An affecting chronicle of one couple’s nearly decade-long struggle to have a baby. Writing alternate chapters, Carbone, a book editor, and Decker, a freelance writer, have produced an astonishingly revealing account of their experiences during years of infertility. Their attempts to conceive a child began in August 1986, and their daughter, Julia, was born in January 1995. Between those dates, Carbone had two miscarriages, was diagnosed with and treated for endometriosis, had some ten surgical procedures (hysterosalpingograms, hysteroscopies, laparoscopies), and Decker had surgery to remove testicular varicose veins in a futile attempt to improve his sperm quality. When conventional medicine did not help, they turned to chiropractic and acupuncture. In vitro fertilization failed, as did the GIFT procedure, whereby sperm and egg are united not in a petri dish but in the Fallopian tubes. Adoption appeared to be their only remaining option. Meanwhile, with their sex lives regulated and mechanized, Carbone had fallen into a fantasy romance with her fertility doctor, and Decker’s performance anxiety had sent him to a therapist and to a sperm bank for donor sperm just in case. Their drama reaches its climax when the birth mother they eventually locate changes her mind about giving up her baby for adoption at the very last moment, but the very next day a pregnancy test shows that Carbone is herself pregnant. What makes this couple’s story unusual is that it’s the husband, not the wife, who is desperate for a child. In Carbone’s words, “I just followed the script Ed handed me. This was his show.” What is surprising also is that this articulate couple, who reveal so much here, apparently didn—t share their feelings with each other as these events were happening and rarely discussed their infertility during the years it dominated their lives. For six million similarly afflicted American couples, the lessons to be learned from this candid account are as much about love and marriage as about infertility. (First printing of 30,000; author tour) (For another look at infertility, see Liza Freilicher and Jennifer Scheu with Suzanne Wetanson, Conceiving Lac: A Family Story, p. 691.)

Pub Date: June 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-87113-751-8

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Atlantic Monthly

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1999

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


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 absorbing, wide-ranging story of humans’ relationship with the water.


A study of swimming as sport, survival method, basis for community, and route to physical and mental well-being.

For Bay Area writer Tsui (American Chinatown: A People's History of Five Neighborhoods, 2009), swimming is in her blood. As she recounts, her parents met in a Hong Kong swimming pool, and she often visited the beach as a child and competed on a swim team in high school. Midway through the engaging narrative, the author explains how she rejoined the team at age 40, just as her 6-year-old was signing up for the first time. Chronicling her interviews with scientists and swimmers alike, Tsui notes the many health benefits of swimming, some of which are mental. Swimmers often achieve the “flow” state and get their best ideas while in the water. Her travels took her from the California coast, where she dove for abalone and swam from Alcatraz back to San Francisco, to Tokyo, where she heard about the “samurai swimming” martial arts tradition. In Iceland, she met Guðlaugur Friðþórsson, a local celebrity who, in 1984, survived six hours in a winter sea after his fishing vessel capsized, earning him the nickname “the human seal.” Although humans are generally adapted to life on land, the author discovered that some have extra advantages in the water. The Bajau people of Indonesia, for instance, can do 10-minute free dives while hunting because their spleens are 50% larger than average. For most, though, it’s simply a matter of practice. Tsui discussed swimming with Dara Torres, who became the oldest Olympic swimmer at age 41, and swam with Kim Chambers, one of the few people to complete the daunting Oceans Seven marathon swim challenge. Drawing on personal experience, history, biology, and social science, the author conveys the appeal of “an unflinching giving-over to an element” and makes a convincing case for broader access to swimming education (372,000 people still drown annually).

An absorbing, wide-ranging story of humans’ relationship with the water.

Pub Date: April 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-61620-786-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: Jan. 5, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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