Showing 481 - 490 of 786 Nonfiction annotations

First, You Cry, excerpt from

Rollin, Betty

Last Updated: Aug-21-2006
Annotated by:
Squier, Harriet

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Autobiography

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.

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Fragments

Wilkomirski, Binjamin

Last Updated: Aug-21-2006
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

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.

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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."

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A Fortunate Man

Berger, John; Mohr, Jean

Last Updated: Aug-21-2006
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Essay

Summary:

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.

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My Left Foot, excerpt from

Brown, Christy

Last Updated: Aug-21-2006
Annotated by:
Squier, Harriet

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Autobiography

Summary:

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.

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Summary:

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.

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Father and Son

Gosse, Edmund

Last Updated: Aug-21-2006
Annotated by:
Holmes, Martha Stoddard

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

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.

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Summary:

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.

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Annotated by:
Belling, Catherine

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

The work consists of twenty-three devotions, each in three parts--a meditation, an expostulation, and a prayer--recording and exploring Donne’s experience of illness (probably typhus). The work traces the disease’s course and treatment, beginning in the first devotion with the first signs of illness, moving through the patient’s taking to bed and sending for physicians, their prescribing and carrying out various treatments, and a worsening of symptoms followed by the crisis where, in Devotion 17, the patient prepares himself for death. He then begins to recover, the physicians purge him, and, like Lazarus, he rises from his bed. The physicians then try to correct the cause of the disease in him, and, in the final devotion, warn the patient that a relapse is not out of the question.

Donne explores the spiritual implications of each stage of his illness, using the experience of his body to provoke reflections on the health of the soul. For instance, in the first devotion he asks why sin, unlike physical sickness, does not show early signs which might enable one to get treatment in time. Donne uses the arrival of the physicians to explore Christ’s role as physician to the soul, and the spots which appear on his body to meditate on Christ as the unspotted carrier of human stains.

Anticipating death, he considers the relationship of soul and body, seeing the body’s death as the cure of the disease. He then sees the physicians as God’s instruments in curing his body and miraculously raising him from illness. Finally, he argues that the root of all illness is internal, lying in the sin which infects his soul, and that therefore he must work constantly to prevent the relapse which continues to threaten.

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The Endless Search: A Memoir

Ray, David

Last Updated: Aug-17-2006
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

In this memoir the poet David Ray describes his troubled childhood and adolescence. Born into a poverty-stricken Oklahoma family, David and his sister lived in a succession of foster homes, after his abusive father walked out and his mother, a needy and often preoccupied woman, found it difficult to care for them. As an adolescent, David was sent to live in Arizona with John Warner, a war veteran who became his "guardian."

From the beginning, Warner sexually abused the troubled adolescent, who spent several years attempting, ineffectually, to escape from his abuser. After graduating from high school in Tucson, Ray accepted a scholarship to the University of Chicago, much against the wishes of his mother, who appeared occasionally in the picture, as well as those of Warner. In Chicago Ray finally freed himself from the abusive pattern.

The memoir provides a heartrending portrait of a succession of dysfunctional relationships, in most of which Ray, or his sister Ellen, emerge as victims or scapegoats. One of these is an intense experience with a sadistic writing instructor named Lowney Handy, who ran a writers’ colony in Illinois, and who may (or may not) have tried to murder David Ray. The book ends with a tension-filled reunion in 1966 between Ray and his biological father, after the young man had successfully completed graduate school and begun his career as a poet and teacher. The old man was just as hurtful as ever, and, reflecting on that last visit and his relationship with his father, Ray recalls some lines from Rilke: it was "so cloudy that I cannot understand / this figure as it fades into the background."

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Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

This remarkable book takes the reader into a Dutch nursing home where many of the 300 patients are terminally ill. The main protagonist is Anton, a competent, tough, and compassionate physician who tries to discover some meaning in the suffering of his patients, while at the same time disavowing any such meaning. Anton’s colleagues include Jaarsma, a somewhat detached and bureaucratic older physician, and Van Gooyer, a young physician who still believes that science has all the answers.

The first-person narrative consists of short, punchy segments (almost like an endless series of discrete physician-patient interactions) detailing the stories of Anton’s patients and his reactions to them. Many of these persons request assisted suicide or euthanasia. Anton reveals what he feels about these requests, how he goes about judging their validity, and the manner in which he actually carries out assisted deaths. A strong spiritual theme permeates the book; while Anton denies the relevance of God and religion, he seems constantly to be searching for a spirituality that "makes sense" of contemporary life.

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