Tuesday, November 30, 2010
Review: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
As a person who isn't particularly interested in medical non-fiction, I found myself really engaged in this non-fiction account of HeLa cells and the woman whose cells have had such an impact on modern medicine. I'm not a huge non-fiction reader (primarily because I find it difficult to find compelling non-fiction) but this particular book is fantastic. It's very engaging, very accessible and not at all 'over my head.' The mix of science and human interest was blended so effortlessly by Rebecca Skloot. I was amazed at how readable the medical aspects were for me. How Skloot made those sections interesting and relevant to a non-science fan like me!
The human interest pieces were just heartbreaking for me. The honest look at poverty, racism, education and crime was very well done. Skloot's skill at weaving these more heartfelt pieces with the necessary biographical, medical and ethical pieces was just incredible! It came off so effortlessly to me as a reader.
I felt bad for Henrietta's children and the impact of her death and all that came after that for each of them. They did not/have not have/had easy lives. I definitely think that the anger that they expressed repeatedly through the book was directly related to poverty and a lack of education. It came off as almost being greed in some instances in the book but I think that it really comes down to the cycle of poverty and abuse. The family couldn't understand any of this to any level of depth which I think made it impossible for them to understand the nuances that are at play when it comes to compensation, ethics, etc. In the end, I am thankful that the Lacks had Rebecca Skloot in their life to help them gain a better understanding of things. It seemed to me that once the understanding was there, the anger began to dissipate. And they were able to move beyond the anger into understanding and pride that their mother's cells were able to help so many people.
I found a great deal of the socioeconomic aspects of the book just heartbreaking because of how difficult it is for someone surrounded by poverty, abuse and dysfunction to make the right choices that will lead down the right path. It happens but it is RARE. As a former social worker who worked with many families and individuals that struggled with escaping the cycle of poverty and abuse, it's very very very difficult even when opportunities come about. It's difficult to step out of your comfort zone (no matter how dysfunctional, depressing or heartbreaking it may be) to try to change yourself or your circumstances. I also think that any compensation for the family would not have actually help them economically or otherwise. They really needed to heal as a family and get perspective on something that was outside of their understanding.
In the end, I absolutely enjoyed the reading of this book and recommend it wholeheartedly. It's a fantastic book that will stay with you after you close the book. It will make you think. It will give you perspective. It's just wonderful.
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