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The action takes place in 1968 at the offices and laboratories of a large pharmaceutical company. Dr. Michael Daly is replicating a series of psychological experiments purportedly designed to enhance the efficiency of learning. In these experiments the actual subjects are asked to inflict electric shocks on mock "subjects" who fail to give correct answers to mathematical problems.
The mock "subject" is ostensibly wired to an electric chair. In fact, she is really an actress pretending to be in pain. Even though she cries out in agony every time she makes a mistake, the actual subject--an ordinary person, who is just following instructions--pulls a switch that (he believes) gives her a progressively higher jolt of electricity.
The subjects almost invariably follow the evil instructions. In fact, one of them, Mr. Harley-Hoare, a sniveling and obsequious office worker, is truly outraged at Sally (the mock subject) for not learning faster. Against the backdrop of the Vietnam War and the corporate world, this play re-explores the issue of personal responsibility for evil actions.
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.
Dr. Ernest Lash, single and around 40, discovers his enthusiasm and love for psychoanalysis, the talking therapy, after several years of practice as a psychopharmacologist. As the novel opens, we meet a smart, somewhat smug and self-absorbed Dr. Lash who practices from his office located in the privileged community surrounding Sacramento Street in San Francisco. He has an active psychoanalytic practice, ambition for respect and notice by the seniors of his professional community, and some aspiration to greater success as a theoretician and writer on the subject of psychoanalysis. Central to his character is a love for his work, where it appears that pride in technique and outcome shadows genuine concern for his patients and their unhappiness.
Early in the novel, a male patient, Justin, who has been working with Ernest for several years, announces that he is leaving his wife, Carol, for another woman. Ernest is pleased since he views the marriage between Justin and Carol as unhealthy, while a bit dismayed that Justin fails to acknowledge Ernest's contribution in helping Justin develop the confidence to take this step. Justin ends his relationship with Ernest Lash--feeling that he no longer needs his help--as the beginning of the novel takes an intriguing direction.
Justin's now abandoned wife, Carol, in a state of betrayal and desire for vengeance--she has a hateful attitude toward all psychiatrists after her psychotherapist of many years ago had an affair with her--decides to enter therapy with Dr. Ernest Lash in the hope of seducing him. She disguises herself with a name change and enough distortion of her past and present so that Dr. Lash will not be able to connect her to Justin. She wishes to expose him as a charlatan, and destroy his career.
Carol is an attorney, and smart. Dr. Ernest Lash is lonely and drawn to Carol. The therapy sessions and the progression of their relationship are central to Yalom's exploration of the intersubjective experience, where strangers struggle with the ambiguity of their own motives and intentions in the intimate world of psychoanalysis. Who is giving, who is receiving? Who is being helped, and who is helping?
Yalom weaves this central element of the plot with many other relationships. Dr. Marshal Streider is a senior psychoanalyst with ambitions for national recognition and a preoccupation with money. He is Dr. Ernest Lash's supervisor. He takes great pride in the fact that he treats many wealthy patients, and is engaged in his own boundary dilemmas when he invests, using insider information from one of his patients.
Dr. Seymour Trotter is a senior psychoanalyst who is condemned and removed from psychoanalytic practice after entering a sexual relationship with one of his patients. We learn that Seymour Trotter was once president of the American Psychiatric Association, and a mentor to Marshal Streider. His maxim, "My technique is to abandon all technique" (p. 7), both haunts and guides Ernest Lash throughout the novel as Ernest grapples with his own passions and temptations, while striving in his goal to achieve humane and healing therapy for his patients.
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."
This etching illustrated a book criticizing (male) physician birth attendants--"man midwives"--today’s obstetricians. The etching shows a figure that is male on one side, female on the other. The male half stands on a plain wood floor next to a large mortar and pestle, holding an instrument labeled a "lever" in his hand, which is pressed against his thigh. The background seems to be a shop, with shelves lined with vials, bottles, and frightening looking instruments labeled "forceps," "boring scissors," and "blunt book."
In contrast, the female half of the figure stands in a homey room on a decoratively carpeted floor; in her outstretched hand she holds a small cup. Behind her, a fire burns in a grate.
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)
Alicia (Norma Aleandro) lives a comfortable life with her husband Roberto (H?tor Alterio) and her adopted five-year-old daughter, Gaby (Analia Castro). She teaches history in a boy's prep school and is a stickler for rules, insisting that her students confine classroom discussion and essays to events as they are related in textbooks and official documents ("the official story"). She believes only what she reads but her students have been radicalized by political events and defiantly tell her that "history is written by assassins."
When her old friend, Ana (Chunchuna Villafane), returns after living abroad for several years, Alicia learns that Ana had been held prisoner and tortured for more than a month by members of the former regime, as they attempted to extort from her the whereabouts of her husband, a "subversive." From Ana she learns that many others had been held prisoner, tortured, murdered, and that infants had been taken from their mothers.
When Alicia goes to her classes she encounters street demonstrations demanding the return of the "disappeared." Her well ordered life begins to unravel as she wonders about her adopted child's true origins. She questions her husband, who had arranged for the adoption, but he brushes her off, saying that it is of no concern to her. Not satisfied with this response, she searches hospital records and government archives.
At one of these occasions three women who are searching for "disappeared" relatives overhear and approach her. She becomes increasingly convinced that her daughter must have been taken from a murdered political prisoner. She is grief-stricken at the thought that she might have to give her daughter up but at the same time she empathizes with the unknown relatives who have lost the child; she is in despair.
When Sara (Chela Ruiz), one of the three women, presents to her convincing evidence that Gaby is actually her own granddaughter, Alicia confronts her husband in Sara's presence. Alicia has come to believe that Roberto--an admitted rightist--was duplicitous but he ridicules them both and, after Sara leaves, becomes enraged with his wife, brutally attacking and physically injuring her. She leaves him.
It is the year 2021. The last birth recorded on earth occurred in 1995 (Year Omega). In England, Xan Lyppiatt is Warden; he promises security, comfort, and pleasure to his people. Xan's cousin, Theo Faron, Ph.D., retired professor of history at Merton College, Oxford, becomes involved with 5 people who oppose Xan's worst policies: the Quietus ("voluntary" mass suicides of the elderly), the sending of all criminals to the Man Penal Colony where there is no one to control cruelty, the rules forbidding Brits from traveling abroad and allowing only Sojourners (slave/workers) to emigrate, the compulsory testing of sperm and routine examinations of healthy women, and state-run porn shops. Theo and the 5, one of whom is pregnant, flee to avoid capture by Xan's men.
To take care of Aunt Martha, a Mississippi family agrees to a cousin's moving in with her; cousin Howie then maneuvers the family into running a home for the elderly. Martha agrees because Lucas, a physician with whom she's had a long relationship, will come to live there. As more elders come and as they get sick, the methods (restraints, use of drugs, unclean conditions) of Howie and his hired staff become a threat to all.
Martha and Lucas are rendered powerless by their inability to make the family believe their side of the story; even Harper, the family's longtime African-American butler, cannot help. Because he fears that Howie will sedate both of them into oblivion, Lucas decides to burn the house down--after killing several of the "prisoners" first.
The Earth has been destroyed in a nuclear holocaust and a group of unconscious survivors have been taken by the alien Oankalis to the mother ship and placed in "sleeping" pods for some 250 years. One of the humans, Lilith Iyapo, is awakened and slowly trained by the Oankali not to be afraid of their horrifying (to humans) appearance. She comes to an uneasy truce and trust in the Oankali's explanation of where she is and her role: she has been chosen to awaken a select group (based on her reading of detailed personal resumes).
As she awakens them, one by one, she confronts their anger and confusion and, eventually, their resistance to the notion of gene trading proposed by the Oankali. Lilith becomes a mediator between the humans and the Oankalis, giving birth to a son interbred by her and an Oankali.