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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AN INVISIBLE THREAD

THE TRUE STORY OF AN 11-YEAR-OLD PANHANDLER, A BUSY SALES EXECUTIVE, AND AN UNLIKELY MEETING WITH DESTINY

A straightforward tale of kindness and paying it forward in 1980s New York.

When advertising executive Schroff answered a child’s request for spare change by inviting him for lunch, she did not expect the encounter to grow into a friendship that would endure into his adulthood. The author recounts how she and Maurice, a promising boy from a drug-addicted family, learned to trust each other. Schroff acknowledges risks—including the possibility of her actions being misconstrued and the tension of crossing socio-economic divides—but does not dwell on the complexities of homelessness or the philosophical problems of altruism. She does not question whether public recognition is beneficial, or whether it is sufficient for the recipient to realize the extent of what has been done. With the assistance of People human-interest writer Tresniowski (Tiger Virtues, 2005, etc.), Schroff adheres to a personal narrative that traces her troubled relationship with her father, her meetings with Maurice and his background, all while avoiding direct parallels, noting that their childhoods differed in severity even if they shared similar emotional voids. With feel-good dramatizations, the story seldom transcends the message that reaching out makes a difference. It is framed in simple terms, from attributing the first meeting to “two people with complicated pasts and fragile dreams” that were “somehow meant to be friends” to the conclusion that love is a driving force. Admirably, Schroff notes that she did not seek a role as a “substitute parent,” and she does not judge Maurice’s mother for her lifestyle. That both main figures experience a few setbacks yet eventually survive is never in question; the story fittingly concludes with an epilogue by Maurice. For readers seeking an uplifting reminder that small gestures matter.

 

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-1-4516-4251-3

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Howard Books/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: July 26, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2011

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