Oct. 18th, 2011

ahkna: (Default)

My mom brought this back for me from Denver.  Not that we can't get it in Canada but our family can never resist a bookstore. And even though the Canadian dollar is back below the US dollar it's still cheaper to buy stuff in America. We're still forced to pay way more than the exchange rate for books and DVDs so our family tends to either buy online from America or stock up on stuff when we visit.

Let me just leave the America/Canada comparison with an anecdote about how hilarious it was when we were watching Buffalo channels a few years ago and the news seemed to be airing a legitimate piece about how Canadians were ruining Christmas because they kept crossing the border and buying everything off the shelves. 

Anyway, back to the book. The blurb: "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. "

And holy crap. The author very clearly has an intense connection to the story and claims to have spent more than 10,000 hours interviewing everyone who came into contact with Henrietta, spending a lot of time in particular with her children. I feel like her emotion flows through every word. But I can only read a little bit at a time because I keep getting overwhelmed by the racism and misogyny in the story, not to mention the complete lack of medical knowledge at the time. I had to put the book down for several hours today when I finished reading about them sewing tubes of radioactive materials in her vagina and uterus. 

It's both horrifying and fascinating. I'll report back when I finish.

January 2012


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