Friday, October 14, 2011
Alice Love is twenty-nine years old, madly in love with her husband, and pregnant with their first child. So imagine her surprise when, after a fall, she comes to on the floor of a gym (a gym! she HATES the gym!) and discovers that she's actually thirty-nine, has three children, and is in the midst of an acrimonious divorce.
A knock on the head has misplaced ten years of her life, and Alice isn't sure she likes who she's become. It turns out, though, that forgetting might be the most memorable thing that has ever happened to Alice. -- Amy Einhorn
Earlier this week, my book club discussed WHAT ALICE FORGOT by Liane Moriarty. I read (and reviewed) this book a few months ago and I really enjoyed it. Unfortunately, not everyone agreed with me. I thought many of our members made some good points about the weaknesses of the novel, but I don't think anyone convinced me that it wasn't a great book. What I do think everyone in my group would agree about, though, was that it was a great book to discuss.
I have to admit that I had high expectations for our discussion since I thought many of us could relate to Alice's story. And if we couldn't directly relate to Alice, I was pretty sure that we all knew an "Alice" in our life. We ended up talking about this book and, then, our lives for hours. It was so much fun and also a very enlightening evening. We discussed friendships, parenting issues, relationships, infertility, and marriage. I am so grateful that my book club is made up of such candid and intelligent women.
THE IMMORTAL LIFE OF HENRIETTA LACKS by Rebecca Skloot. I read this book about a year and a half ago and thought it was fantastic. You can read my review here. I have already discussed THE IMMORTAL LIFE OF HENRIETTA LACKS with my on-line book club, and I'll be interested to see how the two discussions compare.
Summary: Her name was Henrietta Lacks, but scientists know her as HeLa. She was a poor Southern tobacco farmer who worked the same land as her slave ancestors, yet her cells—taken without her knowledge—became one of the most important tools in medicine. The first “immortal” human cells grown in culture, they are still alive today, though she has been dead for more than sixty years. If you could pile all HeLa cells ever grown onto a scale, they’d weigh more than 50 million metric tons—as much as a hundred Empire State Buildings. HeLa cells were vital for developing the polio vaccine; uncovered secrets of cancer, viruses, and the atom bomb’s effects; helped lead to important advances like in vitro fertilization, cloning, and gene mapping; and have been bought and sold by the billions.
Yet Henrietta Lacks remains virtually unknown, buried in an unmarked grave.
Now Rebecca Skloot takes us on an extraordinary journey, from the “colored” ward of Johns Hopkins Hospital in the 1950s to stark white laboratories with freezers full of HeLa cells; from Henrietta’s small, dying hometown of Clover, Virginia—a land of wooden slave quarters, faith healings, and voodoo—to East Baltimore today, where her children and grandchildren live and struggle with the legacy of her cells.
Henrietta’s family did not learn of her “immortality” until more than twenty years after her death, when scientists investigating HeLa began using her husband and children in research without informed consent. And though the cells had launched a multimillion-dollar industry that sells human biological materials, her family never saw any of the profits. As Rebecca Skloot so brilliantly shows, the story of the Lacks family—past and present—is inextricably connected to the dark history of experimentation on African Americans, the birth of bioethics, and the legal battles over whether we control the stuff we are made of.
Over the decade it took to uncover this story, Rebecca became enmeshed in the lives of the Lacks family—especially Henrietta’s daughter Deborah, who was devastated to learn about her mother’s cells. She was consumed with questions: Had scientists cloned her mother? Did it hurt her when researchers infected her cells with viruses and shot them into space? What happened to her sister, Elsie, who died in a mental institution at the age of fifteen? And if her mother was so important to medicine, why couldn’t her children afford health insurance?
Intimate in feeling, astonishing in scope, and impossible to put down, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks captures the beauty and drama of scientific discovery, as well as its human consequences. -- Broadway