The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks takes a Google Earth's perspective at the woman responsible for giving science the first human immortal cell lineThe Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks takes a Google Earth's perspective at the woman responsible for giving science the first human immortal cell line. For analogy's sake, imagine a cell is...say...the country of Portugal. Why Portugal, you ask? No reason, other than it's something you probably know a little bit about, like maybe how you think about a cell, but you haven't really bothered exploring much further. Now, imagine you had the power to zoom out of Portugal, understanding its relation to its neighboring countries in Europe. Zoom out a little further and, wow, now you see where it fits in with the Middle East, Africa, how it borders the Atlantic Ocean and how those colonists might have made their way to Brazil. In short, you see the part Portugal plays in the world.
Next, zoom in. Zoom in to see the mountains and valleys, its rivers and inlets, cities and even hospital locations (so easily spotted with their red crosses). It looks like a really interesting country that I'd like to visit.
Huh. You're probably thinking, "That's a lot of information about Portugal for a book about Henrietta Lacks." You're right. It was totally unnecessary to include such a long-winded and not very interesting analogy, but that's what I thought about when I considered the angle Skloot took when deciding how to tell Henrietta Lacks's story. To begin with, all she had was the name of a cell line she heard while attending a community college biology class: HeLa. Her professor briefly mentions that HeLa stands for (He)nrietta (La)cks and Skloot wonders, "Who is she?" Years and years worth of research later, she zooms out to answer that very question.
Henrietta Lacks was a poor and uneducated African American woman who happened to have an extremely aggressive form of cervical cancer in her thirties. During a treatment session at the famed Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, her doctor removed a sample of tissue from her cancerous tumor and gave it to a scientist working on establishing the first human immortal cell line, or a cell line that continues to divide indefinitely. This was done without Lack's knowledge and without her consent. She died less than a year later but her cells continue to live today. The story about what happened to her family when they discovered that their mother's cells had become famous twenty years later, as well as what advances in science have come about because of these immortal cells is fascinating.
Most of the book's point of view is written while zoomed out and is easily understood. The family's plight and general information about vaccines, gene therapy and other scientific discoveries are all written with human interest details and never get bogged down with boring histories or complicated procedures.
Occasionally, Skloot zooms in specifically on the HeLa cell and when she does, the microbiologist in me was fascinated. I worked for two years in a diagnostic virology laboratory and one of my duties was to regularly make more tissue for culture. Without any real thought, I'd take my bottles of culture, go into a sterile room, and perform each necessary step to take living cells and divide them into eight more bottles. Not once did I wonder where these cells had come from. Now, years later, I'm wondering. Were they HeLa cells? This is the part of the book I'm not sure is as easily digestible as the rest, but I find the cell and its parts an absolute wonder. I loved reading about what made Henrietta's cervical cells so virile and how that virility has caused havoc throughout the science community. I loved every single detail about its rapid mitosis and self-generating telomeres. I think Skloot's journalistic style to bring cell biology to the masses is commendable.
In the end, I think this book addresses the real Machiavellian issue when it comes to science. Do the ends of scientific discovery justify the means? The world has made innumerable advances to understanding our bodies and every single one of us has somehow benefited, in one way or another, to having HeLa cells available to study. But, as the author points out by referencing the historical Tuskegee Syphilis studies and the atrocities committed by Nazi's to Jews at Nuremberg, human rights should trump science. Whether or not that line was crossed in regards to Henrietta's story and the family she left behind, is what would make this a really great book to discuss with others....more
I would have loved it had there been a bit more nuance to these characters. The angst. conflict and motivation to make the decisions they made and beI would have loved it had there been a bit more nuance to these characters. The angst. conflict and motivation to make the decisions they made and be the kind of mother/father/sister/brother they were was well developed but only their most lonely, most embarrassing, most traumatic moments were written. Enough time passed with reflection and memory that there had to be some good mixed in to survive that long...to love that much. I was told by the author that Lydia loved her mother, that Marilyn loved James, that Nath loved Lydia but why? Were they ever funny or a good listener? What made them so loyal to each other for so long in spite of the dysfunction and lack of healthy communication
This is such a sad book but also very thought provoking. I thought about the expectations I place upon my own children, both verbal and non-verbal and wondered if it's too much. Not enough. What are the things they have never told me? ...more
Mediocre mystery/romance. No suspense, and no sense of danger. Just purposely withheld information that sort of fills in holes at the end. Plus, thereMediocre mystery/romance. No suspense, and no sense of danger. Just purposely withheld information that sort of fills in holes at the end. Plus, there is a lot of whacky psychology like psychics, extreme family dysfunction and unrealistic brain trauma. Easy read, though, which is all I've been able to handle. ...more
When Goodreads posted the nominees for all of its "Best of 2015" categories, I was shocked and dismayed that I hadn't read any of the books listed inWhen Goodreads posted the nominees for all of its "Best of 2015" categories, I was shocked and dismayed that I hadn't read any of the books listed in literature and fiction. Because when people ask what kind of books I like to read, I tell them, "Fiction and literature." I promptly got online and reserved every nominated book from my library and The Royal We was the first to come to my hold shelf.
First of all, this is a pretty fluffy piece of fiction and literature. I know this because I have been unable to read anything with even a hint of seriousness or depth for months and I breezed through this. As the famous wedding kiss cover suggests, The Royal We is about a handsome and dutiful prince falling in love with a pretty commoner at college. I know. It sounds like a Disney movie. But, the writing is WAY above disney level and the characters are so much more than a Hillary Duff/Zac Efron (I don't think this Disney romance exists but you know what I mean) ensemble. Although the story line is not likely to be discussed by many English Lit classes anytime soon, it does have merit. It could happen. Ummm...it did happen?
So, this is when I need to confess that I am a hypocrite. Once it was clear that this was a fictionalized version of the Prince William/Kate Middleton relationship, I had to pause and reflect about why I was enjoying it so much. Because I kind of condemned another book that did a similar thing. I reviewed American Wife by Curtis Sittenfield 7 years ago and blasted the author for taking such license with obviously recognizable characters: George and Laura Bush. I'm not particular fans of the Bushes but it seemed unfair at best and libelous at worst to write characters that were clearly recognizable figures, write salacious details about their relationship and lifestyle and then say, "No foul! It's all fiction!"
I had no such reaction to The Royal We. Maybe the details were less scandalous, or perhaps the ocean that separates us desensitized me from their right to privacy and truth that much more but I thought this was a fun, thoughtful book. It's better than chick-lit because the writing is good and the characters and their choices are more complicated and nuanced but it's still something that could easily and happily be read on a beach. As glamorous and famous as the royal couple are, I sure don't envy them their lives. Even if it's only fiction, Cocks highlighted in her book just how tiresome and confusing it would be to be in a relationship with royalty. She had a picture perfect couple for inspiration and writes about a real couple, and not the oft-told fairytale. It would never get my vote for best fiction but it's an enjoyable book. ...more
I really like this series. The cases are dark and disturbing but Cormoran and Robin are such interesting characters that I want more of them. Wish I dI really like this series. The cases are dark and disturbing but Cormoran and Robin are such interesting characters that I want more of them. Wish I didn't have to wait a year for the next book....more
As a lover of fiction, I am quite fascinated by the length of time and distance required to produce compelling perspectives of historical events in aAs a lover of fiction, I am quite fascinated by the length of time and distance required to produce compelling perspectives of historical events in a story driven format. I remember reading Suite Francaise years ago and being flabbergasted and impressed that the author was able to write THAT while simultaneously experiencing it. I think it would be incredibly difficult to be reasonable and write with structure instead of pure emotion. It seems that kind of immediate access to fiction is more rare.
Perhaps 20-25 years is a good length of time because Girl at War nails what I appreciate about fiction. I grew up looking at maps that included a country called Yugoslavia. During the 1990s, when then news reported horrors of ethnic cleansing and genocide during The Yugoslavian War, or the breakup of Yugoslavia into Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Slovenia, Kosovo, and Sprska, it all seemed too difficult to follow. Why were these people killing each other? Sara Novic doesn't use her novel to explain the whys but her protagonist, Ana, and her quiet suffering led me to search out more. Even after a bit of research, it is incredibly difficult to grasp that so much prejudice, cruelty and hate can exist within such a small border.
But, I digress. Girl at War really is about a girl who lived through a war. It might seem insensitive of me to write this, but at the conclusion of this novel, I found myself thinking, "Ana only experienced a few weeks of terror and confusion at 10 years old and her life was still so messed up." I won't spoil the plot about those horrible weeks but she was loved by many before and after and it was frighting to think about how much damage fear and violence can inflict upon our psyches. I think about the millions of boys and girls who lives currently are surrounded by war and wonder how they will cope? What are we doing to each other? Considering the current refuge crisis as a result of civil wars in Syria, the seemingly never ending conflicts in the Middle East, the hate between Israel and Palestine, the violence in Mexico, the power grabs in the Ukraine, unstable tribal areas in Africa and so many more that for some reason or another, don't merit a mention in the news, the world is creating a generation of people who are affected. And, of course, none of this horror is new. It's the cyclical story of mankind since the story of mankind has been told. One difference is poignantly noted by Ana, "As a side effect of modern warfare, we had the peculiar privilege of watching the destruction of our country on television"
This simply written, accessible, not-too-long novel, had me thinking about all of this. Girl at War by Sara Novic is incredibly timely and an important work of fiction about war and all of its damage. ...more