A mildly entertaining disappointment.

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THAT’S HOW THE LIGHT GETS IN

MEMOIR OF A PSYCHIATRIST

Lackluster memoir in which psychiatrist Rako is forthcoming about her 1940s and ’50s childhood but strangely reticent when discussing her marriages and career.

Rako, in private practice in Newton, Mass., grew up in Worcester, surrounded by an extended family dominated by her Russian-Jewish grandmother. Her account of those years—the colorful aunts and uncles, the hovering mother and largely absent father—is often rich in detail. She skims over her education and, with the exception of an account of her decision to end an unwanted pregnancy, reveals very little about her life during her two failed marriages. She opens up more when discussing her psychiatric training. Her residency at Massachusetts Mental Health Center was under the direction of Dr. Elvin Semrad, for whom she professes her admiration and describes his lasting influence on her professional thinking. She provides a few stories about her patients, but the focus is on the introspective psychiatrist’s lifelong attempts to understand herself. To that end, after completing eight years of medical and psychiatric training, she undergoes analysis with an analyst whose own analyst had been analyzed by Freud. It is not Freud, however, but Semrad who casts a long shadow here. Rako repeatedly quotes her mentor, finding his perceptions especially relevant to both her work as a psychiatrist and to her personal life—e.g., “There are only a few choices in life: to kill yourself, go crazy, or learn to learn to live with what you have in life.” This memoir switches back and forth between past and present tense, as though certain portions were written at one time and then spliced into a background narrative that had been sketched out earlier. As a consequence, the reader is uncertain whether the feelings and thoughts being expressed at various points are those of a more mature Rako or of an earlier self.

A mildly entertaining disappointment.

Pub Date: Nov. 15, 2005

ISBN: 1-4000-4605-X

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Harmony

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2005

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

WHY WE SWIM

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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