An intriguing memoir that presents an unusual and necessary perspective on sperm donation.

UPROOTED

FAMILY TRAUMA, UNKNOWN ORIGINS, AND THE SECRETIVE HISTORY OF ARTIFICIAL INSEMINATION

A story of one man’s discovery of his donor-conceived origin, put into historical context.

Boni, the author of All Hands on Deck (2015) and retired after a long career in the tech industry,offers readers a memoir combined with a short account of artificial insemination’s long history. First and foremost, however, it’s a book about biology and identity. It begins with the author’s finding out at age 49 that his deceased father, whom he loved dearly, was not, in fact, his biological parent. Following this revelation, Boni spent the next 20-plus years working through his mother’s dissembling about his beginnings and, with the help of the Boston Public Library and Harvard Medical School Library, unraveling a mystery. Along the way, he describes the difference that the advent of the internet made in his research and discusses the promises and limitations of services such as 23andMe and Ancestry.com. In the end, Boni learns the identities of his biological father and other relations. In addition, the book offers a thoughtful and well-researched look at sperm donation. For much of its history, the author notes, the practice was likened to adultery and involved a lot of secrecy as a result. The author provides readers with a clear picture of that history, which goes back surprisingly far; however, his mention of how it brought Queen Isabella to the throne glosses over her very mixed legacy. Some of the best parts of the book bring out unexpected connections between the historical and the personal; for example, it details the role of John Rock, a fertility specialist who was behind the creation of the birth control pill, in helping couples who wanted biological children and also reveals that he was Boni’s parents’ fertility doctor. At the end, the author includes an essay about his research and offers additional historical observations as well as a template for a donor-conceived person’s bill of rights.

An intriguing memoir that presents an unusual and necessary perspective on sperm donation.

Pub Date: Jan. 4, 2022

ISBN: 978-1626349070

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Greenleaf Book Group Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 24, 2021

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A sweet-and-sour set of pieces on loss, absurdity, and places they intersect.

HAPPY-GO-LUCKY

Sedaris remains stubbornly irreverent even in the face of pandemic lockdowns and social upheaval.

In his previous collection of original essays, Calypso (2018), the author was unusually downbeat, fixated on aging and the deaths of his mother and sister. There’s bad news in this book, too—most notably, the death of his problematic and seemingly indestructible father at 96—but Sedaris generally carries himself more lightly. On a trip to a gun range, he’s puzzled by boxer shorts with a holster feature, which he wishes were called “gunderpants.” He plays along with nursing-home staffers who, hearing a funnyman named David is on the premises, think he’s Dave Chappelle. He’s bemused by his sister Amy’s landing a new apartment to escape her territorial pet rabbit. On tour, he collects sheaves of off-color jokes and tales of sexual self-gratification gone wrong. His relationship with his partner, Hugh, remains contentious, but it’s mellowing. (“After thirty years, sleeping is the new having sex.”) Even more serious stuff rolls off him. Of Covid-19, he writes that “more than eight hundred thousand people have died to date, and I didn’t get to choose a one of them.” The author’s support of Black Lives Matter is tempered by his interest in the earnest conscientiousness of organizers ensuring everyone is fed and hydrated. (He refers to one such person as a “snacktivist.”) Such impolitic material, though, puts serious essays in sharper, more powerful relief. He recalls fending off the flirtations of a 12-year-old boy in France, frustrated by the language barrier and other factors that kept him from supporting a young gay man. His father’s death unlocks a crushing piece about dad’s inappropriate, sexualizing treatment of his children. For years—chronicled in many books—Sedaris labored to elude his father’s criticism. Even in death, though, it proves hard to escape or laugh off.

A sweet-and-sour set of pieces on loss, absurdity, and places they intersect.

Pub Date: May 31, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-316-39245-7

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: March 11, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2022

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A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular...

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WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR

A neurosurgeon with a passion for literature tragically finds his perfect subject after his diagnosis of terminal lung cancer.

Writing isn’t brain surgery, but it’s rare when someone adept at the latter is also so accomplished at the former. Searching for meaning and purpose in his life, Kalanithi pursued a doctorate in literature and had felt certain that he wouldn’t enter the field of medicine, in which his father and other members of his family excelled. “But I couldn’t let go of the question,” he writes, after realizing that his goals “didn’t quite fit in an English department.” “Where did biology, morality, literature and philosophy intersect?” So he decided to set aside his doctoral dissertation and belatedly prepare for medical school, which “would allow me a chance to find answers that are not in books, to find a different sort of sublime, to forge relationships with the suffering, and to keep following the question of what makes human life meaningful, even in the face of death and decay.” The author’s empathy undoubtedly made him an exceptional doctor, and the precision of his prose—as well as the moral purpose underscoring it—suggests that he could have written a good book on any subject he chose. Part of what makes this book so essential is the fact that it was written under a death sentence following the diagnosis that upended his life, just as he was preparing to end his residency and attract offers at the top of his profession. Kalanithi learned he might have 10 years to live or perhaps five. Should he return to neurosurgery (he could and did), or should he write (he also did)? Should he and his wife have a baby? They did, eight months before he died, which was less than two years after the original diagnosis. “The fact of death is unsettling,” he understates. “Yet there is no other way to live.”

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular clarity.

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8129-8840-6

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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