The Immortal Life Of Henrietta Lacks – Rebecca Skloot

henrietta LacksThe Immortal Life Of Henrietta Lacks was the discussion book for the meeting in April and our first non fiction book to be covered in the book club.

This was a book that enthralled members from the start, even though I felt quite ashamed and ignorant at not knowing the history behind this already.  This was a book that combined scientific theory with the story of Henrietta Lack and her family that survived her.  We felt this was quite a good mix, as the book skipped from scientific to story and back again, although some members did find this a little disjointed and a little difficult to read, especially as it wasn’t in chronological order.

The race issues were quite prevalent in the book, of which members thought this was typical of this time and quite scary that it wasn’t that long ago.  What really brought it home was the photos included in the book that showed where Henrietta lived, when growing up, a good inclusion by the author.

We, of course expanded the discussion about all manner of scientific things and the main question, was to what extent would Scientists go to before they consider the moral/ethical aspects of what they were doing?   Scientists live in a very much tunnel vision world and don’t think or feel the same as others.

Henrietta’s cells were definitely unique but the question again became a race issue when we considered if the whole story about the cells were kept quiet because they belonged to a black person?  We even questioned whether or not there would have been a book at all, if this was a white person’s cells used?

The author we felt became personally and emotionally involved with the family, perhaps due to the domestic setting of the family.  Certainly we were given an education about how these people still live and the cycle of despair that most find themselves in.

For Henrietta’s daughter, Deborah, this became a journey of discovery to find out about the Mother she barely knew and we all felt it was quite sad that she died before the book was published.

It wasn’t until we nearly wrapped up the discussion that we discussed, Elsie the daughter that was shipped off to an institution and the whole tragedy that no one in the family knew what had happened to her until Deborah began to investigate with the author.

All in all, we found this to be one of the most interesting books so far covered in the book club and certainly the impact of the book resonates with everyone that has read it.  Once read, we feel that so many of us will tell others about this and the story will definitely not be forgotten.

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