Showing 91 - 100 of 122 annotations tagged with the keyword "Colonialism"

The Blind Assassin

Atwood, Margaret

Last Updated: Jul-26-2004
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Three stories are intertwined in this complex novel; in the end, they become one. In a series of flashbacks, the elderly Iris Chase Griffen writes of her long life. At the outset, newspaper clippings present three tragic deaths from 1945 to 1975: sister, husband, and daughter.

Iris's pretty, younger sister, Laura, died at age 25 when she drove her car off a bridge. Two years later, Iris published Laura's novel, Blind Assassin, to critical acclaim, projecting the author to posthumous fame. Only weeks later, Iris was widowed when her husband drowned. Then many years later, Iris's daughter, Aimée, breaks her neck and dies from the ravages of drug and alcohol abuse. Iris also loses care of her only grandchild, four-year old Sabrina. Iris looks back on the circumstances before and after these deaths.

Growing up in small-town Ontario without a mother, Iris was expected to look after Laura. But the younger girl's guileless intensity inspired exasperation and jealousy, as well as affection. In the 1930s, the sisters managed to hide a young radical, Alex Thomas, in the family attic before he escaped to Spain; they both fell in love. But at age nineteen, Iris is forced to enter a joyless marriage to wealthy Richard Griffen out of obedience to her father who hoped that the union would save his factory. It did not.

Laura is bossed by the politically ambitious Richard and his domineering sister, Winifred. Defiance and maternity allow Iris to carve out her own space within the confines of the social situation. But she is increasingly estranged from the romantic, inscrutable Laura who is eventually sent to an "asylum" where she has an abortion. Upon her release, the sisters reconnect, only to hurt each other with painful revelations (unrevealed here to avoid spoiling the effect for readers; some will have guessed them in advance).

The other two of the three stories stem from Laura's acclaimed novel "Blind Assassin," parts of which are interspersed. On one level, it relates the passionate affair of a refined woman (very like the author) and a political fugitive (very like Alex) who meet in his sordid hiding places. On another level, it is an Ali Baba-esque fairy tale, invented by the lovers, about a cruel society in which child-labor, ritualistic rape, and human sacrifice are routine. The killers are children who have been blinded by their enforced work knotting beautiful rugs.

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The Dream of Scipio

Pears, Iain

Last Updated: May-10-2004
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Manlius is a 5th C Roman patrician living in Provence who has studied with the wise, reclusive Sophia. He writes his understanding of her teaching in his essay, 'Dream of Scipio,' which trades on an essay by the great Roman orator, Cicero. Sensing that the Empire is gravely threatened, he makes a pact with barbarians, sells out his neighbors, slays his adopted son, and becomes a bishop of the Christian religion, which he has long despised. Late in this ruthless and doomed attempt to salvage what he values most in his world, Sophia makes it clear that he has misunderstood her teaching.

Olivier is an astonishingly gifted 14th century Provencal poet whose intolerant father tries to stifle his love of letters, among which is Manlius's 'Dream'; his father destroys the manuscript, but Olivier recopies it from memory. As plague advances on their region, Olivier finds a mentor in the high churchman, Ceccani, who is bent on keeping the papacy in Avignon. He plans to destroy Jews as symbolic expiation for plague, widely construed to be a form of divine punishment. Olivier befriends a Jewish scholar and falls in love with his beautiful heretic servant.

The 'Dream' and the imprisonment of his friends lead Olivier to question and then betray his mentor. Either because of his efforts to save them, or for his role in a murder, he is mutilated--his tongue and hands cut off to rob him of speech and writing. The brutal mutilation appears early in the book--it is not fully explained until the end.

Julien is a French historian who has studied the poet, Olivier, and the rendition of Manlius' manuscript. He finds solace in his erudition as his county falls to the Nazi occupation. An old school friend who is a collaborator, gives him work as a censor and tolerates Julien's Jewish lover, the artist Julia. In the end, Julien is forced to choose between saving either another school friend in the Resistance or Julia. He chooses Julia, looses her anyway, and commits suicide in a vain attempt to warn his friend.

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A Cracked River

Hirshhorn, Norbert

Last Updated: Nov-16-2003
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Collection (Poems)

Summary:

This is the second collection of poems by international health physician Norbert Hirschhorn. The first poem, "Number Our Days," is a meditation based on a verse from Psalm 90, "Let us number our days / That we may get us a heart of wisdom." The poet reflects on his mother's escaping the Holocaust ("my blond head sucking her breast"), her subsequent depressions, and eventually the day when the adult son was faced with the decision whether to dialyze his dying mother.

This poem sets the stage for the whole collection: an inquiry into the meaning of family and love and memory. Hirschhorn doesn't take himself too seriously, as in his description of adolescent lust ("Donna, Oh Donna"), the compelling "Self Portrait, "Growing up in New York / with skull caps and spittle, I felt demeaned to be Jewish / and fled to the Ivy league," and the wonderful "New Old Uncle Blues."

There are three major clusters of poems: one that deals with the poet's family and childhood; a second cycle of love, distance, divorce, and renewed love; and, finally, an engaging set of poems that focus on his experience in Indonesia and Southeast Asia. In "On a Guesthouse Veranda in Surakarta, Central Java," Hirschhorn writes, "What matters here? Nothing. / Never has life been / so sweet." And "A Non Believer Wakens to the First Call to Prayer" ends with these beautiful lines, "The men who pray raise up their palms. / Soon the sun will warm the stones."

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James Miranda Barry

Duncker, Patricia

Last Updated: Nov-16-2003
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

A child of a beautiful, talented woman and ambiguous paternity craves learning. Adopted by a Spanish officer and an "uncle" who is a painter, s/he is sent off to Edinburgh as a pedagogic experiment to become James Barry, a male medical student. Barry adores the vivacious Alice, an illiterate but intelligent servant, whom he teaches to read.

Later as a doctor and medical officer, he travels the world to the Crimea, to the Caribbean, to South Africa and America, a scion of society and a good scientist. By happy fortune, he lives in retirement with Alice, who has become a famous actress. The book ends with the scandalous revelation of Barry's femininity when his body is laid to rest.

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The New Villa

Chekhov, Anton

Last Updated: Jun-01-2003
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

Kutcherov is the engineer in charge of building a bridge across the river two miles from the village of Obrutchanovo. He decides he likes the countryside so much that he buys some land and builds a house (the new villa) for his family near the village. The engineer and his wife attempt to befriend the local people, but the villagers continually complain about their own poverty and misuse the newcomers' good will.

Some villagers, led by Volodka, the blacksmith's son, act out their anger and desperation by insulting the engineer's wife and allowing their animals to graze around the new villa. These peasants complain that they never wanted the bridge in the first place; it only represents governmental interference.

Other villagers, represented by Rodion, the blacksmith, advise the Kutcherovs to be patient--in the long run, the peasants will learn to accept them. Eventually, after several incidents of vandalism, Kutcherov gets fed up and moves his family back to Moscow. The new villa lies empty.

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In Exile

Chekhov, Anton

Last Updated: May-27-2003
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

In Siberia, "Old Semyon, nicknamed Canny, and a young Tatar, whom no one knew by name, were sitting on the riverbank by the campfire;the other three ferrymen were in the hut." (p. 97) The Tatar is horrified by the prospect of exile, having left a beautiful wife behind. But Semyon counsels acceptance "You will get used to it," he repeats again and again.

Semyon tells him the story of Vasily Sergeyitch, a wealthy aristocrat who was sent into exile 15 years earlier. He was able to send for his wife and daughter. The wife agreed to come, but then ran away with a lover, and now the daughter who has spent her life in exile with him lies dying of consumption. The point of this story seems to be that the exiled man should accept his fate and forego desire, or the expectation of happiness.

Later, Vasily Sergeyitch hails the ferry to take him across the river. He is hastening to town to see a new doctor, whom he desperately hopes might help his daughter. Old Semyon mocks him: "Looking for a good doctor is like chasing the wind in the fields or catching the devil by the tail." (p. 111) As the ferrymen try to sleep in the cold, windy hut, they hear the Tatar outside crying, and Semyon repeats, "He'll get used to it."

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Demon in the Freezer

Preston, Richard

Last Updated: May-10-2003
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Investigative Journalism

Summary:

This gripping narrative traces the history of the efforts to eradicate smallpox in the 1970s, the top-level decisions to keep a few vials of it for emergency purposes in American and Soviet freezers, and the reemergence of smallpox not only as a health threat, but as a potential bioweapon of unequaled destructive power. Preston details maverick natural cases that surfaced after worldwide eradication efforts, how it was discovered that undocumented reserves of smallpox were not only being kept, but researched and possibly "weaponized," and how hotly, in the US, teams of scientists and military intelligence personnel debated funding new smallpox research in the US with a view to developing a new vaccine as a defense.

The ethical issues in those debates are unprecedented in the scope of the possible public health threat and the variables that might make traditional vaccination ineffective against the weaponized virus. As in his previous books on biological threats, The Hot Zone and The Cobra Event (see annotation), Preston follows the work and lives of several key scientists and includes scenes from interviews with a variety of persons involved in confronting the political, ethical, and medical dilemmas posed by smallpox research and efforts to track and control it.

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The Heavenly Ladder

Coulehan, Jack

Last Updated: May-02-2002
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Collection (Poems)

Summary:

The Heavenly Ladder is physician-poet Jack Coulehan's most recent chapbook, bringing together 48 poems, many of which have been published individually in various medical journals and literary magazines. The collection is divided into four sections.

Poems in the first section, "Medicine Stone," are written in the voice of patients or in the voice of the physician who treats them. The second section, "So Many Remedies," consists of five poems inspired by physician-author Chekhov. The poems of "The Illuminated Text" section reflect a wide-ranging interest in people who lived in distant times or in distant places. The final section, "Don't Be Afraid, Gringo," stays, for the most part, closer to home and includes a number of poems addressed to, or about, family members.

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True History of the Kelly Gang

Carey, Peter

Last Updated: Dec-19-2001
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

This novel purports to be the story of Ned Kelly, the most famous of all Australian outlaws, as told in his own words. We learn that after Ned’s capture in the shoot-out at Glenrowan on June 28th, 1880, "thirteen parcels of stained and dog-eared papers, every one of them in Ned Kelly’s distinctive hand" (p. 4), were discovered among his things. These parcels turned out to be a memoir, addressed to the infant daughter whom he was never to see because his wife fled to San Francisco.

Ned was the son of poor Irish immigrants who farmed a "selection" (i.e. homestead) in the northern part of the colony of Victoria. After his father died, in order to help support her children, Ned’s mother took up with a series of dubious men, including an outlaw named Harry Power, who became the boy’s manipulative mentor. The memoir presents Ned as a goodhearted, loyal, and basically honest young man who came to blows with the law partly as a result of his bad companions, and partly through the intrinsic malice of the police.

Along with his brothers and two friends, he reluctantly becomes a bank robber, commits a few incidental murders, and ends up as a popular hero whose final capture has become part of Australian legend. The memoir shows us that the 26-year-old Ned could have escaped to America with his wife, but chose to remain in Victoria because he hoped somehow to free his mother, who was serving a jail sentence in Melbourne. The memoir also describes the origin of the famous iron armor that Ned was wearing when he was captured.

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The Fixed Period

Trollope, Anthony

Last Updated: Nov-01-2001
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

In the late 20th century, Britannula, an island near New Zealand, has achieved its independence from Great Britain. Settled by a group of young men some 30 years before the action of this novel, Britannula has developed into a prosperous land governed by a President and a single-house legislative body, the Assembly. They have adopted a great social experiment called the "Fixed Period," by which the society and its citizens will avoid the suffering, decrepitude, and expense of old age. At age 67 each person will be "deposited" into a lovely, carefree "college" (Necropolis) where he or she will spend one delightful year before being euthanized.

The story takes place just as the time approaches for Gabriel Crasweller, a wealthy landowner and good friend of President Neverbend, to be deposited. Crasweller is the first citizen to have lived out his Fixed Period, and the President, whose brainchild the Fixed Period is, experiences a conflict between his love for Crasweller--who inexplicably does not want to die--and his determination to carry out the law. Mounting resistance to the Fixed Period among the older citizens (including his wife) also surprises Neverbend, although the Assembly, composed mostly of young people, reaffirms the law. Just as Crasweller is led off to Necropolis, a British gunship arrives in port to relieve Neverbend of his duties as President and re-establish direct control of Britannula.

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