Showing 71 - 80 of 207 annotations tagged with the keyword "Nature"

Still Waters in Niger

Hill, Kathleen

Last Updated: Dec-05-2006
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Described as an autobiographical novel, this book is narrated in the first person and reads like a memoir. But it is a "memoir" charged with atmosphere, imagery, and longing. The narrator is an American woman, a mother of three children, and the wife of an academic. After an absence of 17 years she has returned to Niger--the country in northwestern Africa where she had lived with her three small children and husband, while the latter was completing his doctoral dissertation. Now she is visiting her oldest child, Zara, who has been living for the past two years in Niger, and working in a medical clinic.

As the narrator reacquaints herself with the culture and climate of the country, she re-visits--in memory--young motherhood, her relationship with the six-year-old Zara, and her interactions with the people and surroundings. The novel shifts back and forth between the past and the present Niger while the narrator attempts to integrate her experiences: she sees the country and her daughter through new eyes.

She is overwhelmed with guilt about what she calls her "inattention" (17 years ago) to the lives of the Nigerans around her; guilt about her failure to learn the native language; guilt toward her children, for her own self absorption. "After all, what was I doing the year we lived in Zinder [the city where they had lived]? That is the question that looms between Zara and me . . . Of what was I thinking? It is not enough to say that instead of working in a clinic [as Zara now does] I was spending my days with Lizzie and Tulu and herself. That doesn't answer it. All of Zinder waited beyond the gate." (71)

The narrator watches with admiration and envy as Zara interacts comfortably, even intimately, with the native women and their children, speaks the language fluently, and negotiates her way with self assurance in this foreign land. Not only does the narrator feel inept, she feels that she has "lost Zara to a world in which I am entirely a stranger." (73) Thus cultural dislocation becomes the trigger for intense reflections on the nature of parenthood, and the female experience of marriage, pregnancy, motherhood, and aging. These reflections are magnified by the narrator's loss of her own mother, who has recently died.

The native women that she meets through Zara help her to understand that some of these experiences transcend cultures, even though their surface manifestations may differ. For example, the often hyper-critical attitude toward first born children, and the refusal of native parents to even utter the name of the first born child relates to the shame associated with this evidence that the mother has lost her virginity. "Shame is the right word, exactly," thinks the narrator, "and I wonder now that I have not stumbled on this knowledge before." (77) But more than the "thorough and irrevocable . . . violation of the space around one's skin" it is the associated separation from the mother that the narrator recognizes as being at the core of sexual awakening; it is this inevitable separation from her own daughter that she is now trying to absorb.

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Animal Dreams

Kingsolver, Barbara

Last Updated: Dec-04-2006
Annotated by:
Belling, Catherine

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Cosima Nolinas (Codi) trained as a physician, but decided during her residency to give up medicine. As the novel opens, she is returning to her hometown, Grace, Arizona, to teach high school biology and care for her physician father, Doc Homero, who is suffering from Alzheimer's disease. Her younger sister, Hallie, has just left for Nicaragua to help with agricultural development. Codi's journey back to where she grew up reinforces a sense of aimlessness which she attributes to the death of her mother when she was three years old, to the miscarriage of an unwanted pregnancy when she was fifteen, and to her father's remoteness. She intends her stay to be temporary.

But gradually she is drawn into the community. She restarts a relationship with Loyd [sic] Peregrina, the Native-American father--though she never told him--of the child she lost in high school. She joins the town's struggle against a mining company that has polluted the town's water supply and now plans to dam the river. As her father's condition deteriorates, she learns more about the history of his connection with the town and, by examining the results of a life-long study he has done on a genetic anomaly affecting children born to second-generation inhabitants of Grace, she learns that her own hereditary background is far more deeply rooted in the town than she had known.

Codi's narrative is interspersed with her father's confused but illuminating memories of her childhood, and with the letters she receives from Hallie, who has always been the motivated and determined sister. When Hallie is kidnapped and then murdered by the contras, Codi's first response is to run away once more, but in laying her sister to rest and telling Loyd about their lost child, she realizes that she has found her home and--in her fierce and practical education of the new generation of Grace adolescents--her purpose.

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Homeland

Kingsolver, Barbara

Last Updated: Dec-04-2006
Annotated by:
Belling, Catherine

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

This story is set in the 1950s. Gloria St. Clair's great grandmother, Great Mam, is a displaced Cherokee--one of the Bird Clan's "Beloved Women" who "keep track of things"--who moved from her tribal home in Tennessee to Kentucky with the white man whose children she bore. Gloria's father, a coal miner, decides that the family should take Great Mam back to Tennessee for a last visit before she dies.

The journey is a disaster, revealing that remnants of Cherokee life have been reduced to poverty and tawdry tourism. Gloria realizes, though, that Great Mam's heritage has survived, not in the place she came from, but in what she has passed on to her great granddaughter: Great Mam has given Gloria the nickname "Waterbug" after the creature that, according to Native American myth, retrieved the earth from the bottom of the sea, and in remembering this and all the other stories Great Mam told her, Gloria becomes the next one whose task is to retrieve the past, to "keep track of things."

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Annotated by:
Nixon, Lois LaCivita

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

Dash provides a visually lush and poetic portrayal of a little-known Gullah subculture existing on a barrier island off the coast of South Carolina. Because the small colony is isolated from the mainland and the dominant culture, the extended family exhibits unfamiliar behaviors and patterns of speech associated with their African heritage.

The story occurs on the day prior to the Peazant family's final departure from the island's familiar contours and rich customs. The wise old matriarch and conjure woman keeps both the oral history and a tantalizing box of relics. When her family leaves, not surprisingly, she intends to stay. Some members have already assumed characteristics of the mainland culture, such as Christianity and mainland manners, and are eager to leave; others are more reluctant and even frightened about forsaking the world they know.

Without any careful delineation of specific problems, audiences recognize inherent tensions between an inherited tribalism, and alien belief systems. If the island and the relic box's strange contents reference safety, stories about lynching and rape on the mainland cast a dark shadow for many family members. A breathtakingly beautiful picnic scene at the beach is central because it celebrates and symbolizes the paradisal innocence of the island people.

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Bad Medicine

Querry, Ron

Last Updated: Dec-04-2006
Annotated by:
Belling, Catherine

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

This novel is based on the facts of an actual hantavirus outbreak that took place in the southwestern US in 1993, retelling the events as medical mystery, as ghost story, and as meditation on the relationship between rationalist western medicine and the beliefs of local indigenous cultures.

Dr. Push Foster is part Choctaw and part white, raised in Oklahoma. He returns to Arizona as an Indian Health Services physician at the time an outbreak begins of what is later identified as Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome. Western medicine and traditional health beliefs and practices overlap in the investigation and response to the illness as it infects and kills Navajo people.

Querry presents us with a convincing epidemiological investigation into the virus, but also suggests an alternative, or complementary, etiology for the outbreak: an archaeologist has stolen a sacred stone from the Hopi people with the help of a Navajo witch, or shape-shifter, the title's "bad medicine" practitioner. This theft, the novel suggests, is the reason that only Navajo, and one white person (the archaeologist's partner) become ill.

The climax of the story is a showdown between the shape-shifter, a Hopi village headman, and the ghost of a woman killed trying to save her people from the 1805 massacre of Navajo by Spanish troops at Muerto Canyon. (The virus, when first identified, was named Muerto Canyon Virus.) This woman becomes a figure of both vengeance and reconciliation, an uneasy meeting of cultures that echoes and informs the work of Push Foster and his colleague, Sonny Brokeshoulder: both are men of Indian blood with a "white" upbringing and who return to their culture bearing Western medical training, but do not deny the traditional knowledge either.

Unlike most medical thrillers, this book does not offer reductive explanations and answers; instead, we are left with the certainty that traditional and western thinkers must collaborate, not only to care for patients, but to take care of the natural environment on which all our health depends.

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Remembering Babylon

Malouf, David

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

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

The story takes place in the mid-19th century in a remote settlement of Queensland, Australia. One day as a group of children are playing at the edge of the village, a remarkable figure stumbles out of the bush. This dark, unkempt person (Gemmy) turns out to be a white man who fell from a ship 16 years earlier (when he was a 19 year old sailor) and has lived with an aboriginal tribe ever since. He hardly remembers English, and his culture and sensibility have become those of his adopted people.

At first Gemmy creates a sensation in the settlement and people want to help him, despite his obvious savage mentality (after all, he isn't even embarrassed by nakedness!). He goes to live with the McIvor family, whose daughter, Janet, and nephew, Lachlan Beattie, were among the children who found him. While Mrs. McIvor accepts Gemmy with Christian love, her husband Jock is skeptical.

In fact, it soon becomes clear that there are major tensions in the village regarding Gemmy. Has he really become "one of them" (a black)? Can he be trusted? He seems harmless enough--almost a pleasant imbecile--but perhaps it is all a subterfuge. Perhaps he is in contact with THEM.

Among the European settlers, there are two views of how to handle the blacks. One group believes they should simply be wiped out--every one of them killed--because they are savage, worthless, and couldn't possibly become (real) Christians. A second group has a more romantic view. They think the black people could be "tamed" and become their servants. They envision themselves as owners of large plantations (as in the southern United States) worked by multitudes of happy and harmless black servants.

Representatives of both groups try to win Gemmy's confidence and obtain information regarding the whereabouts and plans of the black tribes. He, however, remains silent about these matters, although pleasant and deferential toward everyone. An uneasy truce holds until one day two aboriginal people are observed visiting with Gemmy on McIvor's property. This creates an uproar, which eventually leads some of the God-fearing whites to commit acts of vandalism and to injure Gemmy.

To preserve the peace, the McIvors send Gemmy to live with Mrs. Hutchence, an eccentric woman who lives on the margin of the settlement. However, he soon disappears into the wilderness, but not until he retrieves--and destroys--what he thinks are the seven pieces of paper on which Mr. Frazier, the minister, had written Gemmy's life story soon after he had emerged from the bush.

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Summary:

It is 1938, Germany. A Jewish family--lawyer husband, Walter (Merab Ninidze), wife, Jettel (Juliane K?ler), and young daughter, Regina (Lea Kurka, Karoline Eckertz )-- must leave their homeland. Walter establishes a base as a tenant farmer in the British colony, Kenya, sending for his wife and child later. We see Walter in Kenya, sick with malaria, being nursed by Owuor (Sidede Onyulo), a native Kenyan who serves as a live-in cook. Juxtaposed are scenes of Jettel in Germany--fashionably dressed, socially active, secure in the presence of her parents, and not looking forward to living in Africa.

The remainder of the story takes place in Kenya after Jettel and Regina join Walter, who tries to scratch out a tenant farmer's livelihood on the barren, red earth. Walter is stoic but Jettel is miserable in the strange new country, where she cannot speak the languages (English and Swahili) and desperately misses her family. Her dissatisfaction strains the marriage. Adding to the strain on both Walter and Jettel is their worry over what will happen to their parents, who remained behind in Germany. Regina, however, adapts quickly, in part because she responds to the affectionate welcome offered her by Owuor.

When war breaks out between Germany and Great Britain, the family is interned (still in Kenya)--they are considered to be enemy aliens. Men are separated from women, but the women are housed in a former resort hotel where conditions are not too unpleasant. Jettel pleads with the British administrators to find a position for her husband so that they can leave the camps--after all, she points out, they are Jewish and no friend of Hitler. A young officer overhears her, seizes the opportunity to take advantage of Jettel's vulnerability, and in exchange for her sexual favors, helps the family to leave internment and resume farming in a new location.

When the war ends, Walter looks for an opportunity to return to Germany and to work in his profession (law). He is idealistic, believing he has a responsibility to help build a decent society in Germany while Jettel, on the other hand, has grown to like their life in Kenya and deeply distrusts the country that rejected them and murdered their parents.

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Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Visual Arts / Visual Arts

Genre: Multimedia

Summary:

The journal, Emerging Infectious Diseases, published by The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, features artwork on its cover. Under the guidance of managing editor, Polyxeni Potter, these images are selected to enhance the journal's communication of its scientific public health content. Among the goals that govern the choice of its cover art are the editors' intention to illustrate ideas, stimulate the intellect, and fire the emotions (personal communication).

Acompanying each image is a one-page commentary on the artist, the topic depicted, and its relevance to infectious disease. Cover art (and commentary) from past issues can be accessed from the title page of each current issue.

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Oaxaca Journal

Sacks, Oliver

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

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

This is the journal that Oliver Sacks kept during a "fern foray" in Oaxaca, Mexico. Sacks is a fern lover, even though he admits to an even greater passion for club mosses and horsetails. In 1993 John Mickel of the New York Botanical Gardens introduced Sacks to the New York chapter of the American Fern Society (AFS). Consisting mostly of amateur naturalists, AFS meetings were both congenial and passionate, unlike the cold competitiveness of professional meetings in neurology and neuroscience. The New York AFS folks arrange periodic trips to hot spots in the fern world to indulge their passion. In 1999 Oliver Sacks accompanied them on a trip to Oaxaca, which is a veritable paradise of ferns.

Though the trip is only 10 days long, Sacks packs a month’s worth of sights and sounds and meditations into his journal. We learn a lot about the hundreds of species of ferns that range from southern Mexico’s rain forests to the nooks and crannies of its arid central plateau. But the author’s curiosity roams freely and absorbs his new environment. We learn about the origin of chocolate, the history of tobacco, and the archeology of Monte Alban. We learn about the process of distilling mescal in one’s backyard. Most of all, we are introduced to nearly a dozen vivid characters, united in their enthusiasm for fieldwork and ferns.

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The Piano Tuner

Mason, Daniel

Last Updated: Nov-28-2006
Annotated by:
Shafer, Audrey

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Edgar Drake, a forty-one-year-old English piano tuner, accepts a commission from the 1886 British War Office to tune an Erard grand piano located in a colonial military outpost in Mae Lwin commanded by Surgeon-Major Anthony Carroll. Edgar leaves the squalor, fog and drizzle of London, as well as his middle class life and his wife Katherine, childless for eighteen years, for a journey by boat, train, carriage and horse to the exotic, intoxicating beauty of Burma.

En route, Edgar is surrounded by stories--a tale by the deaf Man With One Story, rumors about the legendary, eccentric Carroll's peace-making with the local Shan via music and cultural exchange, and socio-historical treatises about the Burmese, internecine wars, and British imperialism. The journey becomes a search for the meaning of home and purpose in Edgar's life. It is an adventure far beyond his prior imaginings and dreams.

The clash of cultures, British and Burmese, civilian and military, wealthy and poor, rule-bound and individualistic, is explored throughout the text. For example, a tiger hunt led by several British officials ends in disaster. Edgar meets Burmese culture on both grand and personal scales: street theatre; appealing, poverty-stricken children; the garb and cosmetics of various tribes; and, ultimately, the allure of Khin Myo, an educated Burmese woman who guides him to Mae Lwin and Carroll.

Carroll, a renaissance physician with a Victorian fervor for botanical and medicinal classifications and investigations, asks Edgar to assist him in his clinic. Common infectious diseases are diagnosed and treated by this forward-thinking physician, and he also performs finger amputations on the mangled hand of a boy without benefit of anesthetic. Other maladies are treated with local remedies and prayer. Meanwhile the delirium of malarial fever descends on Edgar.

Edgar does finally meet and treat the ailing, badly out-of-tune Erard piano. Edgar's expertise is required--his aural excellence and perfect pitch, his delicate yet callused hands, and his willingness to be innovative in the repair of a bullet hole. But what Edgar cannot be prepared for--intrigue and deceptions, fascination with the lush beauty of Burma, and his own shifting priorities and secret longings--is ultimately what sets his fate.

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