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review 2018-04-06 23:44
Water monsters and other beasts in the prewar Okanagan
Our Animal Hearts - Dania Tomlinson

Disclaimer: I won a copy of this book via the Goodreads Giveaways program.

 

I generally find literary novels to be a challenge to review/rate because they often aren't the sort of thing that you 'like'. They're not asking to be liked or to provide entertainment in the same way genre fiction does. So when I say I didn't like this book, that's not meant as a criticism, exactly. It was an engaging, well-written piece of fiction and an excellent debut.

Iris is a preteen of British descent living in the Okanagan around the turn of the last century. Her working-class Welsh mother prefers to be called by her first name, drifts around their fanciful house with her pet peacock generally defying propriety, and tells alarming legends or fairy stories. Her father is upper-class English and generally absent. Iris's mother may be a seer, a character from legend, a madwoman, an abusive parent, an epileptic, an abused child, unfaithful, or a mother of monsters. Iris is her mother's daughter and lives in her mother's world of magic and monsters. It is not a kind world.

 

I would have enjoyed more emphasis on the supernatural elements, and less of the dark heart of man, but that's not the sort of book this is. It reminded me of Gone With The Wind - selfishness, pettiness, jealousy, cruelty and a lack of taking responsibility for one's actions wrapped up in a story about coming of age as your world falls to the violence and loss of wartime. This is not a book about the redemptive power of stories. It is not a story about using magic to escape or defeat darkness.

 

However, there is much to like. The setting - a tiny lakefront settlement in the Okanagan in the early 1900s - is tangible, rich, earthy and otherworldly by turns and all at once. I appreciated the nuanced portrayal of diverse communities, both their existence and the challenges they faced. I hadn't previously been aware of a significant Japenese community in the Okanagan working the orchards, and while the book doesn't quite cover both wars, it does stretch up to the Japanese internment tragedy. The First Nations community exist mostly as ghosts or a marginal presence, quite literally unseen or half-seen at the edges of things, and the tension between British-descent Canadians and immigrants, and other white (specifically Eastern-European) immigrants and their children was also handled well. Supernatural elements similarly feature a blending of influences, most strongly in the water monster in the lake, who is referred to by Welsh, First Nations, and Japanese terms.

 

This story is both beautiful - ethereal, intricate, magical - and horrific in its portrayal of humanity. Its excellent quality, historical detail, imaginative format, and philosophical positioning will likely make it a polarizing read, with both fervent fans and those who won't appreciate its uniqueness. I wouldn't be surprised to see it shortlisted in more than a few of next year's literary prizes.

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text 2017-10-19 04:56
Epilepsy Care Group Singapore Awareness Association: More patients cope with diagnosis of epilepsy

 

As he was growing up, Paul Shaffer sometimes froze in his tracks and felt like he was walking away from his body.

 

He did not tell anyone about the sensation, which usually passed quickly: “Who would believe me?”

 

It was not until he was in his 20s and convulsions knocked him out of his chair at work that a doctor told him he had epilepsy and he was having seizures. Still Shaffer, now 54, did not do anything about it until years later when he crashed his car and his wife insisted on a proper assessment and treatment.

 

It’s not uncommon for epilepsy to go undiagnosed and untreated for years. Doctors don’t always recognize it or don’t want to label the condition. Because it can be stigmatized, patients don’t always accept the diagnosis, even as the condition wreaks havoc on their lives.

 

But researchers are discovering that epilepsy affects far more people than ever thought. About 3.4 million Americans, including about 59,900 Marylanders, had epilepsy in 2015 - a 25 percent jump in about five years, according to a report released this month by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

 

While the CDC could not fully explain the rise in cases, attributing it partly to population growth, officials at the Epilepsy Foundation and others say there is no doubt that the numbers reflect a far more thorough accounting of people with the condition.

 

“We don’t have the equivalence of a pregnancy test, a yes or no,” said Dr. Jennifer Hopp, a neurologist at the University of Maryland Medical Center who leads the center where Shaffer is being treated. “There is a comprehensive evaluation that needs to be done. And every patient is a little different.”

 

Epilepsy is a brain disorder that causes any kind of seizure, from convulsions to staring to confused behavior. The condition can stem from strokes, head injuries, infections or genetic mutations, and is diagnosed when someone has two unprovoked seizures or one seizure but is likely to have more.

 

Seizures often frighten sufferers and people who witness them, perpetuating the stigma, said Patricia Osborne Shafer, the Epilepsy Foundation’s senior director of health information and resources and epilepsy clinical nurse specialist in Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center’s Comprehensive Epilepsy Center in Boston.

 

“People fear the word epilepsy,” said Shafer, who did not know until college that she had the condition because doctors only told her she had a seizure disorder, perhaps cutting her off from resources that were available. “This feeds into why people may not know or haven’t been told they have it.”

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