This low-key exploration of belatedly (age 40) wanting and not being able to conceive a baby is uncommonly sensitive and revealing. A casual observation of two mothers and their rambunctious offspring on an ice cream break at Dairy Queen launches Alden's (Feeding the Eagles, 1988) memoir of the years she spent waffling between wanting a child to nurture and wondering how a woman could surrender her life to the peremptory needs of a child. Alden longed, she came to realize, both to be her mother and not be her mother, to be a writer (inspired by mentors Wallace Stegner and Tillie Olsen) and to bear a child and be ``swallowed up by caretaking.'' Always ambivalent, she and her husband nevertheless moved ahead, at first leaving conception to the fates by simply abandoning birth control. As time went on, they more pointedly ``tried,'' scheduling intercourse for the fertile times dictated by thermometer and monthly cycles. Then they tried harder, enlisting the help of infertility experts for hormone treatments, artificial insemination, and the counting of follicles. Ultimately, they stopped trying, decided against adoption, and continued building their life as a ``family of two.'' But not without tears and a long, painful period of mourning for Alden. ``Our bodies were made to have babies,'' a therapist tells her. ``It takes a long time for the body to get over not having them.'' Far more than a recitation of the frustrations faced in specialists' waiting rooms, this is also an exploration of growing up as a southern girl, the conflicts encountered as the '60s and feminism overtook the wearing of white gloves and chicken salad luncheons, and the bending and mending of a mother and daughter's relationship. An eloquent self-examination without self-pity that helps resolve the now-common struggles of 30-plus women who face not only infertility but the conflict between society's expectations and personal fulfillment.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1996

ISBN: 1-886913-08-0

Page Count: 296

Publisher: Ruminator Books

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1996

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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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