Showing 561 - 570 of 629 annotations tagged with the keyword "Survival"

The Lives of the Dead

O'Brien, Tim

Last Updated: Jul-09-1999
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

This excerpt from Tim O'Brien's autobiographical fiction about the war in Vietnam is a reverie of memory, dream, and story that resurrects the dead. The dead are fellow soldiers, the enemy dead, and a first love who died in childhood.

Tim, the narrator and writer, was only four days into his tour of duty when his platoon commander ordered an air strike against a village that is the source of sniper fire. When the platoon walked through the destroyed village, they found one old, dead, mutilated villager. Tim's fellow soldiers had developed a ritual of "greeting the dead" in which they pretended the dead person was still alive, was someone to be greeted, spoken to, both in mockery and in respect. They applied this ritual to the enemy dead as well as to their own dead.

Both repelled and fascinated by the ritual, Tim remembered his own method for animating the dead-in childhood-friend, Linda, whom he mourned and continues to mourn. After she died of brain cancer, he intentionally dreamed her alive and held conversations with her, just as his compatriots held conversations with their dead colleagues. Now, years later, he is telling the story of these experiences, these dead, these rituals, "keeping the dead alive," and "trying to save Timmy's [his younger self's] life with a story."

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The Ghost Road

Barker, Pat

Last Updated: Jul-05-1999
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

This is the third novel in Pat Barker's trilogy about a group of shell shocked soldiers in World War I who are treated by Dr. William Rivers at Craiglockhart War Hospital. The protagonists include historical characters like Dr. Rivers (1864-1922), an eminent psychiatrist and anthropologist, and the poets, Siegfried Sassoon (1886-1967) and Wilfred Owen (1893-1918), as well as fictional creations, like Lieutenant Billy Prior, a working class man elevated to the position of British officer.

As The Ghost Road begins, Prior has been cured of shell shock and is preparing to return to the front in France. Rivers takes care of his patients and his invalid sister, amid memories of his experience ten years earlier on an anthropological expedition to Melanesia (Eddystone Island). He befriended Nijiru, the local priest-healer who took Rivers on his rounds to see sick villagers and also to the island's sacred Place of the Skulls.

Rivers entertains very un-British thoughts about the morality of these headhunting people, and about the power of symbolic healing. As these thoughts intrude upon his consciousness, Rivers is himself in the process of curing by suggestion a soldier with hysterical paralysis. Meanwhile, Billy Prior returns to the front. It is the autumn of 1918 and the last inhuman spasms of the war are in progress. In a futile battle that takes place a few days before the Armistice, Billy and his friend Wilfred Owen are killed.

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Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Collection (Essays)

Summary:

In July of 1986, author Andre Dubus was assisting some stranded highway motorists when he was struck by a car. After two painful months of hospitalization, one leg had to be amputated at the knee; the other leg, damaged and immobilized in a cast for many months, became virtually useless, but still painful. Dubus was forced to "accept life in a wheelchair." (106)

In meditating on events and people in his life before and after the accident, Dubus leads us to the interior space of his suffering, fear, moodiness, stoicism, and religious faith. Like the Hemingway character he describes in "A Hemingway Story," he has both gotten over and not gotten over the consequences of his accident.

"Sacraments" interweaves the receiving of religious sacraments with the concentration, care, and love associated with making sandwiches for his two young daughters, the emotional pain of carrying on a love relationship by telephone because of his limited mobility, the received sacraments of learning how to drive his specially equipped car, and of getting a bargain from a swimming pool contractor--"the money itself was sacramental: my being alive to receive it and give it for good work." (95) Concluding with the recollection of his father's death; Dubus notes that "I had not lived enough and lost enough" to recognize the grace that accompanied past pain.

Pain and grace continue to compete for his attention: "The memory of having legs that held me upright at this counter and the image of simply turning from the counter and stepping to the drawer are the demons I must keep at bay . . . So I must try to know the spiritual essence of what I am doing." (89) Similarly, mourning--for what he can no longer do-- and gratitude--for what he once was able to do-- go hand in hand as Dubus remembers the joy of running for miles in the countryside (" A Country Road Song").

The body's memory and the losses suffered figure importantly also in "Liv UIlman in Spring." In this powerful piece, Dubus describes his meeting with the actress, how he was moved to tell her "everything," how, bent low, "her eyes looking at mine" she said, 'You cannot compensate.' " (130) For her honesty and understanding Dubus was enormously grateful.

"Witness" relates the uncanny experience of meeting a woman who had witnessed his accident. Wonderment, fear, depression, inspiration, and writing about this incident were the result. As always, Dubus wrote in order to be led to some further understanding. The essay ends, "Today the light came: I'm here."

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Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Collection (Essays)

Summary:

The book begins with a "Twenty Question Multiple Choice Self-Help Quiz." Each question is actually a short chapter. For example, the first chapter deals with the "amnesic self" and asks why amnesia is a favorite device in fiction and especially soap operas. Other chapters deal with the nowhere self, the fearful self, the promiscuous self, and so forth.

The second part of the book is an essay on the nature of the self, complete with numerous diagrams and arrows. The third section presents discussions of various manifestations of the self as transcendent, orbiting, exempted, lonely, and demoniac. The last part is called "A Space Odyssey" and is captioned "What to do if there is no man Friday out there and we really are alone?"

Obviously, this summary says virtually nothing about what the book is about. Suffice it to say that Percy brings his playful humor to the central existential question of human meaning and he presents it in the form of a self-help manual.

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A Journey to Sakhalin

Chekhov, Anton

Last Updated: May-11-1999
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Treatise

Summary:

This book contains the complete text of "Sakhalin Island" [300 pages], Chekhov's treatise describing his visit in 1890 to the Russian penal colonies on Sakhalin Island, and "Across Siberia" [30 pages], a description of his journey across Siberia to Sakhalin. The book also includes a collection of letters that Chekhov wrote during the seven-month trip. A series of appendices provide information on the Tsarist penal system, books consulted by Chekhov in preparation for his journey, and related matters.

Chekhov begins by describing his trip across the Tatar Strait on the steamer Baikal and his arrival at Alexandrovsk, the largest settlement and administrative center of Sakhalin Island. In the first two-thirds of the book, the author describes his systematic survey of almost every Russian community on the island. The text combines a travel narrative, which includes bits of conversations and fine descriptive writing, with demographic data.

At the time of Chekhov's visit, there were approximately 10,000 convicts and exiles living on the island, along smaller numbers of indigenous Gilyak and Ainu. Chekhov indicates the number of households and population of each settlement, and its breakdown by penal status of residents.

There were three categories of residents: (1) prisoners (some, but not all of whom were confined to the prisons that existed in the larger settlements); (2) settled-exiles, who had completed their prison terms but had to remain for life on Sakhalin; and (3) peasants-in-exile, who were permitted to leave Sakhalin, but had to remain in Siberia. Army folk and the families who accompanied some convicts to Sakhalin constituted a fourth class--they were free to return to European Russia.

Chekhov eloquently describes the poverty and terrible living conditions in this inhospitable land, as well as providing snippets of local geography and history. The final one third of the book consists of chapters on social and economic conditions, daily life, morality, and the health status of the population.

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Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

At Christmas, 1913, the two Rappard boys and their grandmother (May Robson) bring a cake to the Brussels nursing home where the English matron, Edith Cavell (Anna Neagle), is caring for their dying mother and many small children. The prayer is for peace, but in a few short months war has spread over Europe and the oldest boy is sent to fight.

He is taken prisoner, but escapes to the nursing home because he hears that Germans are shooting prisoners. Cavell, with a network of friends including the boys' grandmother, the barge-owner Mme Moulin (ZaSu Pitts), and a dignified Countess (Edna May Oliver) help him and two hundred other wounded young men to escape into Holland and France.

By August 1915, Cavell and her friends are betrayed by a German spy and put on trial. Despite international pleas for her release or detention, she is shot at dawn on 12 October 1915. Linking nursing to religion, the priest who attends her final hours tells her, "it is God's will," while the hymn, "Abide With Me," sung in the final scene of her 1919 memorial service at Westminster Abbey, reminds viewers that she had been "help of the helpless."

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Rhymes of a Red Cross Man

Service, Robert

Last Updated: Mar-14-1999
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Collection (Poems)

Summary:

This is a collection of poems based on Robert Service’s experience as a Red Cross ambulance driver in France during World War I. The book begins with the patriotic call to war: "High and low, all must go: / Hark to the shout of War!" Some of the volunteers never come back (e.g. "The Fool," "Our Hero," and "My Mate"). Others are severely wounded (e.g. "The Convalescent" and "Wounded").

Many of the narrators express their love of home, family, and especially their fellow soldiers (e.g. "The Man From Athabaska," "Carry On," and "Bill the Bomber"). Only a small number of these poems evoke specifically Red Cross work. One of these is "The Odyssey of ’Erbert ’Iggins," in which two medics carry the wounded from the battlefield. Another is "The Stretcher Bearer," in which the narrator is unable to clean a blood stain from his stretcher and wonders, "if in ’Eaven’s height, / Our God don’t turn away ’Is Face."

Throughout the collection there is evidence of ambivalence toward the individual German soldier. In some moments he is "Only a Boche" (or Hun) who has killed the soldier’s buddies, but in other moments the narrators reflect that their opponents are also ordinary men, sons and fathers, who love their families.

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Annotated by:
Shafer, Audrey

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Collection (Essays)

Summary:

This remarkable collection of essays, both personal and scientific, is written by a remarkable man, Stephen Hawking, theoretical physicist and Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge University (a chair once held by Isaac Newton). Unlike Hawking's earlier bestseller, A Brief History of Time, which was written for the lay public to explain current theories of the universe, this book is a mix of essays, speeches, and even a radio show transcript that were originally produced from 1976 to 1992 and whose intended audiences were varied, although none of the works are purely technical.

Hawking was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS or Lou Gehrig's disease in the USA, motor neuron disease in the UK) at the age of 21 during his first year of graduate school at Cambridge, though he had already noticed weakness the prior year at Oxford. As he describes in "My Experience with ALS," Hawking experienced a rapid deterioration of function and hence depression.

However, during his hospitalization, he also saw a boy die of leukemia, which made him realize that things could be worse. Hawking married, finished his dissertation, fathered children, and went on to develop innovative theories in physics, such as thermal emission by black holes.

The book begins and ends with personal topics-–the first two essays concern his childhood and education, and the last is a transcript of the BBC radio show, "Desert Island Discs," in which the celebrity is asked to name and describe 8 musical selections and one book he or she would choose to have if stranded on a desert island. Hawking describes how important communication is to him, and the computer program designed by Walt Woltosz, which enables him to have an artificial voice (albeit with an American accent), since he lost his natural ability to speak due to the tracheostomy that was required in 1985. Hawking's incredible will to live and his sense of humor come through in this broadcast, as they do in the scientific curiosity so evident in the essays about physics.

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The Reconstruction

Casper, Claudia

Last Updated: Feb-08-1999
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Margaret is a sculptor whose detached and unaffectionate physician-husband has just exited their marriage. Depressed, she is in dire need of work to survive and to cover the costs of urgently needed dental work. She gladly accepts a museum commission to recreate a life-sized likeness of Lucy, the Australopithecus afarensis hominid.

The plan is to reconstruct the body using casts of the fossil bones and to depict a single moment in Lucy's past, as captured by the fossilized Laetoli footprints. Made by a hominid pair, the prehistoric footprints show how the smaller creature--Lucy--hesitated in her unknown journey 3.6 million years ago.

As Margaret reassembles her ancestor and situates her plausibly in that mysterious moment, she rediscovers her own animal body, its senses, needs, and beauty--and she begins to reassemble her life.

In the end, she appears to find love and joy with a musician whom she first encounters on a purely physical basis. Yet she is comfortable with an ambiguous future.

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Annotated by:
Shafer, Audrey

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

Perri Klass, who had already written of her medical school education (A Not Entirely Benign Procedure: Four Years as a Medical Student, see this database), took notes, made dashed journal entries, and saved sign-out sheets and other written memorabilia during her internship and residency in pediatrics at The Children’s Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts. Because she is a writer, she looked at her experiences in medical training with an eye towards what stories were happening. This book then is a compendium of stories and essays (some previously published) about Klass’s pediatrics training.

Klass reflects on the difficulties of being a writer and physician: "I have been a double parasite, not only learning off patients, but also writing about them, turning the agonies of sick children into articles, using them to point little morals either about my own development as a doctor or about the dilemmas of modern medicine." (p. 297) But she also notes the benefits of writing during training: "between life at the hospital and with my family, it seemed that all my time was spoken for, and spoken for again. I needed some corner of my life which was all my own, and that corner was writing . . . I could describe the astonishing contacts with life and death which make up everyday routine in the hospital." (p. xvii)

Part of the book concerns issues of women in medicine; Klass debunks the mystique of the "superwoman"--the professional, wife and mother rolled up into one incredible ball of efficiency and perfection--with a month of laundry spilling over the floor. Klass, as a successful writer, struggles with this label and includes an essay on her experiences with a "crazy person" who anonymously and publicly accuses her of plagiarism in the midst of the stress and responsibilities of residency.

However, most of the book is about being a new doctor--the terror, the patients, the procedures, the other doctors and staff. She writes of first nights in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, delivery room crises, adolescents with chronic illnesses, and her struggles as a sleep and time deprived mother.

She addresses difficult issues: moral dilemmas, suffering, loss, the rape and abuse of children, children with AIDS. Throughout the book is a concern for the patient’s experience, as well as the doctor-in-training’s experience. After her first night on call caring for very premature infants she notes: "Maybe my first patient and I have more in common than I realized: we are both too immature to be out in the world, but with a lot of help, we may just make it." (p. 15)

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