Showing 91 - 100 of 360 annotations tagged with the keyword "Catastrophe"

Annotated by:
Schilling, Carol

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

In Dirty Details, Marion Deutsche Cohen writes about the unrelenting labor entailed in caring for her husband Jeffrey at home as multiple sclerosis turns his symptoms from "mere inconveniences" (11) to extraordinary demands, which can disturb her sleep as frequently as twenty times a night.  The premise of her unsparing narrative is that "we have got to spill the dirty details" (26) of such arrangements before the endurance-draining responsibilities of home care such as hers can be understood and redressed.  In a culture that favors narratives of seemingly heroic individual effort, Cohen's brutally forthright descriptions of the effects of Jeff's needs on her life can be mistaken for a self-pitying complaint, rather than an urgent, revelatory, political call to action.  Like her husband, a well-published physicist at the University of Pennsylvania when diagnosed with MS at age 36 in 1977, Cohen is an accomplished professional.  With a PhD in mathematics, Cohen teaches college students as well as publishes poetry and prose.  She and her husband also shared, with increasing asymmetry, the parenting of their four children.                 

Cohen captures the wearying routine of her days in her narrative's echoing refrain, "nights, lifting, and toilet."   The nights refer to Cohen's dangerously disrupted sleep.  Her husband's respirator can sound every half hour or so, inciting her to worry "about the psychological effects of seldom being allowed to finish my dreams" (23).  (When she asks if the machine can be fixed, she's told that it's supposed to behave that way.  By implication, so is she, despite the toll on her well-being.)  Yet she daily rallies the strength to lift her husband on and off the toilet, a feat, among others, that sometimes defied the powers of several hospital nurses working together.   Toilet also means responding to Jeffrey's regular calls to her to drop what she's doing, run upstairs, and bring him a jar.  The jar at least relieves her from lifting.  She experiences only intermittent relief, however, from finding and keeping home health aides who are able to show up reliably and behave civilly during the few hours per day they can be funded.  What results from these tests of human stamina, Cohen tells us, is not "ordinary stress" that some optimistically believe can be managed by taking stress reduction workshops, but rather "dire straits."  "Calling dire straits stress," she corrects, "undermines well spouses and makes us feel alienated and confused about where we stand" (32). 

It's that standing in the broadest sense of the word that Cohen's book most searingly addresses.  While Dirty Details contains one woman's account of caring for a disabled husband at home, the book's wider purpose is to make the labor of family caregivers visible with all its strains, conflicts, messiness, failures, anger, and, at times, humor.   As the straights become increasingly dire, though, Cohen writes about what happens to love as she moves from sustaining tenderness, candor, and their physical intimacy to diminishing her compassion for Jeff and saving herself:  a "pure survival instinct" (87).   After sixteen years in his family's care, Jeff at first reluctantly enters Inglis House, a residence that provides as much independence as possible for those who cannot live independently, where he continues to write and publish.  Cohen's professional life, social life, and beloved parenting once again flourish.  The story she is freed to write (illustrated with photographs by Anna Moon taken with Jeff's consent) lead readers away from her particular circumstances toward a comprehensive interrogation of social and medical systems that operate by leaving the most chronically ill and disabled citizens in their families' care by default.   And leave the families in dire straits.

View full annotation

The Ninth Life of Louis Drax

Jensen, Liz

Last Updated: Nov-19-2009
Annotated by:
Ratzan, Richard M.

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Louis Drax is a nine-year-old boy living in France with his stay at home mother and Air France pilot father. Such an apparently normal family description is the merest tissue of appearances. The father is probably an alcoholic and unfaithful; the son is "accident-prone" (a nearly fatal episode of SIDS at two weeks of age, a near fatal electrocution at age 6 after falling on the tracks of the métro in Lyon; salmonella, tetanus, botulism, meningitis, etc. [or, as Louis is fond of saying, "blah, blah, blah."]) and the mother has issues that only emerge as one becomes more deeply involved in what is a mystery story.

Like Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s A Chronicle of a Death Foretold, or Janet Lewis’s superb The Trial of Søren Qvist, one knows the ending early on (page 16 in Louis Drax), but not the details. The why and the how are the stuff of the novelist’s art in all three books.

With premonition of more danger, Louis goes on a family picnic (see below for the author’s biographical basis for this tale) and winds up at the bottom of a ravine, dead. Drowned and dead. A few hours later, in the morgue, he is found to be alive. Comatose and in a persistent vegetative state but alive. He is therefore transferred to the care of a neurologist specializing in comatose patients at the Clinique de l’Horizon (formerly l’Hôpital des Incurables).

It is here that the mystery unfolds. The questions are: How did Louis end up at the bottom of the ravine? Did his father, now missing, push him as his distraught mother alleges? What role does the clearly neurotic mother play in this tragedy? And who exactly is Louis Drax? Lastly, how do the mysterious letters allegedly from him, written while still in a coma, come to be?

View full annotation

The Oath

Baiev, Khassan

Last Updated: Nov-15-2009
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

Baiev’s chronicle of medical life in wartime is full of incident—tragic, touching, and repeatedly traumatic:  his own life was threatened repeatedly by Russians who suspected him and Chechens who resented him for treating Russians.  Members of his extended family were killed and his father’s home was destroyed.  He straddled other boundaries:  trained in Russia, he fully appreciated how modern medicine may bring relief not available even in the hands of the most respected traditional healers, but he mentions traditional ways with the reverence of a good son of devout Muslims.  His perspective is both thoughtfully nationalistic and international.

Finally coming to the States where he couldn’t at first practice the medicine he had honed to exceptional versatility under fire, he lives with a mix of gratitude for the privilege of safety and a longing for the people he served, whose suffering was his daily work for years that might for most of us have seemed nearly unlivable.  Before writing the book, he struggled with his own post-traumatic stress, and continues to testify to the futility of force as a way of settling disputes.  Medicine is his diplomacy as well as his gift to his own people, and the Hippocratic Oath a commitment that sustained him in the midst of ethical complexities unlike any one would be likely to face in peacetime practice.

 

View full annotation

The Pastures of Heaven

Steinbeck, John

Last Updated: Nov-07-2009
Annotated by:
Henderson, Schuyler

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

One of Steinbeck's earliest published works, The Pastures of Heaven is a collection of stories about the inhabitants of a fertile valley in California, beginning with the Spanish corporal who first stumbles across the "long valley floored with green pasturage on which a herd of deer browsed" and concluding with the families living there during the first stages of the great depression.  Most of the stories take place in 1928-1929, although many are rooted in flashbacks and narratives that span the generations before.  

The novel consists of short stories that describe particular times and places within the valley, and collectively form multiple different perspectives on life there; they are linked by the valley but also by the relationships between the families, and in particular, the Munroes, whose pleasant, mild appearance in almost every story heralds disaster.

View full annotation

Annotated by:
Henderson, Schuyler

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

Lance Clayton (Robin Williams) is an unsuccessful writer, receiving only a slew of rejections with every new novel he sends out.  He teaches poetry to a small class of uninspired students (who try to use song lyrics they think he won't recognise in place of their own homework), and the principal is threatening to end the class.  In addition, he is in a relationship with the art teacher (Alexie Gilmore) who has also caught the eye of a charismatic young writer and fellow teacher (Henry Simmons) who just published his first story in the New Yorker.  Most disconcerting of all, his son (Daryl Sabara) is an unpopular, crude, lascivious teenager who seems to take little pleasure in being rude and mean to other people, but less pleasure in anything else.  Except, perhaps, masturbation and auto-erotic asphyxiation.

View full annotation

Annotated by:
Nixon, Lois LaCivita

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

Not quite the familiar home-for-the-holidays genre of a dysfunctional family, this one has a twist.   April is a late-teen "problem" daughter who has run away to New York City where she lives with her boyfriend, Bobby (Derek Luke).  April, played by a grungy, pigtailed, and probably tattooed Katie Holmes, has invited her parents, siblings, and grandmother to Thanksgiving dinner.  This reunion, we gather, is the first since April left home.  The family is coming to her lower East Side tenement, a situation that bristles with possibilities.  

Moving back and forth from April's low rent apartment to tension in the crowded car as it moves from a scenic suburb to cityscape, viewers are able to watch both April's unskilled efforts as she struggles with the slippery turkey, a can of cranberry sauce, crepe paper decorations, a broken oven, etc. and an inexplicable drama slowly unfolding in the crowded car.  In spite of crisis situations in both settings, the separate family members do get together for a dinner that neither could have planned. 

View full annotation

The Ghetto

Bak, Samuel

Last Updated: Jul-18-2009
Annotated by:
Bertman, Sandra

Primary Category: Visual Arts / Painting/Drawing

Genre: Oil on canvas

Summary:

A tightly walled cube-shaped block of buildings seemingly made of child’s building blocks looms in the midst of a barren foreground of stony rubble and a background of hazy nondescript sky. No sign of life, human or vegetation, anywhere. Entirely in shades of muted yellow, orange, ochre and brown, coloring suggestive of a crematorium, the canvas reeks of desolation.The only window into the tomb-like image, seen from above, is a carved cut-out star of David through which can be glimpsed a more detailed view of the abandoned ghetto. Barely visible, a pale yellow cloth remnant of the star of David stitched to their clothes to identify Jews sits atop one of the rooftop slates.

View full annotation

Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

In the 1527 sack of Rome, undiscplined troops of the Holy Roman Emperor rape, pillage, and destroy. The beautiful couresan Fiammetta Bianchini opens her house to the marauders, inviting them inside for food and comfort. The act gives her household a moment’s reprieve. Her golden tresses savagely shorn, she swallows her jewels and escapes north to her native Venice in the company of her servant and companion, the dwarf, Bucino Teodoldi.

Arriving with almost nothing, they set about establishing a reputation and securing backers. The small company is helped by Fiammetta’s friend and admirer the satirist and poet, Pietro Aretino. Her portrait is painted by his friend, Titian.

Clever and loyal to a fault, Bucino frets over finances and willingly engages in subterfuges that mesmerize their audiences. Fiammetta accepts the attentions of tedious but wealthy admirers in exchange for a house and status. She comes to rely on a blind woman healer, called La Draga who supplies medicine and cosmetics. Bucino is suspicious and jealous, but he tolerates the competition grudingly. He too has many ailments, including headaches and arthritis, because of his deformity.

Suspense swirls around a banned book, a Jewish shopkeeper, and La Draga’s mysterious origins in the glass-making town of Murano.

View full annotation

Summary:

Born in 1921 in Belarus (White Russia), the author lost his father (a doctor) as a baby and was raised by his mother who worked as a surgical nurse and midwife. He excelled in school and was on the verge of entering medical school, but the political upheaval of World War II drew him away from studies.
 
Drafted to serve in the Polish army, the eighteen year-old became a sergeant in charge of a platoon by June 1939 fighting against Germany along its border with Poland. Three months later he was captured and imprisoned in cruel conditions. By November, he escaped and began a long walk home, helped by strangers, only to find that the Soviets had taken over. Arrested again, this time for being anti-Communist, he spent January to June 1941 in a Soviet prison, and narrowly avoided execution when the Russians retreated at the German invasion of Minsk. Another return home was met with the tragic news that his mother had been killed when German bombs hit the hospital in which she worked.

Enraged by the succession of destructive invaders, Ragula helped create a nationalist freedom army, the Eskradon, ironically with German support, and a Bulletin to inform citizens and lobby for better conditions. By the time World War II drew to an end he was married to Ludmila (in 1944) and on the move, seeking a medical education.

As refugees, the couple moved to Marburg, Germany in 1945, where Ragula began medical school. But money was always a problem and the post-war restructuring of Europe made them fearful. Hearing of a program for refugees in Louvain, Boris entered Belgium illegally in 1949 and finally completed his medical degree in 1951 at age thirty-one. In 1954, the couple settled in the medium-sized town of London Ontario, Canada. There Ragula interned and set up a family practice. He and Ludmila raised their family of four in peaceful security that contrasted starkly with their own upbringing.

Precocious in promoting health, Ragula campaigned tirelessly against smoking, inactivity, and overeating, and he worked in aboriginal communities, convinced that a doctor's role was to prevent disease as much as it was to treat it.  Here too he found enemies and friends.
 
In 1963, Ragula was involved in a non-related kidney donation between patients-a selfless act that touched him deeply. For him, it represented the pinnacle of scientific achievement and epitomized how humans should care for one another.

View full annotation

Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

Twenty-one stanzas of couplets spin out stereotypes of Native Americans promulgated by white American culture.  Among those stereotypes that Alexie develops: the tragic Indian; Indian women as sexual objects for white men; Indian men as secretly desirable to white women; Indians as violent, alcoholic, childlike, mystical, and members of a "horse culture."  But in addition, Alexie emphasizes how American whites have co-opted Indian culture: "white people must carry an Indian deep inside themselves" until finally, "all of the white people will be Indians and all of the Indians will be ghosts."

View full annotation