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Tutor profile: Elena S.

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Elena S.
Reference and archives librarian
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Questions

Subject: French

TutorMe
Question:

Please describe when one should use the composed past (le passe compose) versus the imperfect (l'imparfait) tense in the French language.

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Elena S.
Answer:

Use le passe compose to discuss actions completed at a specific moment in the past, or repeated actions or a series of actions in the past. The use of l'imparfait is a bit more complicated. It is used when describing habitual actions, descriptions, wishes, or actions of unknown duration, all occurring in the past. L'imparfait should also be used to discuss past states of mind or emotions, wishes, and in si clauses. Additionally, it is used to describe actions that happened simultaneously to another event, both happening in the past.

Subject: Library and Information Science

TutorMe
Question:

Why are books in a library arranged on the shelves in their particular way?

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Elena S.
Answer:

Libraries generally arrange books on their shelves according to standardized classification systems, usually, but not always, according to the Dewey Decimal System or the Library of Congress Classification System. In these systems, major subjects are translated into alpha-numeric codes. This facilitates the grouping books of similar subjects close together. Let's say that a researcher finds the record of a book that interests them in the library catalog. When they go to the shelves find the physical book, they are likely to find more books that they'll like by looking a little to the left or a little to the right of the book for which they were originally searching. Serendipity!

Subject: Literature

TutorMe
Question:

Why do you think Barbara Kingsolver chose the title "The Lacuna" for her 2009 novel?

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Elena S.
Answer:

One of the most compelling themes of this book is that what’s most important about a person is what you don’t know about him. At first these unknowns add to main character Harrison Shepherd’s allure and appeal. Later in the book, his blanks are filled in with perversions and untruths that devastate every part of his already agoraphobic life. Lacunae feature prominently in this story, both literally and figuratively. Shepherd would dive into a lacuna between rocks in the sea for respite during his childhood in Mexico. The life Shepherd presents to the public is filled with lacunae. A journal kept during his young adulthood conveniently goes missing, a convenient excuse to avoid writing his memoirs, despite his beloved Mrs. Brown’s insistence that he do so anyway. This book is a critique of the media. Newspaper and radio reports feed off of themselves, repeating and sensationalizing, filling in any lacunae with unverified facts until they become “truth.” This is reminiscent of the image in the book’s opening paragraphs. Shepherd and his mother cringe in fear of the sound of the howler monkeys’ dawn vocalizations outside the hacienda where they first lived in Mexico. One howler would set off the next. Even after it was explained to them that the monkeys were establishing their hunting territories, boy and mother remain uneasy. “Their food might be us, mother and son agreed. You had better write all this in your notebook… So when nothing is left of us but bones, someone will know where we went.” Ironically, American newspapers and radio may only howl within a very limited range. The last third of the book takes place during the Red Scare and the time of McCarthy’s ominous Un-American Activities Committee. A narrow line separated “appropriate” expression from accusations of Communism. This line is especially narrow in the art world. Such a myopic point of view angers Violet Brown. She argues that it is as if the powers that be believe America to be finished and perfect. Any hints that it could be improved or suggestions for progress are considered un-American. Any appreciation of different ideologies, behaviors or cultures is anti-American, therefore Communist, and therefore cause for investigation and legal persecution. This monster of an idea sometimes still rears its ugly head today. Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera and their friend Lev Trotsky are major characters in this novel. The Riveras were Communist supporters, which didn’t effect them too much in Mexico, but did determine how and if their work was viewed in the United States. Vivacious, vibrant, and often ill, Kahlo presents one of the novel’s most thought-provoking ideas: that the ancient Aztecs seem heroic to us moderns because they didn’t have written language. We don’t have any accounts of their quotidian struggles. All they left were their grand monuments, so we believe the people themselves to be monumental; an example of the lacuna working in a culture’s favor.

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