Showing 61 - 70 of 375 annotations tagged with the keyword "Religion"

Charming Billy

McDermott, Alice

Last Updated: Jan-20-2010
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

The charming alcoholic, Billy, has been found unconscious, on a street in his home neighborhood of Queens, New York City. His cousin and lifelong friend, Dennis, must identify his body after he dies, and help his widow Maeve through the funeral and its aftermath--just as he has often helped Maeve to carry the stuporous Billy to bed. Billy's funeral is the occasion for the reminiscences about him by his friends and family that forms this novel's story. These reminiscences reveal the web of community and generational continuity that is at the narrative's core.

A central tragedy in Billy's life has often been invoked by his friends to account for his alcoholism. Recently back from the second World War, Billy had met the Irish girl, Eva, and fallen in love with her. When she returned to Ireland he was determined to bring her back, along with her family, so that they could be married. But, as the story goes, Eva died and Billy, heartbroken, never really recovered. We learn early on, however, that Eva's death was fabricated by Dennis, who could not bear to reveal to Billy and to the rest of the family that Eva had married an Irish beau and used the money that Billy had been sending her to set her new husband up in business.

Even though Billy eventually learns that Dennis has lied to him, their friendship is undiminished. Neither Billy nor Dennis enlighten anyone else with the truth, until Dennis tells his daughter, following Billy's funeral. It is as if the truth would force Dennis to confront the inexplicable--that a man so loved by all destroyed himself for no apparent reason, was unable to accept all efforts to help him, unable to help himself, and, in effect, abandoned and rejected those who cared for him. But the novel concludes with an affirmation of trust, faith (religious and secular), friendship, and family ties and with an acknowledgment that the stories we tell and believe may be more important than what actually happens to us.

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Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

This great literate novel is the tale of Hans Castorp, the "delicate child of life" whom we first meet at age 23, ambivalently embarking on a career as a ship-building engineer in his home city of Hamburg, Germany. Before beginning his professional work, however, he journeys on what is intended to be a vacation and a pro forma visit to see his tubercular cousin, Joachim Ziemssen, at a sanatorium in the mountain town of Davos, Switzerland. Yet as the train pursues its course through the alpine scenery, Hans and the reader become aware that this is no ordinary journey. The impressionable Hans is transported away from the life and obligations he has known, to the rarefied mountain environment and insular community of the sanatorium.

At first uneasy, he soon becomes fascinated with and drawn to the routine established for the "consumptives" and to the social scene which flourishes there. Ordinary life seems increasingly unreal to him; his perceptions are heightened and he becomes aware of his physical, spiritual, and emotional vulnerability, as well as of his own sexuality. He is greatly attracted to one of the patients, a married woman of Slavic background, Madame Clavdia Chauchat. She reminds him of a schoolboy to whom he had been strangely drawn as a child. The turmoil brought on by this romantic obsession seems even to be reflected in his physical state, which is unstable and feverish.

As his intended stay of three weeks nears its close, the director of the sanatorium advises Hans to stay on to recuperate from a heavy cold, which appears to reveal an underlying case of tuberculosis. Hans is almost relieved at this news, for it provides him with a reason for remaining near Madame Chauchat as well as the opportunity to continue intriguing, profound discussions and cogitation about illness, life, time, death, religion and world view initiated by another patient, Herr Settembrini.

Settembrini is an Italian man of letters and humanist who believes that reason and the intellect must and will prevail, in daily life as well as in world affairs. He is contemptuous of the foolish flirtations and empty talk in which most of the sanatorium inhabitants indulge, and warns Hans repeatedly of the dangers inherent in cutting off all ties to real life and responsibility.

Nevertheless, Hans remains at the sanatorium for seven years, freeing himself from the constraints and conventions of life "in the flatlands" and instead engaging in a prolonged "questioning of the universe." This questioning includes a critical flirtation with death, stunningly described in the chapter, "Snow." Hans does not return home until the outbreak of World War I, in which he fights and survives.

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Angels in America

Kushner, Tony

Last Updated: Jan-12-2010
Annotated by:
Donley, Carol

Primary Category: Literature / Plays

Genre: Play

Summary:

Angels in America is really two full-length plays. Part I: Millennium Approaches won the 1993 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. This play explores "the state of the nation"--the sexual, racial, religious, political and social issues confronting the country during the Reagan years, as the AIDS epidemic spreads.

Two of the main characters have AIDS. One, Prior, is a sane, likeable man who wonders if he is crazy as he is visited by ghosts of his ancestors, and selected by angels to be a prophet (but the audience sees the ghosts and angels too). The other main character, Roy Cohn, based on the real political figure, is a hateful powerbroker who refuses the diagnosis of AIDS because only powerless people get that sickness.

A rabbi opens the play, saying that in the American "melting pot" nothing melts; three Mormons try to reconcile their faith with the facts of their lives. Belize, an African-American gay nurse, is the most compassionate and decent person in the play, along with Hannah, the Mormon mother who comes to New York to try to untangle the mess of her son and daughter-in-law’s marriage. In contrast to their commitment, Prior’s lover, Louis, abandons him in cowardly fear of illness. The play portrays a wide range of reactions to illness, both by the patients and by those around them. Included is the realization that much of the nation’s reaction is political and prejudiced.

The second play, Part II: Perestroika (winner of a Tony Award), continues the story, with the angel explaining to Prior that God has abandoned his creation, and that Prior has been chosen to somehow stop progress and return the world to the "good old days." Prior tells the angel he is not a prophet; he’s a lonely, sick man. "I’m tired to death of being tortured by some mixed-up, irresponsible angel. . . Leave me alone."

Ironically, Belize is Roy Cohn’s nurse, as Cohn--even as he is dying in his hospital bed--tries to manipulate the system to get medication and special treatment, and to trick the ghost of Ethel Rosenberg into singing him a lullaby. Meanwhile, the Mormon mother, Hannah, manages to help save the sanity and integrity of her daughter-in-law, Harper; and she also is a good caregiver for Prior.

At the end of the play, we see Prior, Louis, Belize, and Hannah sitting on the rim of the fountain in Central Park with the statue of the Bethesda angel. They say that when the Millennium came, everyone who was "suffering, in the body or the spirit, [and] walked through the waters of the fountain of Bethesda, would be healed, washed clean of pain."

These four characters represent Jews and Christians and agnostics; homosexuals and heterosexuals; blacks and whites; men and women; caregivers and patients; two generations--the American mix, in this case, caring about each other. Somehow, although the real angels in this play seem inept and reactionary, these folks together at the Bethesda angel fountain seem competent contributors to the future.

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Codeine Diary: A Memoir

Andrews, Tom

Last Updated: Jan-09-2010
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

Contrary to what the title might suggest, this is not a memoir of drug addiction. Writer and poet Tom Andrews has hemophilia, and codeine is the analgesic he requires during excruciatingly painful internal bleeding episodes. In this diary, begun while recovering from a leg injury, Andrews reflects on his particular experience of life and hemophilia. He makes clear that " . . . hemophilia is only one of the stories my life tells me . . . " (p. 29)

The memoir interweaves the author's physical, emotional, and existential journey through the convalescent period with flashbacks of childhood and his relationship with his ailing brother, now dead, to whose memory the book is dedicated. Brother John's fatal illness with kidney disease shaped--and continues to shape--Tom's life as much as did the hemophilia.

On the one hand their parents' concern for John took Tom out of the spotlight and allowed him to pursue his own interests. These extended to motorcycle racing, playing in a punk band, and setting a record for continuous hand clapping--at age 11--that was recorded in the Guinness Book of World Records. On the other hand, Tom's guilt over surviving John's early death may account for an almost reckless disregard of his own precarious physical condition. A constant subtext is the deep grief and abiding love of the living brother for the dead one.

But this is not a mournful book. It is an engaging memoir that provides unusual access and insight into the world of hemophilia, especially with regard to the painful "bleeds." It is the sense of exile and separation from others that is most disturbing for Andrews when in the throes of unrelieved pain. He takes us through the mental concentration required to endure this pain and the liberating relief to mind and spirit provided by codeine. Memory, perception, and writing provide the additional resources he needs to re-connect with the world.

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Endpoint and Other Poems

Updike, John

Last Updated: Jan-09-2010
Annotated by:
Donley, Carol

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Collection (Poems)

Summary:

Endpoint is an extraordinary sequence of seventeen poems John Updike wrote near the end of his life.  Beginning on his birthday in March,  2002, he wrote a poem every birthday for the next 6 years.  Then after his 2008 birthday he wrote several more poems, mostly focusing on his dying from lung cancer.  The last poem, "Fine Point," was dated 12/22/08.  He died in January, 2009.  The poems also include memories of his mother writing and cranking out manuscripts, but never getting published; of childhood friends who became models for characters in his novels; of getting lost in a department store as a three-year-old; of Jack Benny and FDR, Mickey Mouse and Barney Google, as well as five wars. The memories are both personal and international in scope.  His attitude toward them varies from distress to appreciation and gratitude.

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Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Collection (Poems)

Summary:

This volume of new and selected poems was compiled during the last year of Jane Kenyon's life, while she was suffering from leukemia. It includes generous selections from her four published volumes of poetry, as well as 20 previously uncollected new poems. The book ends with an Afterword written by Kenyon's husband, poet Donald Hall, and the last poem she wrote, The Sick Wife (see annotation).

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Annotated by:
Bertman, Sandra

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Collection (Essays)

Summary:

A thirty-five year old English professor (and brilliant writer) diagnosed with ALS (Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Lou Gehrig’s disease) is told he has less than five years to live. Nine years later he publishes a series of 12 personal essays that chronicle his remarkable journey from diagnosis ("Getting Up in the Morning") to being mindful, "cultivating the eternal present" ("Living at the Edge"). He shares with us the interim of conundrums, spirituality, and the quotidian by reflecting on his New Hampshire life: Unfinished Houses, Wild Things, Mud Season, Winter Mind.

In almost every essay Simmons reflects on the rewards of "mystical seeing". We all have "within us this capacity for wonder, this ability to break the bonds of ordinary awareness and sense that though our lives are fleeting and transitory, we are part of something larger, eternal and unchanging." (p. 152) "Most of us have found that a line of poetry or scripture, a passage of music, the turning of a leaf in sunlight, or the sight of a child splashing in a stream can suddenly become a doorway through which, as William James writes, ’the mystery of fact, the wildness and the pang of life, steals into our hearts and thrills them.’" (p. 101)

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Scar Tissue

Ignatieff, Michael

Last Updated: Dec-10-2009
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

The story of a woman artist's slow decline into dementia and death as told through the eyes, words, and reflections of her philosophy professor son. Through his memories of their 1950s life together, he reconstructs a speculative analysis of her early married life with his soil-scientist, Russian-immigrant father.

The one older brother becomes a neuropathologist who investigates the very disease that slowly strips their mother of herself. Their father tends to her growing needs at the family farm, but he dies suddenly and she must be placed in an institution where one nurse alone seems to respect her dignity.

The brothers' rivalries and misunderstandings are recapitulated in their different responses to their father's death and their mother's illness: the physician retreats to scientific explanations of the "scar tissue" in her brain; the philosopher looks for evidence of personhood and for reassurance that death should not be feared. His obsession with his mother's condition stems from a deeply felt sense of guilt; it destroys his marriage and condemns him to depression, hypochondria, and shame as he creates and diagnoses the same illness in himself, long before it can be detected by doctors.

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HA! A Self Murder Mystery

Sheppard, Gordon

Last Updated: Dec-10-2009
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

On 15 March 1977, the acclaimed Quebec writer, Hubert Aquin (HA) born 1929, blew out his brains on the grounds of Montreal's Villa Maria, a convent girls' school, where his first wife had been educated and only steps from the Westmount home that he shared with his psychiatrist partner, Andrée Yanacopoulu (herself now a writer of medical history) and their nine-year old son, Emmanuel. Yanacopoulo had known of the suicide plan well in advance and, as part of a pact, had agreed not to stop it.

Through a series of interviews with family, ex-family, friends, lovers, colleagues, secretaries, students, and cleaning ladies, mostly between 1977 and 1983, Sheppard conducts an "investigation" to determine why Aquin ended his life at that time and in that way; and why his partner allowed it. Only a single interview seems to have been conducted after 1985. Each chapter is preceded by an extensive citation from one of Aquin's four novels, followed by stage direction notes for music, sound effects, and mood, and comprised of situated testimony written as dialogue for a film script.

Just as many explanations for Aquin's suicide emerge from this inquiry as there are witnesses. The causes range from the political, through the physical, psychological, social, symbolic, and emotional, to the spiritual. For each witness, they are the truth. They include 1. the failure of the recently elected separatist government to declare Quebec to be a sovereign nation; 2. Aquin's much publicized dismissal from a newspaper job, which he had counted on for a prominent editorial opportunity; 3. the failure of one (or several) love affair(s); 4. the collapse of two marriages; 5. estrangement from the two sons of his first marriage; 6. chronic ill health due to alcoholic epilepsy; 7. unresolved conflicts with his parents; 8. the result of his own writing which displayed a longstanding fascination with sex, death, violence, and suicide; 9. the result of writer's block; 10. a "classic" capitulation of a "québécois" male to the tyranny of women, either a "québécoise" mother or--(take your choice)-- a non-québécoise lover; 11. a covenant with 9 year-old boys crossing several generations; 12. the destiny of a man with a death wish, a chronic predisposition to self killing, who, according to one engaging friend (Jacques Languirand), had probably already committed suicide in a previous life as a late Antique Roman, and would likely do again--perhaps already has.

Sheppard dedicates his book to more than one hundred suicides from Sappho to Kurt Cobain. He shapes the responses of his subjects by his pointed questions and the juxtaposition of their answers to advance his overriding theory that Aquin's suicide was his finest work of art. All the varying explanations co-exist peacefully within Aquin's immortality, which resides in the minds of those who remember and grieve for him. No single interpretation is more plausible than another. Sheppard explicitly links these multiple "truths" to the early film work of Kurosawa; we are also reminded of Iain Pears's An Instance of the Fingerpost and The Dream of Scipio (see this database).

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Summary:

This outstanding anthology of poems, stories, excerpts and essays by African-American writers is prefaced by a poem ("Aunt Sue’s Stories" by Langston Hughes), a foreword, two essays and an introduction. The book is then divided into three sections: Section I, Illness and Health-Seeking Behavior; Section II, Aging; and Section III, Loss and Grief.

Each section begins with an introduction which clarifies the choice of the section’s theme and briefly describes each piece. At the conclusion of each section is a list of ten to fifteen questions which "are intended for personal reflection and group discussion." Brief autobiographical information for each of the thirty-one authors is presented in Appendix 1.

As Secundy notes in the introduction, a divide exists between the health care worker and patient, which is particularly prominent when color and economic status are different between them. Secundy, as an educator in the medical humanities, selected pieces that reveal "the significance of color and social distinctions" when African-Americans face illness or enter the health care system.

The selections chronicle struggle and survival, illness and loss, humiliation and pride, triumph and sorrow. These pieces speak to all of us, as Edmund Pellegrino states in his essay, "Ethnicity and Healing": "[p]aradoxically, as we learn more about the uniqueness of African-American culture, we are drawn closer to the common humanity we share with the subjects of these stories and poems."

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