In this poignant book, Donlan finds in curiosity, writing, and family the surest salves for the terror of chronic illness...

THE INWARD EMPIRE

MAPPING THE WILDS OF MORTALITY AND FATHERHOOD

A journalist debuts with an intimate account of his multiple sclerosis diagnosis and his growing awareness of his roles as a young husband and a new father.

During the period covered here, Donlan, an American who lives in England, was writing about video games, and he escorts us around that world before his first symptoms appear. Then we travel with him on other journeys, medical and psychological. His chapters are mostly chronological, and following each is a more general section dealing with the history of the disease, descriptions of key patients, and evolving treatments. Donlan alternates between the changes in his own body and mind and those occurring in his young daughter, Leon. As his symptoms intensify—and as he moves from treatment to treatment (there are not a lot of options for him, we learn)—he also shows us the growth of Leon: standing, speaking, imagining, playing, and discovering the wonders of eyeglasses. In these clear, honest pages, the author displays an active curiosity about his illness and flexes some literary muscle, too. He memorized Matthew Arnold’s “Dover Beach” (the actual one is nearby) to entertain his mother, and he quotes from T.S. Eliot and Robert Louis Stevenson, whose Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde he finds especially relevant to his situation. (He mentions a Hyde-like flare at his daughter that brings both of them to tears.) Donlan’s wife emerges in these pages as little shy of a saint. She seems to know what to say (and what not to) and what to do (and not do). The author shows her as a wise, loving, compassionate companion. We also meet some of his medical team—and fellow patients—especially in a section near the end about his weeklong hospitalization for a series of infusions.

In this poignant book, Donlan finds in curiosity, writing, and family the surest salves for the terror of chronic illness and mortality.

Pub Date: June 26, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-316-50936-7

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: April 11, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 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 vivid sequel that strains credulity.

THE ESCAPE ARTIST

Fremont (After Long Silence, 1999) continues—and alters—her story of how memories of the Holocaust affected her family.

At the age of 44, the author learned that her father had disowned her, declaring her “predeceased”—or dead in his eyes—in his will. It was his final insult: Her parents had stopped speaking to her after she’d published After Long Silence, which exposed them as Jewish Holocaust survivors who had posed as Catholics in Europe and America in order to hide multilayered secrets. Here, Fremont delves further into her tortured family dynamics and shows how the rift developed. One thread centers on her life after her harrowing childhood: her education at Wellesley and Boston University, the loss of her virginity to a college boyfriend before accepting her lesbianism, her stint with the Peace Corps in Lesotho, and her decades of work as a lawyer in Boston. Another strand involves her fraught relationship with her sister, Lara, and how their difficulties relate to their father, a doctor embittered after years in the Siberian gulag; and their mother, deeply enmeshed with her own sister, Zosia, who had married an Italian count and stayed in Rome to raise a child. Fremont tells these stories with novelistic flair, ending with a surprising theory about why her parents hid their Judaism. Yet she often appears insensitive to the serious problems she says Lara once faced, including suicidal depression. “The whole point of suicide, I thought, was to succeed at it,” she writes. “My sister’s completion rate was pathetic.” Key facts also differ from those in her earlier work. After Long Silence says, for example, that the author grew up “in a small city in the Midwest” while she writes here that she grew up in “upstate New York,” changes Fremont says she made for “consistency” in the new book but that muddy its narrative waters. The discrepancies may not bother readers seeking psychological insights rather than factual accuracy, but others will wonder if this book should have been labeled a fictionalized autobiography rather than a memoir.

A vivid sequel that strains credulity.

Pub Date: Feb. 11, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-982113-60-5

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Oct. 21, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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