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In fourteenth century France, a 15 year old virgin, Blanche, levitates in church and nine months later gives birth to a daughter named Bonne. When Bonne is only 12 years old, Blanche is burned alive along with other "sinners" in a church. Bonne becomes a professional breast-feeder or "wet nurse." Her breast milk never stops flowing and seems to have restorative powers.
She finds herself catapulted from outcast to saint despite a series of catastrophes. When her town of Villeneuve is under siege and starving, she breast feeds not just children but many of the townspeople as well, asking only to listen to the individual's life story in exchange for her milk. Bonne's fate becomes deeply entangled with the lives of three friends: Godfridus (a chaste sculptor who goes mad), Hercules Legrand (a dwarf), and Radegonde Putemonnoie (a wealthy pregnant widow who hires Bonne).
This is the first "selected poems" by Claes Andersson to appear in English. Drawn from his 18 collections published in Finland, they are generally short (less than one page) poems without titles. As the Introduction notes, Andersson's early poetry features blunt language, while his later work strives for more musicality. Drawing on his psychiatric experience, Anderson uses "private life as a foundation for an investigation of all that shapes our identity."
Friendship is a frequent theme in these poems, as in "Philemon and Baukis": "If you become a fir / I'll be a birch/ Thus you protect and warm me / through the cold seasons / In return I'll dance for you / in the summer nights . . . " (p. 75) One of the most striking poems in the collection is "the new theology," which begins: "Disease is the conscience of the body / What would we be without our ailments . . . " (p. 112)
Narrated in the first person, the transforming events of Peter's life as a 15 year old are told years later. The opening paragraphs set the scene: "the older brother who went off to school" leaving "the brilliant . . . mother . . . bereft"; the father, "son of a bankrupt Hudson Valley apple grower"; "the darkening drift and dismay of my parents." Into this family unease steps the local veterinarian, Dr. Mason, whom Peter assists during after-school hours, and who is a sometime dinner guest in his parents' home.
Dr. Mason not only tries to persuade Peter to go into a medical profession, ignoring Peter's interests (writing poetry, reading about mountain climbing) but self-importantly insists on "offering [him] lessons in nothing less than all of life" (63). Dr. Mason, we learn, is singularly unqualified to dispense such lessons. He is, at least in Peter's eyes, overbearing and insensitive in his interactions with the owners of the pets he treats, and perhaps even unethical in his professional decisions. Then, Peter discovers, his mother is having an affair with Dr. Mason (who is also married). It is the burden of this knowledge that drives the narrative.
Adam and Seth Bede work as carpenters in the little village of Hayslope. Seth proposes to Dinah Morris, a gifted Methodist preacher, but she wants to devote herself to God's work. However, neither Dinah's faith nor her aunt Mrs. Poyser's sharp country truths can deflate the vain fancies of her pretty Hetty Sorrel (Mrs. Poyser's other niece). Although good Adam woos Hetty, she is distracted by the idle attentions of Captain Arthur Donnithorne, and when Adam finds out, he fights Arthur, who leaves town.
But when Hetty realizes she is pregnant, she runs away to see Arthur, only to find, arriving destitute after a difficult journey, that his regiment has been called away. Hetty restrains herself from suicide and gives birth in a lodging-house, then runs off with the infant and buries it in the brush, where it dies. After she is convicted for child-murder, Arthur finally hears the news, and Hetty's commuted sentence (transportation) saves her from the gallows. Two years later, Adam and Dinah realize they love each other, and they marry.
In July 1998 the poet Maxine Kumin was thrown from her carriage when her horse bolted during a competition. The type of cervical (C1-C2) fracture that she sustained is fatal before reaching the hospital in 95% of cases, and if survived, usually results in quadriplegia. This book is a memoir written in the form of a journal that begins on the day of the accident. In fact, it was nearly a month after the accident that the poet's daughter brought writing materials to the rehab hospital, and Maxine began to dictate the journal, and the two of them filled in the temporal gaps.
The journal covers her experience in the acute care hospital, the rehab facility, and the following months of convalescence at home. It ends on April 23, 1999, when Maxine climbs a hill (unassisted) near her Vermont home, looks out over the early spring vista, and concludes, "I am letting myself believe I will heal."
The journal describes the poet's physical, emotional, and spiritual experiences as she struggles, first to survive, and then to live with the "halo vest" that for months she had to wear to stabilize her fractured neck bones, and finally to regain her function and equilibrium. Much of the story is about her family--husband, son, and daughters--who mobilize from various points around the world to support her. Comments about her doctors and the medical care she received constitute only a small, at times almost incidental, part of this narrative.
This varied collection of short stories and poems is unified not so much by theme as by their appropriateness to the intended listening audience--the bedridden or homebound elderly. In a brief but moving preface editor Carolyn Banks recalls her work in an adult day care center where she was expected to entertain those who were recovering from strokes or suffering from Alzheimer's disease.
Reading aloud provided sometimes startling moments of contact with patients who were incapable of sustained conversation. Banks realized that while there are many story collections for children and general adult audiences, no one had done a collection for a group with these specific needs.
The collection includes 52 stories--one a week for a year--that cover a range of life situations. Not all focus on age or illness, though some do. In several a grandparent plays a crucial role in a grandchild's life. Some are set in the 1930's, 40's and 50's--periods likely to trigger memories for those now in their 70's and 80's.
Several stories focus on situations of widowhood and other losses, and some on death: Banks insists that death "is not a taboo topic." Many of the stories are comic, since, she comments, laughter is "an important response to court." All are short enough to read in a half hour or less, and "not insultingly simple."
The novel opens with a man known only as Pilgrim hanging himself in London in 1912. Despite being pronounced dead by two physicians, he somehow lives. Pilgrim has attempted suicide many times before but is seemingly unable to die. He claims to have endured life for thousands of years but has tired of living and only longs for death. He has crossed paths with many historical figures including Leonardo da Vinci, Saint Teresa, Oscar Wilde, and Auguste Rodin.
After his most recent suicide attempt, he is admitted to a psychiatric facility in Zurich as a patient of the famous Swiss psychiatrist, Carl Jung. Pilgrim eventually escapes from the institution and masterminds the successful theft of the Mona Lisa from the Louvre. Next, he sets the cathedral at Chartres on fire. The novel ends with Pilgrim driving a car into a river on the eve of World War I. His body is never found.
The Exact Location of the Soul is a collection of 26 essays along with an introduction titled "The Making of a Doctor/Writer." Most of these essays are reprinted from Selzer's earlier books (especially Mortal Lessons and Letters to a Young Doctor). Six pieces are new and include a commentary on the problem of AIDS in Haiti ("A Mask on the Face of Death"), musings on organ donation ("Brain Death: A Hesitation"), a conversation between a mother and son ("Of Nazareth and New Haven"), and the suicide of a college student ("Phantom Vision").
Living in early 20th century Greenwich Village are two young women artists, Sue and Johnsy (familiar for Joanna). They met in May, six months previously, and decided to share a studio apartment. Stalking their artist colony in November is "Mr. Pneumonia." The story begins as Johnsy, near death from pneumonia, lies in bed waiting for the last leaf of an ivy vine on the brick wall she spies through her window to fall.
"I’m tired of thinking," says Johnsy. "I want to turn loose my hold on everything, and go sailing down, down, just like one of those poor, tired leaves"(16). However, an unexpected hero arrives to save Johnsy. It’s not the brusque doctor who gives her only one in ten chances to survive, raising them to one in five if Sue can get her to hope for something important like a man, not her true desire to "paint the Bay of Naples some day" (14).
Mr. Behrman, an old man who lives in the apartment below Sue and Johnsy, who enjoys drinking, works sometimes as an artist’s model, and as yet has made no progress over the past 40 years on painting his own masterpiece, becomes in typical O. Henry fashion the hero. The evidence of his heroics are found the day before he dies from pneumonia: outside Johnsy’s window are a ladder, a lantern still lighted "some scattered brushes, and a palette with green and yellow colors mixed on it . . . it’s Behrman’s masterpiece--he painted it [a leaf] there the night that the last leaf fell"(19), Sue informs Johnsy.
Madame Ranevsky returns to her estate after five years in Paris, where she had fled after the accidental death of her young son. In the interim her brother and adopted daughter have been running the estate, which has gone hopelessly into debt, largely because of Madame Ranevsky's improvident life style. As she and her adolescent daughter Anya arrive, friends and retainers have gathered to greet them. Among these are Trofimov, her dead son's tutor and an ineffectual idealist; and Lopahin, a brilliantly successful businessman whose father had once been a serf on the Ranevsky estate.
The family's beloved cherry orchard, along with the house and the rest of the estate, are about to go on the auction block. Lopahin proposes a solution: break up the cherry orchard into building plots and lease them to city folks to build summer villas. This would generate an annual income of 25,000 rubles and, thus, solve all of Madame Ranevsky's financial problems. She refuses to consider cutting down the orchard. Her brother, Gaev, gravitates ineffectually around the problem, suggesting various harebrained schemes to raise money, but in the end he believes there is no solution: "Someone gets sick, you know, and the doctor suggests one thing after another, that means there's no cure . . . " (p. 346)
The auction occurs, and, lo and behold, Lopahin himself has purchased the estate with the intention of developing the property for summer villas. In the last act, as Madame Ranevsky and her family prepare to vacate the house, workmen hover in the background, ready to begin chopping down the orchard. Madame Ranevsky departs for Paris, and Lopahin leaves to pursue his business in the city. A much alluded-to liaison between Lopahin and Varya, the adopted daughter, dies on the vine, apparently because the businessman has neither the time nor inclination for romance. As the house is closed up, Firs, the senile 87-year-old servant, is inadvertently left behind.