Saturday, May 14, 2011

Skloot, Rebecca (The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks)

I am impressed.

Skloot's most obvious talent is her ability to tell a story with frankness and clarity. In fact, this type of nonfiction is contained in a specific genre: creative nonfiction. Perhaps I'm a dolt, but I had never heard of that before I read the acknowledgements at the back of this book. This describes virtually every nonfiction book I've read in the past 10 years. No dry, dull tomes for me. You can give me this engaging genre every time.

In particular, it's difficult to marry science reporting with slice-of-life reporting. Initially, I wasn't certain she was pulling it off, but it becomes clear that she is setting the stage so that she can discuss the weightier issues of tissue sampling, patient consent and cell contamination bollixing up oodles of research projects, without detracting from the very real-life drama of the Lacks' family.

Of course, the story of Henrietta Lacks is at the same time appalling and energizing. It can't not be, with its mix of legacy and rejection. You are equally horrified by the lack or respect given to the family (even if some of the legal issues live in a decided gray area) and amazed by the usefulness of the HeLa cells for research, generally and specifically.

If you have never read a nonfiction story, please pick this one up. I would recommend it above every other one I have read.

1 comment:

Italia said...

This story is not only amazing but frightening! How upsetting it is to discover the hardships this family has endured. To see how little ownership we have of our bodies just proves how easily we can be exploited for the ' greater good 'of medical science.....very unsettling. The Author did an excelent in depth job allowing the reader to explore the mysteries of science and the struggles of the Lacks family, the sole pioneers of cell research!