A highly informative memoir that explores Poland and Ukraine; the book should appeal to those who revel in the poetry of...

THE ODYSSEY AND DR. NOVAK

A MEMOIR

An author recalls two academic sojourns to Eastern Europe as a visiting professor of English literature.

Before she and her parents moved to the United States in 1953, Colley (Wild Animal Skins in Victorian Britain, 2014, etc.) spent her first 13 years in a small town outside Manchester, England, where her father was a Unitarian minister. It was there in 1946 that she briefly met Dr. Novak, head of the Unitarian movement in Czechoslovakia. From that one encounter and contact with postwar Eastern European refugees passing through her town, she developed a fascination with their part of the world. In 1995, accompanied by her partner, Irving Massey, Colley arrived in Poland to begin her year as a senior Fulbright fellow, teaching English literature at the University of Warsaw: “Strands of communism as well as remnants of Soviet rule” were “unraveling and clumsily intertwining with the government’s increasing commitment to a Westernized economy.” In early 2000, she and Massey traveled to Ukraine, where she spent another Fulbright fellowship year teaching at the Taras Shevchenko University in Kiev. Still dependent on Russia and emotionally scarred by the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl, Ukrainians were nonetheless optimistic about joining the West. This elegantly written memoir is an elaborate tapestry blending the countries’ troubled histories with the author’s in-depth observations of people, places, and customs. Colley’s keen eye for detail and her flair for the dramatic bring humor, texture, and context to pages filled with vivid imagery: “Waiting up in the trees,” gray-beaked ravens “fly down, floating, swooping, and dropping like abandoned cloth handkerchiefs conversing with the currents in the air.” Her prose displays a passion for the symphony of linguistic complexity, although sentences occasionally meander and twist along paths so long that the beginnings are forgotten by the time the ends arrive. The book, which features some photographs, is best enjoyed in intermittent doses. Still, the author depicts both her mental and physical wanderings viscerally enough for readers to feel like companions on the vibrant journey.

A highly informative memoir that explores Poland and Ukraine; the book should appeal to those who revel in the poetry of intricate prose.

Pub Date: May 22, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-63152-343-4

Page Count: 256

Publisher: She Writes Press

Review Posted Online: Jan. 16, 2018

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Skloot's meticulous, riveting account strikes a humanistic balance between sociological history, venerable portraiture and...

THE IMMORTAL LIFE OF HENRIETTA LACKS

A dense, absorbing investigation into the medical community's exploitation of a dying woman and her family's struggle to salvage truth and dignity decades later.

In a well-paced, vibrant narrative, Popular Science contributor and Culture Dish blogger Skloot (Creative Writing/Univ. of Memphis) demonstrates that for every human cell put under a microscope, a complex life story is inexorably attached, to which doctors, researchers and laboratories have often been woefully insensitive and unaccountable. In 1951, Henrietta Lacks, an African-American mother of five, was diagnosed with what proved to be a fatal form of cervical cancer. At Johns Hopkins, the doctors harvested cells from her cervix without her permission and distributed them to labs around the globe, where they were multiplied and used for a diverse array of treatments. Known as HeLa cells, they became one of the world's most ubiquitous sources for medical research of everything from hormones, steroids and vitamins to gene mapping, in vitro fertilization, even the polio vaccine—all without the knowledge, must less consent, of the Lacks family. Skloot spent a decade interviewing every relative of Lacks she could find, excavating difficult memories and long-simmering outrage that had lay dormant since their loved one's sorrowful demise. Equal parts intimate biography and brutal clinical reportage, Skloot's graceful narrative adeptly navigates the wrenching Lack family recollections and the sobering, overarching realities of poverty and pre–civil-rights racism. The author's style is matched by a methodical scientific rigor and manifest expertise in the field.

Skloot's meticulous, riveting account strikes a humanistic balance between sociological history, venerable portraiture and Petri dish politics.

Pub Date: Feb. 9, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-4000-5217-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2010

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A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor...

INTO THE WILD

The excruciating story of a young man on a quest for knowledge and experience, a search that eventually cooked his goose, told with the flair of a seasoned investigative reporter by Outside magazine contributing editor Krakauer (Eiger Dreams, 1990). 

Chris McCandless loved the road, the unadorned life, the Tolstoyan call to asceticism. After graduating college, he took off on another of his long destinationless journeys, this time cutting all contact with his family and changing his name to Alex Supertramp. He was a gent of strong opinions, and he shared them with those he met: "You must lose your inclination for monotonous security and adopt a helter-skelter style of life''; "be nomadic.'' Ultimately, in 1992, his terms got him into mortal trouble when he ran up against something—the Alaskan wild—that didn't give a hoot about Supertramp's worldview; his decomposed corpse was found 16 weeks after he entered the bush. Many people felt McCandless was just a hubris-laden jerk with a death wish (he had discarded his map before going into the wild and brought no food but a bag of rice). Krakauer thought not. Admitting an interest that bordered on obsession, he dug deep into McCandless's life. He found a willful, reckless, moody boyhood; an ugly little secret that sundered the relationship between father and son; a moral absolutism that agitated the young man's soul and drove him to extremes; but he was no more a nutcase than other pilgrims. Writing in supple, electric prose, Krakauer tries to make sense of McCandless (while scrupulously avoiding off-the-rack psychoanalysis): his risky behavior and the rites associated with it, his asceticism, his love of wide open spaces, the flights of his soul.

A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor will it to readers of Krakauer's narrative. (4 maps) (First printing of 35,000; author tour)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-42850-X

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Villard

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1995

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