Offers an informative lesson and a comforting message for anyone with an afflicted family member.

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DANCING WITH ROSE

FINDING LIFE IN THE LAND OF ALZHEIMER’S

Close-up look at life inside an Alzheimer’s care facility.

When her own mother had the disease, Kessler (Clever Girl, 2003, etc.) placed her in a care facility and visited only reluctantly. Determined to redeem this thoroughly unsatisfactory experience, the author immersed herself in academic research on the subject, then took a job as an attendant in an Alzheimer’s care facility. Although she did not go undercover like Barbara Ehrenreich (Nickel and Dimed, 2001), she does provide a similar exposé of the miserable conditions endured by minimum-wage workers, in this case the undereducated, underpaid and overworked women who care for our society’s institutionalized ill and aged. Unlike them, Kessler got to choose her working hours and was not there to earn a living. She wanted to comprehend firsthand what caretakers do, to connect with the residents and to understand their lives. What began as a short-term venture to gather material for a magazine article turned into months of work and observation, now expanded into this full-length narrative. The author’s graphic depiction of a caretaker’s daily routine—bathing, dressing, feeding and taking to the toilet old men and women who are often demanding and uncooperative—makes caring for a newborn seem a breeze. However unsavory the physical chores are, however, Kessler finds the experience immensely rewarding on an emotional level. She connects with these Alzheimer’s patients in a way she never could with her own mother. They make her feel needed, and she can be the daughter she never was, if only for a while. Kessler doesn’t scant the job’s numbing routine and frequent frustrations, but she is ever alert to small joys and simple kindnesses. She learns to accept rather than argue with the patients’ view of reality, thereby soothing their anxieties.

Offers an informative lesson and a comforting message for anyone with an afflicted family member.

Pub Date: June 4, 2007

ISBN: 978-0-670-03859-6

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2007

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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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