Serendip is an independent site partnering with faculty at multiple colleges and universities around the world. Happy exploring!

Who's Immortal in this book?

AyaSeaver's picture

     One of the main things that I noticed about Rebecca's Skloot's style and structure of the book is that she spends a lot of time focusing and addressing on her own interaction with the family, perhaps in an attempt to make the story more personal, active, and immediate or perhaps because she is really trying to give a family she feels has been exploited their 'due'. But lots of the time I completely lost sight not only of Henrietta's cells--or the cells that have grown from those that she donated--but of Henrietta herself. I don't know that the book actually uses Henrietta as a way to make science accessible and personal I think it uses her family and their situations. 

For example, as a reader who likes to read biographies (especially women's biographies) I was interested in Henrietta's life and biography and I think some issues completely got glossed over. Her medical history was complicated by her husband's affairs, he brought back STDs or 'bad blood' from other women. I think most of us probably did deeply connect to Henrietta and her exploitation by the systems she lived in. But Skloot doesn't focus on this. She focuses on her own voyage within the living Lacks family. Perfect example? The entire chapter Soul Cleansing. That's really more about the Lacks family than Henrietta herself and mostly its about Skloot's interaction with them. 

I think this is a conscious editorial decision. Let's remember that however well edited the entire book is written in the first person. Skloot has decided to tell not really Henrietta's story, but her story of Henrietta (for some reasons and I don't think all of them are wrong for example--it is perhaps actually more possible to attain a version of Henrietta through subjective narration than independent of it) but I think its something we need to be aware of. 

     That, as far as structure goes, she isn't actually telling the story of the woman, or the cells. 

Parts of Napoleon's Buttons are available of googlebooks. Like The Immortal Life it definitely is structured to be accessible (catchy title anyone?) but I think it has a clearer, more concise reference to the science the 'narratives' rely on (also it has that system structured into it, compound-->narrative)



Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
To prevent automated spam submissions leave this field empty.
1 + 0 =
Solve this simple math problem and enter the result. E.g. for 1+3, enter 4.