Friday, February 24, 2012

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot


Rebecca Skloot
Crown Publishers, 2010, $26.00
HC, 370 Pages

It was during the 1950’s at John Hopkins Hospital that HeLa cells began to grow. The donor of the cells was unaware that a specimen was taken from her. She was unaware that she had only a short time to live. She was unaware that the future of medicine would owe so much to her. Henrietta Lacks was born in 1920, delivered in a shack, she was the ninth child. Her family farmed tobacco on the same land where her ancestors were slaves.

I recently read, THE IMMORTAL LIFE OF HENRIETTA LACKS. Although it was published a while ago, I had heard high praise and affirmations everywhere. It has been on top reviewers lists and the blog world has been abuzz. This is a book you will want to read again, or skim back over chapters and passages that were just unimaginable...emotionally gripping. The truth so chilling and bizarre you will find your mouth drop in disbelief.

Rebecca Skloot, is a tenacious and strong-willed writer with compassion and understanding that compliments her drive for success. It is to her credit that she was able to craft such a spellbinding non-fiction account of the life of Henrietta Lacks.

It surprised me that I had no idea who Henrietta Lacks was. It surprised me that her story had never been fully realized. It surprised me that a medical book about cells and bioethics would even interest me. It surprised me as I began this book, that I simply couldn’t put it down. Rebecca Skloot shapes an absorbing story based on intense research sifting through primary documents and her candid and empathetic interviews with Lacks family. Astonishing truths about race relations in the medical field and the unacceptable covert practices that took place are chilling. It is a tribute to the author’s humanity that she so honored Henrietta Lacks’ family and gained their trust and friendship in order to help finally tell the story of the woman who made such a spectacular medical contribution that continues over 60 years beyond her own death.

A look back to this era when it was commonplace to use patients as subjects of experiments, whether African American or other marginalized members of society is still eerie to me-hard to conceptualize. Through our twenty-first century eyes the book reads more like a science fiction novel. I embrace THE IMMORTAL LIFE OF HENRIETTA LACKS, with highest praise. Rebecca Skloot’s story is unnerving non-fiction, a bold accomplishment.

Disclaimer: I purchased the copy of this book. 

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