Showing 71 - 80 of 606 annotations contributed by Coulehan, Jack

Tangi

Ihimaera, Witi

Last Updated: Nov-30-2006
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Tama, a young Maori man who works as a clerk in Wellington, receives word that his father has died. He flies home to northern New Zealand, participates with his mother and siblings in his father's wake and funeral, then returns to Wellington to collect his belongings. As the eldest son, he is now responsible for the family and must return to the family farm. The story begins on the morning that Tama catches the train to Wellington; the events of the preceding week flash back and forward through his consciousness during the long, lonely railroad trip.

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Out of Ireland

Koch, Christopher

Last Updated: Nov-30-2006
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

In 1848 a member of the Irish gentry named Robert Devereaux is convicted of treason and sentenced to 14 years imprisonment for publishing articles that advocate the violent overthrow of English rule in Ireland. This novel is purportedly based on the journal that Devereaux kept during his years as a prisoner (1848 through 1851).

It begins when he is transported from Ireland to Bermuda, where he spends many months in a prison "hulk." The authorities have to handle him carefully, though, because he is both a gentleman and a symbol of Irish resistance. They do not want to have a martyr on their hands. Thus, when Devereaux develops severe asthma in Bermuda, they send him to Van Diemen's Land (Tasmania), where he is given a "Ticket-of-Leave"; i. e. he is allowed to live as he wishes in the colony, provided he adheres to certain restrictions and agrees not to attempt escape.

Once in Van Diemen's Land, Devereaux is reunited with other prominent political prisoners. He also meets and falls in loves with Katherine, an Irish Catholic woman, far lower in social class. (Devereaux is a member of the land owning Protestant Ascendancy.)

To be close to Katherine, Devereaux buys a hop farm with an English prisoner named Thomas Langford. The lovers intend to escape to New York together, but Katherine is pregnant. She dies shortly after delivering a healthy son. The despondent Devereaux eventually escapes as the journal ends.

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Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Doebin is an island reserve for Aborigines off the coast of north Queensland. In 1930 the superintendent goes insane after his wife dies. He sets fire to his house, kills his children, and wounds others in a bloody rampage that ends in his being shot by an Aboriginal man. Interestingly, this superintendent was a benevolent dictator who actually appeared to care for the Aborigines, whom he considered childlike and treated in a strict paternalistic manner. In return, his charges respected him and called him "Uncle Boss."

The book tells this story from the perspectives of several different characters and reveals how the events of 1930 influenced their lives and bound them together in mysterious ways. We learn of the influence these events had on the subsequent lives of the island's little community: doctor, matron, schoolteacher, boarding house operator, priest, and Manny Cooktown, the man who shot and killed the madman, Captain Brodie.

Time moves on, things change. World War II comes and goes. On Doebin Island, however, Aboriginal people continue to be treated like prisoners. Benign paternalism is replaced by out-and-out hatred during the reigns of a succession of superintendents, who treat their Aboriginal charges as if they were animals.

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Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Jimmie Blacksmith is the son of a white man and an Aboriginal woman in late 19th century New South Wales. A Methodist minister teaches him Christian ideals and Western ambition. Thus, he sets out to make a life for himself in the cash economy and to marry a white woman, who he believes is carrying his child.

For a long time Jimmie quietly overcomes one barrier after another, and calmly accepts the continuous taunting and humiliation of Christian whites, who believe that Aboriginal people are dirt. However, he finally snaps. Exploited by his boss and betrayed by his wife, he simply cannot take it anymore. Jimmie then goes on a killing spree that seems to confirm the whites' worst fears.

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The Doubleman

Koch, Christopher

Last Updated: Nov-30-2006
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

The novel begins in Hobart, Tasmania, in the 1950's. Richard Miller, a student at the Christian Brothers' school, spends his adolescence recovering from the effects of polio. His one friend is Brian Brady, who is expelled from the school after a tiff with a sadistic Brother. Brian finds work and studies the guitar with Clive Broderick, the "doubleman" of the novel's title, an enigmatic occultist who believes in separate worlds of good (invisible) and evil (visible) reality.

Years later, in the freewheeling '60's, Richard has become a television producer in Sydney. He once again encounters Brian and his friend Darcy Burr, who have been eking out a living as a folk singing duo. Darcy, who has inherited Broderick's Gnosticism, is convinced that his group, the Rymers (which soon grows to include Richard's wife Katrin as lead singer), will achieve fame and fortune.

Richard produces a series of television shows, which, in fact, turn the Rymers into a very hot commodity. They are on the verge of a triumphant tour to England when the threads of their complex story begin to unravel.

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Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Investigative Journalism

Summary:

Brigid's Charge, a psychiatrist and professor at the University of Virginia, has devoted his long career (37 years) to amassing and analyzing empirical evidence for reincarnation. In this book the journalist Tom Shroder describes Dr. Stevenson's work and gives a fascinating account of Stevenson's most recent field investigations in Lebanon and India.

The primary data supporting reincarnation are accounts of previous lives spontaneously reported by young children. This phenomenon is relatively common in cultures that accept reincarnation; for example, the Hindu and Druze peoples. In some cases the accuracy of details from reported past lives can be verified, even though there is also good evidence that the child (or anyone in his family or network of contacts) had no "external" way of learning the information.

Stevenson began studying such cases in the early 1960s and gradually developed a rigorous methodology for assessing and classifying the data. In Twenty Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation and his other writings, Stevenson has presented hundreds of narratives, many of which seem prima facie convincing, except for the small problem that they fall completely outside the bounds of scientific orthodoxy.

As a participant observer, Shroder tells a sympathetic, yet questioning, story of Stevenson's investigation (or follow up) of a few recent cases. In the process, he presents a compelling portrait of the maverick 80-year-old psychiatrist.

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Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Treatise

Summary:

Ian Stevenson, a psychiatrist at the University of Virginia, has devoted his career to the study of cases suggestive of reincarnation. The cases consist of narratives of young children who claim to remember past lives. The cases occur primarily in India, Sri Lanka, South Asia, West Africa, Lebanon, and among Northwestern Native Americans, in cultures and religions in which reincarnation is accepted. Stevenson and his colleagues have collected over 2000 such narratives, but only a much smaller number provide what he considers "strong" evidence.

In the latter cases, Stevenson has performed detailed, nearly contemporaneous investigations that appear to rule-out communication of any kind between the child's family and the relatives of the recently deceased person the child claims to be. In addition, many of the "strong" cases have birth defects or birthmarks at the exact sites of traumatic injuries in the deceased person's life.

This book is a shortened and popularized version of a scientific monograph entitled Reincarnation and Biology: A Contribution to the Etiology of Birthmarks and Birth Defects (also published by Praeger Press in 1997). Stevenson categorizes his cases by strength of evidence for a precisely located traumatic injury in the deceased person (i.e. simply remembered by the family, identified in medical records, or verified at autopsy). He also categorizes cases by the size and nature of the child's defect or birthmark.

In each chapter he presents a series of short narratives summarizing cases in a particular category, and comments on the weight and possible interpretations of the evidence. In Chapter 26 Stevenson analyzes a variety of explanations (including normal and paranormal possibilities), and concludes that the strongest of his cases are best explained by accepting the hypothesis of reincarnation (i.e. the discarnate personality of a recently dead person influencing the personality of a newborn child).

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The Patient Presents

White, Kelley Jean

Last Updated: Nov-30-2006
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Collection (Poems)

Summary:

The title of this collection of poems recalls the formulaic statement by which a physician introduces a patient's medical problem or chief complaint. For example, "The patient presents with a history of fever, abdominal cramps and diarrhea for the last 24 hours." Or, "The patient presents with a long history of hypertension and diabetes." In this case, though, Dr. White's patients' presentations are poems, rather than chunks of sanitized medical jargon; and, while the patient remains a key character in most of these works, they also present the doctor's story.

Domestic violence, child abuse, and sexual abuse figure prominently in these poems. In "365" (p. 1) a five year old girl presents with "a foul smelling vaginal discharge"; she was a victim of rape. Baby "John Brown" (p. 9) has 47 fractured bones and was "dipped in boiling water" for soiling himself. In "Ironing" (p. 18) a first grade girl has the impression of an iron burned into her thigh. And the two-year-old girl in "Peek" (p. 49) is admitted to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) with cigarette burns and a liver fracture.

Dr. White also writes of babies left behind by their mothers ("Autumn Angels," p. 3), homeless mothers and children ("Numbers," p. 42), and complex multigenerational family pathology ("Riddle," p. 50). All in all, these stories carry the reader very close to "Looking at the Gates of Hell" (p. 32).

Yet, a still, small voice of calm, maybe even of salvation, can appear in the most unlikely places. In "Belly" (p. 4) the physician lays her face against a baby's belly and "the warm brown skin calms my forehead. / All stiffness melts." In "Maplewood & Greene" (p. 36) she revels in seeing "three little girls on roller skates." And in the Whitmanesque poem called "Oh" (p. 45), she gloriously affirms, "Oh to laughter, oh to sorrow / Oh to a better day, oh tomorrow."

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A Lesson from Aloes

Fugard, Athol

Last Updated: Nov-30-2006
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Plays

Genre: Play

Summary:

The time is 1963; the place, Port Elizabeth, South Africa. In their lower middle-class home, Piet Bezuidenhout and his wife Gladys are waiting for friends to arrive for dinner. Piet is an Afrikaner man who hasn't achieved much in life, but has found sustenance and meaning in liberal politics. His wife is a South African of English descent, who, we later learn, has recently returned home from being hospitalized for a nervous breakdown. Visible on the stage (or at least to the protagonists) is Piet's collection of indigenous aloe plants. He is attempting to classify a new aloe that he has just found, but which doesn't appear to fit into any of the listed species.

Their awaited guests are Steve Daniels and his family. Steve, a colored man whom Piet met in his political work, was recently released from jail, where he had served time for "subversive" activities. We learn that Steve has obtained a one-way exit permit; the following week he plans to sail with his family to England. When Steve finally arrives two hours late (and a little worse the wear from drinking), it turns out that his wife and children stayed home. In fact, everyone in the movement, including Steve's wife, believes that Piet (the white man) is an informer.

As the two old friends begin to talk, the conversation becomes painful; they circle cautiously around important personal questions. Was Piet really the informer? What happened to Gladys that caused her nervous breakdown? And, finally, why has Steve decided to give up the political struggle and go into exile?

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The Heart of Redness

Mda, Zakes

Last Updated: Nov-30-2006
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

In the mid-19th Century, a teenage prophetess named Nongqawuse preached salvation for the Xhosa people. If the people would slaughter all of their cattle and burn all of their crops, the spirits of their ancestors would rise and drive their oppressors (the English colonizers) into the sea. The ancestors would also resurrect the cattle and restore the crops. A large percentage of the Xhosa ("Believers") adopted this new religion, destroyed their livelihood, and initiated many years of disease and starvation. The Xhosa nation might well have been wiped out, but for the fact that some of the people ("Unbelievers") rejected these prophecies and did not destroy their crops and cattle.

These historical events serve as the cornerstone of The Heart of Redness, which presents two intertwined fictional narratives: one that occurs in the time of Nongqawuse and a second narrative that takes place in Qolorha, a Xhosa village in present-day South Africa. In the novel the conflict between Believers and Unbelievers has persisted through the "Middle Generations" and continues to the present. Believers claim that the prophecies of Nongqawuse would have come true, if only all of the Xhosa people had destroyed their farms and cattle. The ancestors failed to return because of the unbelief of a portion of the people.

Unbelievers argue that the folly of the original Believers led to decades of suffering and a strengthening of the English colonizers. This traditional conflict is reflected today in their attitudes toward economic development. Developers want to build a large casino and resort complex near the village. Unbelievers support the proposal because it will bring jobs and money to the region. Believers are dead set against the proposal because it will destroy their way of life.

Meanwhile, Camagu, who has a Ph.D. in economic development and who returned from exile in 1994 to help build the new South Africa, has moldered for years in Johannesburg, unable to find a job appropriate to his skills. When he meets a young woman who says she is returning home to Qolorha, he spontaneously follows her there. Camagu decides to remain in the village and, against his will, becomes embroiled in the battle between Believers and Unbelievers, as well as love affairs with two women, one from each side of the conflict.

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