The Colgate Scene
March 1999
Table of contents
Reviews

[IMAGE] Swiss Movement
By Vaughn Carney '68, Buy Books on the web.com, Bryn Mawr, PA, 1998.

by Phillip M. Richards, associate professor of English

Vaughn Carney's Swiss Movement gives a novelistic treatment to the experience of black baby boomers, privileged by the scholarships of the '60s and '70s, to attend elite schools and to work in the privileged institutions of American life. This experience has been the stuff of autobiographies such as Lorene Cary's Black Ice and Brent Staple's Parallel Lives. Carney's realization that this experience is both material for wickedly ironic satire and romance is to his literary credit. Swiss Movement is far more pleasurable than many autobiographies spawned by Carney's subject matter.

     In the first place, the novel is a kind of Candide, taking its lower middle class black hero from the frustrations of his struggling family, through prep school, an elite college, Harvard Law School and the associate years of a prestigious law firm. The novel's frequent but wicked stereotypical characterizations only remind us that the period of the black entrance into the enclosed garden of WASP privilege coincided with that sphere's own transformation. The novel's vicious law partners, anti-semitic prep school classmates, and mixed-up mixed-race couples are believable, precisely because they capture the turmoil of the times. These satirical types are, moreover, a fitting frame for the deep dark truths of American racism, precisely because racism had then assumed such surrealist presence in the American imagination.

     The novel's second section is set against the hero's expatriation in Europe, where he discovers a half-black German woman, the romantic figure of his dreams. Angelic, wise and beautiful, Anna, like all romance figures, is a wish, a wish for an escape from the vicious pressures of racism that have driven our hero, Franklin, from America. Anna's world of expatriate Denmark and the European jazz festival at Montreux is such a fantasy as Franklin -- who knows his American black expatriate lore well -- might have imagined, taking a lonely walk around Harvard Square on Saturday night. This does not make her less enchanting; however, it makes our hero's resolution of his own racial crises slightly less credible.

     All the same, it is to this book's credit that it does not take itself too seriously. For all of the novel's protest against persisting racism, Carney provides his audience the escapes of wit, dreaming and poetic justice.

Could It Be . . . Perimenopause?
By Dr. Steven Goldstein '71 and Laurie Ashner, Little, Brown and Company, New York, 1998. 228 pp.

by Merrill L. Miller, M.D., director of Student Health Services

At this point in the world's history (age 1999) and in my personal history (age 51), I get to think about the two `M's' -- the millennium and menopause.

     The technocrats are working on the Y2K problem and the media will eventually deal philosophically with the millennium (after they finish with their constant Clinton chatter) but women should take responsibility for learning all they can about menopause, and the heretofore rarely discussed (and still controversial) perimenopause.

     Dr. Steven Goldstein '71, professor of obstetrics and gynecology at NYU Medical School, and Laurie Ashner (a Chicago-based author) have collaborated to write an easy-to-read book -- one that gives explanations and suggestions. Perimenopause is five to 15 years of transitional and fluctuating hormone levels that precedes menopause, with great variation in complaints and symptoms from woman to woman. It's "the change before the change."

     During this decade before menopause, many women experience sleep disturbances, anxiety, forgetfulness, inability to concentrate, fatigue, weight gain, mood swings and irregular cycles of bleeding. These symptoms are frequently attributed to psychological distress ("Here's some Prozac"), and other women are encouraged to have early hysterectomies ("You don't want more children, so see if this surgery helps"). Indeed, emotional stress and abnormal uteri do occur, and the authors review the many possible diagnoses, and then focus on the problems of hormonal imbalance. They go on to write about birth-control pills -- which can be called "cycle regulator pills" for those who aren't in heterosexual relationships needing contraception. They describe well the current use of low-dose pills for the treatment of perimenopause.

     Understanding that not everyone wants (or needs) to be on medications, the authors also write about lifestyle changes that can also help the symptoms.

     The book's style -- medical information followed by patient quotes followed by questions and answers -- is an easy and helpful presentation format. And despite the title (and the author's interest in the topic), this book covers much more than perimenopause. There is extensive discussion on such topics as menopause, hormone replacement therapy, herbal remedies (pros and cons), use of the Internet for information (pros and cons), and the changing world of medicine itself. Of particular note is Chapter 8, "How to Get the Most from Medical Science."

     This is a happier book than you might expect from the cover (an anguished woman's face) and gives common sense information (and some answers) as you think about several of the medical world's not-yet-solved problems. It's a simple and enjoyable read for both patients and providers as we ponder the future.

  Heart of a Wife: The Diary of a Southern Jewish Woman
By Marcus D. Rosenbaum '70, SR Books, Wilmington, DE, 1998.

by Rabbi Joan S. Friedman, Jewish chaplain

Heart of a Wife: The Diary of a Southern Jewish Woman is the diary of Helen Jacobus Apte (1886-1946), edited by her grandson, who found it while cleaning out the family home in Tampa in 1995 after his father's death. Helen's diary is a window on the vanished world of Southern Jewry, on bits of history like the sinking of the Titanic and the U.S. entry into World War I, on the changes in American culture. But it is primarily one woman's painfully human voice. For 37 years Helen confided to her diary both the ordinary details of daily life as well as her most private thoughts: doubts about her marriage, delight in her sexuality, struggles with marital fidelity, maturing love for her husband, grief at not being able to have more children, feelings of inadequacy and lack of self-worth, ideas about religion. The glimpses of the external world in here are interesting, but what kept me compulsively turning pages were the intensely personal musings that are a frank and compelling portrait of one woman.

     Throughout the diary at relevant points Rosenbaum provides short essays such as "Childbirth: A Matter of Life and Death -- and Duty," "Jewish in the South: `In Dixie Land I'll Take My Stand'" and more. These explain the more cryptic references and provide a historical framework. Rosenbaum even includes a transcript of a discussion among four physicians who read the diary and tried to diagnose Helen's medical problems.

     I'm very glad Helen's diary survived, and equally glad that I destroyed mine years ago!

Heart of the Hudson Travel Discovery Kit
Executive Editor Tom Vincent '53, Design and Graphics Editor Michael S. Vincent '90, Marketing à la Carte, Ltd., Briarcliff Manor, N.Y., 1999. 304 pp.

Father and son Tom and Mike Vincent have teamed to produce a kit -- Heart of the Hudson -- that equips travelers to "explore the intriguing villages of America's most historic river."

     The kit includes a detailed guidebook full of history, maps and insights into what is available along the river towns of Westchester County and metropolitan New York. From Peekskill (check out the world's largest ball of string) to Yonkers (don't miss the Ella Fizgerald statue) and into the City, the guide provides a wealth of information. An accompanying cassette tape makes it even easier for motorists to enjoy Sleepy Hollow, Croton, Tarrytown and Hastings completely.

     Rounding out the kit is a brochure of coupons for discounts at hotels, restaurants and attractions.


Pure Piano Portraits
CD By Jeff Bjorck '83, 1999. Total playing time 59:30.

Pianist, poet, photographer and psychologist Jeff Bjorck has composed and performed "quiet music to calm the heart in a noisy world" for Pure Piano Portraits.

     Bjorck's compositions are often inspired by nature, which he considers the embodiment of "God's ultimate artistic creativity" and range from the delicate to the intense.

     "I find this music soothing to the soul," says psychology professor Myra Smith. "On first listening, it appears to be a cross between Debussy and new age music."

     Bjorck's poetry is included in the liner notes and the CD's cover features one of his dramatic photographic mountainscapes.

     To hear selections from Jeff Bjorck's CD, visit http://www.purepiano.com.

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