Showing 451 - 460 of 759 Nonfiction annotations
When confirmed bachelor C. S. Lewis married Joy Davidman in 1956, it was at first a friendly marriage of convenience so that she and her sons could remain in England. By the time of her death from cancer three years later, their partnership had become one of passion, friendship and such deep love that Lewis was almost paralyzed by his loss.
In this undated journal, he documents with brief observations first the overwhelming sensations of his grief, then his rage and confusion at God. As time passes, he chronicles his return to religion and his acceptance of a new life, forever shaded by Davidman’s presence but still whole. The style and writing are beautiful but clear and accessible, and the honesty of his sentiments is clear whether or not readers have found themselves in similar situations.
Summary:Daniel Raeburn tells the story of watching the birth of his infant daughter Irene who had died in utero three days before and the weeks and months following the event, spent at the intersection of immense grieving, trying to understand why, and attempting to live in a world without his daughter.
Fowles, and many other well-known Anglo-American writers in this collection, provide marvelous personal rationales for reading: what it has meant in their lives, and most important for our discussion, how reading can work against the "atrophy of the imagination" brought on by this century’s fervor for electronic media.
This essay can be used early in Literature and Medicine courses to discuss the very different experiences of reading fiction and nonfiction, to show how their aims are opposed in many ways. According to Fowles, this includes: "learning to dream awake, against learning to absorb hard facts; almost, to be subjective, to learn to feel, to be oneself--or to be objective, become what society expects . . . . Talking about reading [fiction] is like talking about flight in a world rapidly becoming flightless; like raving about music to the deaf, or about painting to the color-blind."
Summary:In First, You Cry, an autobiography by Betty Rollin, a well-to-do television broadcaster adjusts to the loss of a breast from cancer. The author uses humor to deal with and recount her loss as well as her anger, as she slowly begins to adjust. This excerpt deals with the author’s fixation on finding the right breast prosthesis.
Note, entered 12/99: The authenticity of this account has been called into question. Legal documents and school records contradict the author’s claim of being a Holocaust survivor. The author, however, maintains that his story is true. News accounts of this controversy first appeared in Weltwoche, a Swiss publication, in an article written by author, Daniel Ganzfried, who researched Wilkomirski’s background (August 27, 1998). Among later reports are those in The Times of London (Sept. 8, 1998), and The New York Times (Nov. 3, 1998). In October, 1999 (Oct.,14, 1999 NY Times report) the German publisher, Suhrkamp Verlag, withdrew from stores all hardcover copies and Schocken Books suspended publication on November 1, 1999.
My Summary and Commentary below were written under the assumption, which appears to be false, that Fragments is a memoir, and not fiction. All indications are that Wilkomirski believes his story to be true. Readers might consider the metaphoric significance of the Holocaust in ongoing individual suffering.
Note, entered 10/01: Interestingly, in relation to my final comment of 12/99 above, a recent article places Wilkomirski’s book within the context of scholarly work on trauma, memory, and testimony. See "Beyond the Question of Authenticity: Witness and Testimony in the Fragments Controversy" by Michael Bernard-Donalis (Proceedings of the Modern Language Association, 116/5, October 2001: 1302-1315).
Note: 2/02: The recently published book, A Life in Pieces, by Blake Eskin (New York: W. W. Norton, 2002) tells the story of Wilkomirski, Fragments, and the research into Wilkomirski’s claims, and places the affair into sociohistoric context.
Subtitled "Memories of a Wartime Childhood," this Holocaust memoir unveils the memory "shards" of a childhood spent in the Nazi death camps of Poland. The author, now a musician living in Switzerland, believes himself to have been born around 1939, in Riga, Latvia. He can’t be certain because his father was shot by militia as young Binjamin watched; later he was separated from his brothers; he remembers his mother only from one brief, forbidden visit with her in Majdanek concentration camp when they were both confined there.
Because the memoir is narrated primarily in the present tense, from the perspective of a confused, frightened child, in disjointed flashbacks, the reader viscerally experiences the bewilderment, physical hardships, the viscious cruelty of the guards, the sickening realities of existence (rats, lice, beetles; standing barefoot, ankle-deep in excrement), the fear and guilt [yes, guilt!--for inadvertently betraying another child]. But there was kindness as well--the wise older child, Jankl, who taught Binjamin survival techniques; the women inmates who hid Binjamin and other children under cloths in the laundry room--for weeks on end.
Near the end of the war, camp guards deserted and the surviving inmates staggered out--Binjamin was literally dragged along, against his will, by a camp inmate who recognized him. Somehow he ended up in an orphanage in Krakow, Poland. Here, there was fear of a different kind--distrust of all adults, fear of being "discovered" as a camp survivor (to be held responsible for another child’s death, and for abandoning his mother), total unfamiliarity with the habits of "normal" life.
Wilkomirski’s memoir begins and ends in Switzerland, where he was placed in foster care. In Switzerland there are other nightmares. Spastic attempts to verbalize his experiences are ridiculed, disbelieved, squelched. Not until a high school teacher--a German who fled to Switzerland during the war--shows documentary footage of the allied liberation of Mathausen concentration camp, does Binjamin realize that HE was never liberated. "Where was I when everyone else was being freed? . . . nobody tended us . . . the way it happened in the film. Nobody ever told me that the camp was . . . finally, definitely over . . . that . . . I could go forward without fear or threat into a new time . . . Not even later."
The subtitle of this photographic essay is "The Story of a Country Doctor." Berger and Mohr give the reader an imaginative portrait of Dr. John Sassall, an English general practitioner who lives and practices in a remote rural community. The book begins with several stories of Sassall’s work with patients, gradually introducing the man himself and revealing his thoughts about his profession, his life, and the nature of healing.
Berger explores what people in the community think about this unusual doctor who has given up his chance to "get ahead" in the world in order to remain with them. They are sure he is a "good doctor," but what does that mean? How does one judge "goodness" in a physician? Berger comments in an impressionistic way on the nature of Sassall’s relationships with patients--a complex mixture of authority, fraternity, and intimacy.
The latter part of the essay expands its focus to the community as a whole and the nature of contemporary medicine. Throughout the book, Jean Mohr’s photographs serve as indispensable features of the story.
In this short excerpt [from the early section of the book, describing his birth, family, and early childhood], Brown eloquently describes his difficult birth, the hopelessness of his doctors, and the persistent love of his family, especially of his mother. He relates in detail that profound moment when, at age five, he inexplicably grabbed a piece of chalk from his sister’s hand with his left foot and, with great difficulty and incredulity, traced the letter A on a piece of slate. For the first time, his family knew for sure that his intellect was intact. And for the first time, he could start to communicate with them.
Shortly after the American Civil War, neurologist S. (Silas) Weir Mitchell became interested in a certain group of women, whom he describes as "of a class well known to every physician,--nervous women, who, as a rule, are thin and lack blood." Mitchell’s basic premise was that these women, largely between the ages of 20 and 30, have lost their vitality as a result of some form of prolonged strain--which has caused them to become thin, of insufficient blood, and unable to perform their regular duties.
In his long essay, essentially a compilation of case studies, he further characterizes these patients and outlines the treatment which he found to be unfailingly successful in returning them to normal activity. The treatment he utilized had the following essentials: seclusion and rest; massage; electric stimulation, a high-fat and high-calorie diet. His patients were not allowed to see their families, nor to read, write or otherwise strain themselves. The average duration of therapy was six weeks, usually carried out in an institution or private retreat.
Of interest is the single male who Mitchell felt met the criteria for his treatment plan. This patient, who had some (to the modern reader) lung findings suggestive of tuberculosis, allegedly was cured after three months of bed rest and frequent feedings.
Victorian critic and poet Edmund Gosse was the child of respected zoologist Philip Gosse, a minister within the Plymouth Brethren, a fundamentalist evangelical sect. This memoir of Gosse’s childhood and young adulthood details his upbringing by parents whose faith and literal approach to Scripture directed all their domestic practices.
It details the older Gosse’s agony as he struggles to reconcile his scientific vocation with his religious faith in the face of the hefty challenges posed by Chambers, Lyell and Darwin’s mid-century hypotheses about the age of the earth and the diversity of its species.
Edmund’s own agony as he realizes his inability to fulfill his parents’ expectations for him in terms of religious vocation is another significant thread. While "father and son" is the primary relationship explored, the early parts of the memoir describe Emily Gosse’s influence on her son, particularly during her illness and death from breast cancer.
Elsa Walsh profiles three women of extraordinary achievement: Meredith Vieira, "60 Minutes" television correspondent; Rachel Worby, conductor for the Wheeling Symphony Orchestra; and Alison Estabrook, chief of breast surgery at Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center in New York. Even though the women represent remarkable levels of success, the in-depth portrayals reveal enormous personal costs to each of the individuals. Their separate efforts to balance professional and personal goals often lead to irreconcilable conflicts and then to questions about burdens placed upon women who refuse to follow imposed expectations and blueprints.
Readers will sympathize with Meredith Vieira’s struggle to overcome high-risk pregnancies and retain her highly visible and highly paid position on the CBS news team. The measures established to prevent previous miscarriages and accommodate her medical needs eventually lead to friction and discord among co-workers and staff. As the following anecdote demonstrates, Meredith refuses to separate her roles as journalist and mother. When the baby is born and salary negotiations begin, Meredith brings her infant son to the Tavern on the Green lunch meeting so that she can nurse the baby on demand. The executives are flabbergasted by her behavior and by her announcement that she intends to become pregnant again.
Rachel Worby’s story concerns the tensions between an artist’s work, milieu, and spirit and those associated with the widowed Governor of West Virginia, the man she agrees to marry. Both are accomplished, he is rich, and the love between them is healthy and strong.
Nevertheless, the worlds they occupy impose divisive expectations. She does not conform to the assumed role of Governor’s wife; it is both difficult and impossible to regulate her bombastic and vivacious personality and style.
The final story centers on Alison Estabrook as she struggles to become the chief of breast surgery in a professional world seemingly intent on placing unacceptable barriers in her way. Readers will anguish over this infuriating account of suppression by a patriarchal system.