A worthwhile glimpse into European colonialism and its literary chroniclers.

ELSPETH HUXLEY

A BIOGRAPHY

A sturdy biography of the Anglo-Kenyan novelist and essayist, the first such work devoted to her.

“Elspeth Huxley [1907–97] is best known for her writings on Africa,” writes English literary scholar Nicholls. “Yet as a young woman she was excessively impatient to get away from her parents’ farm there.” That impatience took Huxley (née Grant) to England, where she forged a long career as a writer of many kinds of prose, from radio scripts to lengthy memoirs. Only one of her books, The Flame Trees of Thika, published in 1959, was particularly well known in its time or is remembered today; Nicholls gives it, as well as Huxley’s other work, careful consideration, showing which parts accurately reflect Huxley’s childhood in Kenya and which are the products of pure invention. (“The book,” she concludes, “is a work of fiction, though many incidents are based on actual events.” Librarians and booksellers may thus want to reshelve it.) Huxley was intensely aware of her status as an overlooked writer, Nicholls remarks, though not particularly aggrieved by it. Some of her lack of fame she attributed to a dislike for the swirl of self-promotion (“I am a very bad public speaker and detest it, and hopeless on committees”), some to being dismissed by the literary establishment as a colonial, some to having spoken and written in qualified defense of white colonialism in Africa. Nicholls gives a good account of Huxley’s life and work, placing her in the milieu of the British East Africa of WWI and the England of WWII and beyond, charting Huxley’s course from ambitious youth to parsimonious, somewhat dotty old age. All the while, from decade to decade, as Nicholls capably documents, Huxley remained active and productive, championed by the likes of T.S. Eliot even as her readership dwindled and assignments came fewer.

A worthwhile glimpse into European colonialism and its literary chroniclers.

Pub Date: July 30, 2003

ISBN: 0-312-30041-7

Page Count: 528

Publisher: Dunne/St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2003

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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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