dress herself, to drive a car, to think), she had plenty of time to explore her right brain and understand its wisdom and peace. This is her insight: our culture prizes the admirable but often frantic work of the left brain, putting us in stressed, competitive modes of thinking and acting, often aggressive and argumentative. "My stroke of insight," she writes, "is that at the core of my right hemisphere consciousness is a character that is directly connected to my feeling of deep inner peace" (page 133). Both sides of the brain have their strengths and uses, but she especially enjoys the spiritual and humane aspects of the right brain and, by extension, invites her readers to consider these resources for themselves and for the larger society.

Taylor credits her mother's care for much of the recovery, although it is clear between the lines that Taylor herself worked hard with various therapists (speech, massage, acupuncture). Despite the severity of her injury and the surgery, she appears to have returned to professional work at a high level, fully recovered and very grateful.

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Annotated by:
Bruell, Lucy

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close takes the reader inside the mind of nine year-old Oskar Schell who lost his father in the collapse of the Twin Towers.  Oskar lives with a terrible secret − on that day he arrived home from school shortly after the planes hit the towers and listened to messages from his father on the answering machine.  Hoping to protect his mother from the awful truth and not wanting to face his own helplessness − after all, his father was usually at his jewelry store, and it was just a tragic coincidence that he was attending a meeting at Windows on the World − Oskar hides the machine and replaces it with a new one.  In the days that follow, he accompanies his mother and paternal grandmother to the cemetery with his father’s empty coffin and vows to find out all he can about his father’s death.

Oskar begins by searching his father’s closet.  In a blue vase he finds an envelope with the name “Black” written on it and a small key inside.  Determined to find the lock that this special key will open, Oskar sets out on a journey through the city, contacting all of the Blacks in the telephone book.  As he searches for clues about his father and tries to make sense of a world transformed by terrorism, he connects with people who are enveloped in their own grief and overwhelmed by the world outside themselves. 

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Ape House

Gruen, Sara

Last Updated: Dec-16-2010
Annotated by:
Ratzan, Richard M.

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Ape House is the fourth novel of Sara Gruen. It relates the story of a group of bonobos living in the Great Ape Language Lab in Kansas City under the immediate direction of scientist Isabel Duncan. These six apes are quite adept in using American Sign Language to express their thoughts, wishes and interactive relations with humans. When the Laboratory is the target of a violent explosion, apparently by animal rights activists, Isabel Duncan is severely injured. The six bonobos escape, soon resurfacing in New Mexico as the prime time stars of Ape House, a reality TV show produced by Ken Foulks, a stereotypically evil TV mogul. The bonobos and the show become a controversial hit and the immediate bane of a still recuperating Isabel.

Covering the Great Ape Language Lab pre-explosion as a feature story, print reporter John Thigpen follows them from their first home in the language lab to their TV residence. Meanwhile he is undergoing his own domestic turmoil with his wife Amanda, a frustrated novelist who is also less than happy with their marriage. The novel follows these twin threads - the trajectory of the bonobos from protected apes in a nourishing research environment to exploited animals, and the sturm und drang, both marital and career, of John and Amanda Thigpen. While millions of TV viewers watch the bonobos playing house and enjoying the "generous amounts of sex"? (as described by the book jacket), Isabel tries to regain ownership and protector status of her bonobos, whom she considers family.

Without divulging the denouement of the novel, suffice it to say that Isabel is successful in renewing her mater familias status of the apes, and John Thigpen gets a huge journalistic scoop as well. In the process, he and Isabel find true love and happiness, but not with each other, as coyly but falsely suggested earlier in the book. For everyone except Isabel's first love interest, Dr. Peter Benton, and Ken Foulks, the book ends on a very happy note.

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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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