3 Sep 2013



SOURCE: A Readers Group read.

Her name was Henrietta Lacks, but scientists know her as HeLa. Born a poor black tobacco farmer, her cancer cells -- taken without her knowledge -- became a multimillion-dollar industry and one of the most important tools in medicine.

Yet Henrietta's family did not learn of her 'immortality' until more than twenty years after her death, with devastating consequences . . . Balancing the beauty and drama of scientific discovery with dark questions about who owns the stuff our bodies are made of, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is an extraordinary detective story in search of the soul and story of a real woman, whose cells live on today in all four corners of the world.
...... Outer back cover.

FIRST SENTENCE (Prologue: The woman in the photograph): There's a photo on my wall of a woman I've never met, its left corner torn and patched together with tape.

MEMORABLE MOMENT (Page 273): "Dang!" she yelled. "Now you tell me! When I started asking him questions about them tests and my mother's cells, he just handed me a copy of this book, patted me on my back, and send me home." She reached over, flipped the book open, and pointed. "He autographed it for me," she said, rolling her eyes. "Would have been nice if he'd told me what the damn thing said too." 

MY THOUGHTS: Truly thought provoking, as harrowing as it is life affirming.
Author, Rebecca Skloot, obviously feels passionate about her subject and deals with the story of Henrietta, her family and the 'HeLa cells' with a great sensitivity.

Worried that the book might concentrate too much on the medical. Concerned that it would prove to be merely a critique of the scientific community I was surprised by just how much of a 'human' story it was, of just how much time was devoted to getting to know the woman, her family and some of the scientists behind 'the cells'.

A tale of medical discoveries, of changing medical ethics but, to me, of much more interest and emotional impact, a tale of race, faith and poverty. The Immortal Life Of Henrietta Lacks is essentially the story of a woman whose cells saved thousands upon thousands of lives whilst dividing and almost destroying her own family.

Occasionally repetitive, the author does have a tendency to cover old ground and at 356 pages (431 if you include all the multiple appendixes) perhaps a tad too long. Though arguably not a read for those sensitive to certain issues as the author doesn't shy away from descriptions of medical procedures and the impact of cancer, it is a story that, well worth the read, was begging to be told.

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Blond Duck said...

I can't believe it's a real story! At first I was like, this has to be fiction...

brandileigh2003 said...

Very cool its a true story and glad it was thought provoking

Kelly said...

How interesting! I might have to look into this one a little further....

Karen said...

I've been meaning to read this book for years now.

I do tend to read a lot of "fluff" and a thought provoking book would be a nice change.

StarTraci said...

I've heard about this book. It sounds so interesting if so very sad. A good lesson in the growing world of medical ethics.
Thanks for the write-up.

Cherie Reich said...

I have this book on my shelf at home. I really need to read it.

Thanks for the review!

Suko said...

Thank you for encouraging me to read this book. I have it in my TBR pile, beneath a heap of books. Excellent review.

Brian Joseph said...

I heard Skloot interviewed about this book a couple of years ago. This seems to be such a fascinating and odd real life story. The best word to describe what happened to Lacks I think is uncanny.

Yvonne@fiction-books said...

Hi Tracy,

I don't read non-fiction as a rule, but this is almost a 'must read'. They do say that 'fact is stranger than fiction' and ain't that the truth in this case?

You should check out this link on Rebecca's website for the latest installment in the saga, as recently as March 2013 .. it really does beggar belief.


I also see that Oprah is going to produce the story as a HBO movie, which I am sure is going to raise a storm when it is released.

Thanks for the recommendation on this one, great call!


Melissa (Books and Things) said...

Oh I've heard of this one and I'm glad it is good storytelling. Yes, I am going to add this one to my tbr and I know a couple of people who would want to read this one too!

Stephanie@Fairday's Blog said...

Wow- this sounds like it has to be fiction, and the fact that it isn't makes me want to read it. It sounds like a powerful book and one that will definitely make me think. Thanks for sharing.

Betty Manousos said...

excellent true story, must read.
i just love to read true stories. thanks so much for your wonderful review!

big hugs

Gina said...

Good to see something more on this one than the title floating around. It's been on the local school reading lists for the last two years or so and up and down our best sellers so it's caught my eye a time or two. I too was surprised as to the actual story content. Thanks for the share!

Yanting Gueh said...

Sounds intensely scary but also a story that will stir lots of thoughts. Stories like this need to be told (and read). I'll look out for a copy of this. Thanks, Petty!