Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

Si, si, El Jefe es muy tarde.  But no less excited to welcome Baby Alec, the newest member of the younger BC generation!  And, he's turning out to be such a sweet and cooperative little munchkin that I am sure the Doctor will be right back into the swing of things by November, having had plenty of free time sit and finish our 500 page Jonathan Franzen novel.  But in the meantime, thanks to Ms. K for hosting a lovely and intimate TCOB.  To hear and be heard was a revelation, and it's what makes those occasional small group meetings so...pleasant!

We caught up on the month's gossip over a simple yet elegant new dip, created by Logan's run.  Creamy hummus topped with pesto and scooped up on crunchy corn tortilla chips.  It was a blend of cultures and tastes that was unusual and delicious.  Then, a platter of lishy chicken enchiladas from Thyme Cafe (Happy 1-Year Birthday Thyme, today!) and a green salad.  And for dessert, a light but flavorful medley of wild berries topped with fresh whipped cream.

Our book, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, scored about a 7.  Everyone was fascinated by this book on so many levels:  from the science to the history to the personal tragedy, someone could not have dreamed up this story as fiction if they tried.  Having grown up in an era where cell research already was well established, we took the existence of cell cultures as a fact of life.  Not one of us would have had the occasion to ponder the miracle and the mystery of where these cells came from, nor did we understand the breadth of what they have accomplished.  So, from a purely scientific standpoint, this book was a real eye opener.  The social and medical history, too, was a new discovery for us, and a disappointing one.  Who wants to look squarely at a past where black people were intentionally injected with syphilis and subjected to questionable treatments in overcrowded mental asylums?  These painful realities set the stage for the myriad ethical issues raised by this book, which, unfortunately, the author did not leave as open as she could have.  After years of painstakingly researching this story and infiltrating the lives of the Lacks family, Ms. Skloot clearly (and understandably) was not writing this book from a position of objectivity.  Although she did accomplish laying out multiple viewpoints from which to consider the moral questions surrounding cell research, her own agenda came through:  she felt that the Lackses had been wronged and deserved some financial consideration in return for Henrietta's cells.  Whether or not any particular reader agreed with her, we did agree that her point was a bit heavy handed, and that although her research had taken a decade, we did not want to continue reading about this family for a decade.  Overall, a great read in terms of content, but some additional editing would be welcome.

Henrietta Lacks, late 1940s.

Henrietta and David Lacks, circa 1945.

Divide and Conquer.

Our November meeting is on our regularly scheduled first Wednesday of the month at Chez Mademoiselle...and we'll all need the address! For the book selection, see last month's posting.  The Highlander is on apps, and we need a volunteer for dessert.  Until next time, read early and often!  xoej