Showing 91 - 100 of 877 annotations tagged with the keyword "Society"

The Book of Negroes

Hill, Lawrence

Last Updated: Jan-04-2012
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Aminata Diallo, called Meena, is born in mid-eighteenth-century Africa and leads a happy life with her Muslim parents. Her mother is a midwife and is teaching Meena her skills. But ruthless white men appear, killing her parents and imprisoning her. The eleven year-old girl is forced to march miles and miles to the sea. During the journey she makes friends with Chekura, a slightly older boy who seems to be employed by the white captors, but like Meena, has also been captured. They are kept at a fort, then herded on to ships and taken on an agonizing journey across the ocean.

Meena and Chekura are sold as slaves. They lose sight of each other and live on plantations in privation and squalor never knowing if they will be treated with kindness or cruelty. Meena is raped by an owner. She learns how to read and write English quickly (although her skill must be kept secret), and she is fascinated by maps, constantly plotting to return to Africa.

Meena and Chekura find each other and marry secretly - but soon they are separated. She has a baby girl. Her literary and midwifery skills are her salvation, and eventually she is sold to a Jewish duty inspector. He and his wife treat her well, and she and her child live in comfort, but the revolutionary war disrupts their world. Meena returns home one day to find that the Jewish couple have fled on ship to England, taking her daughter with them..."for her own good."

Meena moves to New York City, taking a room in a hotel and still intent on finding a way back to Africa. She writes the names and ages of the people clamoring to go to Nova Scotia as a reward for serving the British in the Revolutionary War: the original "book of negroes." The settlers arrive with hope and optimism, but they encounter more oppressions. Later she is lured by the attractive plan to build "Freetown" in Sierra Leone; again however, the promised resources never materialize and the fledgling community degenerates into crime and misery. Even Meena's attempt to find her original home is thwarted.

In 1802 London, as a frail elderly woman, the abolitionists treat Meena with reverence and curiosity. They encourage her to write her story, and there she finds her daughter again.

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Suite Francaise

Nemirovsky, Irene

Last Updated: Jan-03-2012
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Two novellas are brought together. In the first, “Storm in June,” a host of people flee Paris in June 1941- -as the Germans occupied the city. They gather their money and most precious belongings and leave their homes, reasoning that there will be more safety in the countryside. But everyone has the same idea. The crush results in shortages of fuel, food and accommodation that radiate in ever widening ripples around the city. Many are duped by employers or by lovers. Some are robbed and even murdered by unscrupulous fellow citizens, and new conventions of behavior and bureaucracy are forged in the stress of the situation. The fortunes of several different individuals are interwoven in short chapters to explore a wide variety of adventures--tragic, miraculous, and poignantly banal. Among the most memorable is the little saga of the Michaud’s – a couple driven out of Paris, then back – all the while anxious for news of their son at the front.

The second novella, “Dolce,” is the story of the unhappily married Lucile whose husband has gone to the front. She must bide time in the home of her austere mother-in-law, Madame Angellier, who treats her with frank hostility. They are forced to billet a German officer. Lucile soon finds that she and the German share many interests in art and music; gradually the two fall in love, although they act upon their sentiments in conversation only. The full extent of their involvement must be concealed, but the community is aware and Lucile understands the potential consequences of “sleeping with the enemy.” Her mother-in-law hates her all the more for growing close to the occupier; yet their neighbours shamelessly prevail upon her connections to obtain minor favors.

When a local Frenchman kills a German soldier for allegedly courting his wife, the uneasy calm is destabilized. Almost by default, Lucile agrees to hide the fugitive murderer in her attic in bold proximity to her German tenant. The brave act is discovered by her mother-in-law who then (wrongly) perceives Lucile’s friendship with the German as a clever plot; her hatred turns to grudging admiration. Using her influence and a lie to obtain a pass from her unsuspecting German friend, Lucile escorts the ungrateful murderer to safety in Paris. The deception drives a wedge into her new relationship. They part never to meet again as his company is transferred to another place.

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Stone's Fall

Pears, Iain

Last Updated: Jan-03-2012
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

The wealthy financier, John William Stone, is found dead beneath the window of his home, having fallen, jumped, or been pushed. The will charges his widow, Elizabeth Lady Ravenscliff, with finding Stone’s lost child. She had known nothing about this episode in his life, but she is determined to honour his wish.

The story centers on a financial mystery told in three parts that move further back in time: London 1909, Paris 1890, and Venice 1867. Each story gives a different version of Elizabeth – none refutes any of the others.

In the first part, Elizabeth is cool, superior and in charge, but her grief is genuine. She hires Matthew Braddock to look for the missing child, suggesting that he pose as a hired biographer. The writer is smitten with Elizabeth and concludes that there was no lost child.

The second part is narrated by a spy, Henry Cort. In this version, Elizabeth began as a waif who became a high-class prostitute, involved in affairs of state. Addicted to drugs, she was dangerous and selfish, but Cort never realizes that she is his sister.

The last (but earliest) part is told by Stone himself about an affair he once had in Venice and its sorry end. The last few pages draw the disparate threads together and account cleverly for all the mysteries.

 

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Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Treatise

Summary:

This is a huge and wonderful book about cancer, the collection of diseases that sickens people all over the globe and kills many of them. An epigraph to the book states, “A quarter of all American deaths, and about 15 percent of all deaths worldwide, will be attributed to cancer,” but the book also describes medical advances that now heal, prevent, or palliate most forms of cancer.

Mukherjee, a cancer physician and researcher, has several strong themes. He sees cancer as an affliction with a long history, a story worthy of a biography; indeed recent discoveries show it to be rooted in our genes (although external factors such as viruses, asbestos, and tobacco smoke can cause genetic disruption). The story of cancer implies a surrounding triangle, the stories of sick people, treating physicians, and biological researchers, all of which Mukherjee artfully weaves across 472 pages. Cancer has Rohrschach blot qualities: depending on time, place, and role in life, humans have perceived different attributes of cancer. As the book ends, however, there is a coalescence of scientific understanding that is satisfying—although there is certainly more to be learned and we are all still vulnerable to genetic errors and, of course, we are intractably mortal.

Another strand is the nature of stories themselves, their twists and turns, presumed early solutions, and personal and social values embedded in them. Mukherjee threads throughout the book the case of a contemporary kindergarten teacher, Carla Reed, who has a leukemia. He bookends his text with ancient Persian Queen Atossa with (presumably) breast cancer. Reed, healed by the end of the book, was Mukherjee’s patient; Atossa was described by Herodotus: both suffered emotional turmoil because of their disease.  Mukherjee understands the affective dimensions of disease for patients and caregivers alike; literature represents these in various ways, and he quotes in his chapter epigraphs and in his prose many writers who describe human experience deeply: Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Susan Sontag, Charles Dickens, Thomas Mann, William Carlos Williams, Carlo Levi, and Italo Calvino, to name a few.

The primary story, however, is the interplay of cancer and a large cast of observers, investigators, doctors, scientists, activists, and government officials. Sidney Farber and Mary Lasker dominate the first 100 pages with their two-decade war against cancer. While surgery—historically dramatic and disfiguring—had been a mainstay for treatment of cancer, Farber pursued a biochemical route, which elaborated into chemotherapy, the second major approach of the late 20th century.

Mukherjee also explains ancient views, Hippocrates’, Galen’s humors, Vasealius’ anatomy, Hunter’s stages, Lister’s antisepsis, and Röntgen’s X-rays, which became the third major approach. By 1980, however, the American “War on Cancer” had not been won.

Further advances in cellular biology and genetics would be needed to make targeted molecular therapy possible.  Mukherjee tells this complicated story clearly and engagingly, showing the human investigators to be personable and dogged in their pursuits.  

Another important approach is prevention. The biostatistical work of Doll and Hill, for example, showed the links between tobacco and lung cancer. Screening, such as Pap smears and mammograms, also saved lives, but the basic cellular understanding still eluded investigators.

The final 150 pages explain the search for and discovery of genetic factors, specifically oncogenes. Harold Varmus and J. Michael Bishop were the leaders, winning a Nobel Prize in 1989. Bert Vogelstein, Judah Folkman, Robert Weinberg and Douglas Hanahan took the work further, opening the doors for such drugs as Herceptin, Gleevec, and Avastin. 

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The Story of San Michele

Munthe, Axel

Last Updated: Nov-14-2011
Annotated by:
Ratzan, Richard M.

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Autobiography

Summary:

The author takes us on a highly colorful autobiographical tour of his medical career - his personal life never enters this account - from a classical medical education in Paris as a young expatriate Swede (he remains expatriate the entire book) to his internal medicine practice in France, including a tour of Naples as a volunteer during the cholera epidemic of 1881 and his finally settling in Italy. There are also anecdotes - many of them side-splitting and told with uncommon skill - about conducting a corpse back to Sweden, a truly thrilling journey to Lapland,  encounters with the legendary Charcot, his return to San Michele whence the book begins with a mythopoetic retelling of his first visit there, and his last years at San Michele as patron of a community (both local and international) and as collector and explorer of the nearby Mediterranean.        

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Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

This novel takes place during the Ice Age at a time when modern humans (Cro-Magnon) have immigrated into northern Europe and begun to interact with the Neanderthal people, who have already been successful inhabitants of Europe for perhaps 100,000 years. Within several thousand years of this fateful encounter, which took place about 35,000 years ago, the Neanderthal people had completely died out. Early mitochondrial DNA evidence indicated that modern humans are unrelated to the Neanderthal--their gene pool simply disappeared--although more recent studies show that perhaps 2 to 3% of our mitochondrial DNA was inherited from the Neanderthals, who prbably died out as a result of modern humans' greater success in competing for food and other resources.

In this scenario modern humanity originated from a version of the Biblical story of Cain and Abel, of brother "killing" brother, except in the paleontological case the younger brother was responsible for the demise of the elder. Bjorn Kurten, an eminent European paleontologist, used this novel to present his ingenious theory to explain what happened.

The story is told from the perspective of Tiger, a young black (Cro-Magnon) man whose father is killed in a raid by men from another band of blacks. Later, he devotes his life to searching for his father's killer. In the process he travels widely and encounters a band of whites (Neanderthal), a seemingly primitive form of humanity known to Tiger's folk as "trolls." The trolls have a high-pitched, bird-like language that Tiger is eventually able to learn, even though it is virtually impossible for whites (trolls) to learn the black language, because they are unable to articulate the broad range of vowel sounds it includes.

The whites are also different in that their bands are equalitarian, with women playing major leadership roles, while black tribes are strictly hierarchical and patriarchal. Tiger travels with the white band and mates with Veyde, one of its prominent members. However, one day the band is decimated by a marauding black tribe led by the warrior, Shelk.

In the story's climax Tiger carries out a scheme to infiltrate the "bad" tribe and kill Shelk, who he believes is his father's murderer. In fact, ther real murderer was Shelk's twin brother, also called Shelk. The two had used the same name to make it appear that "Shelk" could be in two places at once, thus proving he had supernatural powers. We learn that the Shelk twins had mixed black-white parentage. Children of such unions seem god-like in that they are stronger and more attractive and creative than "normal" people of either group. The "good" Shelk finally finds the white father he has been searching for all his life. And, Tiger lives happily ever after with his white mate Veyde, but their children, though strong and resourceful, will inevitably be sterile. 

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Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

Sherwin Nuland has had a distinguished career as a surgeon on the faculty at Yale University and as an author with interests in history of medicine, medical ethics, and medical humanism. In this memoir we become acquainted with a different side of Nuland, that of son to a widowed, immigrant father with whom the author had a complex and difficult relationship.

We learn also that Nuland has suffered from depression on and off since he was preadolescent, experiencing a major breakdown in midlife. This book attempts to make sense out of the family dynamics and the depression. At the same time, it describes the insular world of Russian Jewish immigrants living in New York City's Lower East Side and Bronx in the first half of the 20th century.

Nuland explores, frankly and openly, his ambivalent relationship with his father, Meyer Nudelman, and contrasting adoration of his mother, who died when Nuland was 11. The young Sherwin (Sheppy) Nudelman lived in fear of his father's strict rules and unpredictable anger. Further, Sheppy was required to assist his father whenever he went out of the house because Meyer Nudelman had an unsteady gait that made walking difficult and that became increasingly severe. Although the boy initially enjoyed these neighborhood jaunts with his father, he was increasingly resentful of them as his father's condition deteriorated and as his own interests focused more on people and activities outside the home. His father's strong Yiddish accent, strange gait, and sloppy appearance were a major embarrassment.

The last third of Lost in America--chronologically the era of World War II, the Nazi atrocities, and after--concern Nuland's maturation and his path toward the profession of medicine. As he and his brother, Harvey, were contemplating a future in the world of Gentiles, they decided to change their last name from Nudelman to Nuland. Sherwin Nuland was accepted to medical school at "Waspy" Yale and chose to enroll there, deliberately distancing himself (on the surface) from his father and his culture.

In medical school Nuland realized that Meyer Nudelman's physical symptoms were caused by late stage syphilis. The initial shock and disbelief of that discovery dissipated; Meyer's growing helplessness and tremendous pride in the accomplishment of his son allowed for a measure of understanding and affection between the two.

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Townie

Dubus III, Andre

Last Updated: Oct-13-2011
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

This memoir spins out in detail the despair and violence that emerges from a childhood of poverty and parental absence. When Dubus was preadolescent, his writer father of the same name (see Andre Dubus), took up with a student of his, and the parents divorced. Andre's mother became a social worker, working full-time with no support system, exhausted. Although Andre's father lived nearby and paid child support, it was never enough to keep the four children and their mother out of poverty. They moved frequently, always to the rough sections of depressed Massachusetts towns on or near the Merrimack River. The memoir describes vividly the smells of the polluted river; garbage strewn lawns; smoky, raucous bars; afternoons and evenings spent aimlessly watching television and, in adolescence, neighborhood kids and punks doing drugs and sex in Andre's home - before his mother arrived back from work each evening  .

At school, in bars, and around the neighborhood, kids and adults beat each other up - violence was a constant. Andre was slight and fearful but also drawn to watch the frequent fights. He avoided direct involvement when he could, was beaten up when he couldn't, and loathed himself in either case. He felt like a non-person: "There was the non-feeling that I had no body, that I had no name, no past and no future, that I simply was not. I was not here" (78). Finally, after being unable to help his brother during a fight, Andre resolved to build himself up physically--lifting barbells, bench pressing, and eventually taking boxing lessons.

Now when there was the threat of a fight, he plunged in quickly, inflicting damage. He could defend himself and those he cared about. But always there was the need for vigilance and the need - frequently actualized - to explode in rage. Later, he came to realize that being quick to jump into fights was a way "to get out what was inside him. Like pus from a wound, it was how [I] expressed what had to be expressed" (191). Gradually Andre came to think there might be other ways "to express a wound."

In the second part of the memoir, Dubus writes of how that other way evolved into creative writing. Training for physical prowess had imposed some discipline in his life, which meant being able to concentrate in school, do homework, and read. There were stints in and out of college (eventually he graduated from the University of Texas in Austin), making ends meet as a gas station attendant, construction worker, fast food manager, bartender, and later-- halfway house counselor. At the local Massachusetts college he attended for a while, he overheard himself being called a "townie." He navigated at the interface of the old neighborhood where he still lived and the life of the more privileged. He became more self-aware, more interior, and at the same time, more interested in the larger world. Threaded throughout this period is a developing relationship with his father, whose writing he admired and whose approval he craved.

In spite of the author's ambivalence toward his father - "where were you when I needed you?" (333)--one probably cannot overestimate the role that the senior Dubus played as a writer model for his son. Dubus read and admired his father's stories. He saw the discipline required to write, even though Dubus senior's weekends were often spent unwinding in bars (sometimes with the younger Dubus). Andre met his father's academic colleagues, met other writers, met writers who had stable relationships with a spouse.

He even learned that a writer can be a sports fan (Boston Red Sox), and avid sports participant (jogger). One of the most moving chapters in the book describes the first baseball game Dubus ever attended or watched - at age 13 - (with two tickets from his father), to see the Red Sox play the Yankees in Boston. Dubus went with a friend who explained the game to him as it unfolded. Dubus was stunned: "Every time one of them walked up to home plate with his bat, hundreds of men and boys would yell insults at him I couldn't quite make out, just the tone, which I knew well, but it wasn't directed at me or anyone I would have to try to protect, and I felt relieved of everything, part of something far larger than I was, just one of thousands and thousands of people united in wanting the same thing, for those men from our team to beat the men from the other team, and how strange that they did this by playing, that one beat the other by playing a game" (161-162).

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Summary:

Johanna Shapiro, Director of the Medical Humanities Program at University of California Irvine School of Medicine, brings her considerable skills and experience as medical educator, writer and literary critic to this unique volume of medical student poetry. Shapiro collected over 500 poems by medical students not only from her home institution but also from other US medical schools and performed a content and hermeneutic analysis. As Shapiro carefully details in her methodology section, she treats "poetry as a form of qualitative data, and [therefore] techniques of analysis developed for other sources of qualitative data (such as interviews, focus groups, and textual narratives) can be applied to an understanding of poetry." (p. 42)

Relying on the work of Arthur W. Frank (see The Wounded Storyteller), Shapiro devises a typology of student poems: chaos, restitution (and anti-restitution), journey, witnessing, and transcendence (this last category was not Frankian in origin). These categories are developed and explicated in Chapter 2: Functions of Writing for Medical Students. As the author notes, poems traverse the boundaries between types; nonetheless, the framework of the analysis rests with this typology. Further, Shapiro explores the metaphors of topography (illness as a foreign land) and quest (student on a heroic, however tentative or confused, journey) throughout her study.

The book contains many fully reproduced medical student poems, contextualized with academic theory on medical education. Hundreds of references, particularly in the fields of narratology and medical education, are cited. After three chapters of theory and methods, eight topics are explored using the outlined analytic tools: anatomy class, becoming a physician, patient experience, doctor-patient relationship, student-patient relationship, social and cultural issues, death and dying, love and life. Prefacing each of these topics is a scholarly essay providing historical and research foundations; every chapter concludes with a summation.

Within the chapters are examples of poems, not only organized by typology, but also by content. For instance in the patient experience chapter, the topics are: "patient pleas for empathy and compassion," "patient fears and suffering," "stigmatized voices," "vulnerability/courage of child patients," and "personal experiences of illness." Within each topic/subtopic, different poems are highlighted and fully analyzed. Additionally, other poems, not reproduced, are quoted as illustrative examples. Summary arguments are provided at the conclusion of each chapter as well as in the final chapter: "Strangers in a Strange Land: What Matters to Medical Students on Their Journey and How They Tell About It."

Although Shapiro states that her purpose "is not to address the literary and aesthetic attributes and value of the poems", she also notes "when students write authentically about their own experience, the results are uniformly moving, compelling and impossible to ignore." (pp 44-5) Indeed many of the poems are rewarding to read not only for content but also for word choice, word play, imagery and narrative line. For instance, in "Ode to the Peach" Brian McMichael explores the senses Neruda or Pollitt-like: "you invite me with / your voluptuous curves / your feminine little cleft". (p 236) Another example is the humorous, self-deprecating "Piriformis" by Curtis Nordstrom relating an early clinical experience by a medical student who hopes against hope that the patient's presenting complaint will require the student to demonstrate his acumen. Unfortunately the sum total of the student's knowledge base is limited to the location of the piriformis muscle; both the student and patient are "so screwed" when, "Alas, the patient presents with / an upper respiratory infection." (p. 16)

Shapiro's sensitivity and generosity of spirit vis-à-vis the medical student experience are evident throughout the volume. She concludes that "what may be most noteworthy about the analysis of these poems is that, amidst their own difficulties and fears, time and again these students reported engaging deeply with their patients." (p 259) She hopes that medical educators will be encouraged to support "in solidarity" the "idealism and high aspirations" expressed in these student poems. (p. 260)

In a postscript, Shapiro reveals her own experiences as a poet-patient. After noting that "[m]edical students are mostly annoyingly healthy, energetic, smart, and capable young adults who like order, structure, and control", (p 261) she also acknowledges how frequently students grapple with the topic of death and dying in their poems. That her poems emerged from advising a student creative writing group demonstrates how poetry can be renewing and vital not just to the student, but to the educator as well.

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Summary:

In the eighteenth century, Europe began to take stock of the horrific infant mortality in foundling homes and hospitals. Infant feeding and care became a major preoccupation for charities and philanthropic doctors. Some organized systems of wet nurses in the communities and institutions to provide for motherless children. 

At the same time, syphilis was becoming a serious problem in newborns. The sexually transmitted disease, which swept the continent following the voyages of Columbus, was known to affect babies born to infected mothers. Since the early sixteenth century, doctors had been convinced that mercury was of benefit.

Founded in 1724, the Vaugirard Hospital of Paris was the city’s home for orphans. By 1780 it had made room for mothers with syphilis and their children.  Sometimes the mothers died, or well-off families would abandon their sick children. Healthy wet nurses were engaged to feed these babies.

Eventually, the wet nurses were viewed as a technology—a vehicle--for administering mercury to the babies through their milk. Many of these healthy women fell ill, either from the mercury or by infection from their charges. Nevertheless, the practice continued into the nineteenth century. The wet nurses did not know (or were not told) that the children were infected. The physicians in charge of this experiment also attempted unsuccessfully to vaccinate the wet nurses against syphilis. That experiment also spread the disease.

Remarkably, some wet nurses brought suits against the doctors or the birth families. Occasionally they won damages, and finally the law was changed to offer greater protection.

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