29 August 2011

Read: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

I love to read and I track the books I read over on Goodreads. Occasionally, a book is so good that I want to tell everyone about it. I've decided to share these books here on my blog.


The Immortal Life of Henrietta LacksThe Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I rarely read non-fiction because I like to travel in my imagination through story, and non-fiction is often a bit...clunky, for lack of a better word. But this book came highly recommended from my reader friends, and I enjoyed it far more than I expected to.

This is really three stories--the story of Henrietta Lacks and her family, the story of the He-La cells, and the story of Rebecca Skloot winning the trust of the Lacks family so she could tell their story. The book was highly researched and populated by many characters so it could have been written in a disjointed and dispassionate style. However, the author's inclusion of her own interactions with the family and her engaging style really made the story come alive for me. I could imagine the fear that Henrietta must have felt as she succumbed to a particularly virulent cancer alone in Johns Hopkins. I could feel the distrust that lack of information, lack of education and blatant exploitation created in the lives of the Lacks children as they tried to understand their mother's death and the immortality of her cancer cells. I could join with Rebecca as she became more attached to the Lacks children and worried for their own health and well-being.

The book reminded me a bit of The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down---the intersection, and often clash, between Western medicine and traditional cultures. Except in this case the Lacks were poor black Southern farmers. I recommend The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks if you have an interest in the history of science and medicine, the Civil Rights Era, or if you just like an intriguing true story once in a while to balance your consumption of fiction.


If you love to read, how about joining me over on Goodreads so we can trade book recommendations? Or you can just comment below and tell me what you've been reading lately.

And THANKS to those of you who comment regularly. You give great feedback and keep me wanting to write this blog. I've recently added Disqus to the comments section that will hopefully allow us to have better discussions in the comments. Come check it out!

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