The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
by Rebecca Skloot
Publish by Crown
Date of publication: February 2nd 2010
Number of pages: 368
A Black Story
Rebecca Skloot was born on September 19,1972 in Springfield (Illinois). She is an American journalist, a writer, a professor and the President of the Henrietta Lacks Foundation, who is interested in science and medicine. Her book, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lack’s published on February 2nd 2010, knew a huge success in her country : it stayed at the first place of the New York Times Best Seller List since 2012, and she wasoften awarded for her work ; a work which took 10 years of her life, 10 years during which she met people to enrich her research and where she worked hard to arrive at this result.
« There is a photo on my wall of a woman I’ve never met (…) No one knows who took that picture, but it’s appeared hundreds of times in magazines and science textbooks, on blogs and laboratory walls. » This is how this intriguing book starts. The character she is talking about , Henrietta Lacks, is better known under the names of « Hela’s » « Helen Lane » or « Helen Larson ». She was born in a poor souther tobacco farmer and worked the same land as her slave ancestors. In 1951 at the age of 31, she died in terrible sufferings from a cancerous tumor and, she left 5 children motherless, but that is not the mad in the story that Rebecca Skloot told us in her Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks : Behind her rough life of African Amerian during the segregation and her painful death, lurks and incredible scientific story. Incredible or horrible… ?
«She’s simply called Hela, the code name given to the world’s first immortal human cells-her cells, cut from her cervix just months before she died » Mrs Skloot told us in the first chapter. Indeed, thanks to Henrietta Lacks’ cells many scientific progress were made like helping into research for cancer, drugs treating herpes or hemophilia. First problem : Nobody told her about the power of her cells, and some scientists cut them without her permission. Another problem : few people knew her before Mrs Skloot’ work in spite of the huge advances she permitted. Why ? « She was a black woman » said a Rebecca’s biology professor. And third : sometimes ago, her family didn’t know what happened to the poor Henrietta. Until Rebecca decided to meet and to talk them, particularly Deborah, Henrietta’s daughter, with whom she tied a special link during the writing of this book.
We understand as one goes along that these 368 pages are a big investigation about the sad conditions for the Black community during the era of the Jim Crow laws. The author dips into this period and digs up dark cases concerning medicine, that will shock you like they shocked me. Like when she shows through this book, there are many cruel stories hidden behind this period of Segregation (that I let you discover when you read it!). We also discover that Henrietta was not the only or the worst case : there are a long list, that the writer starts at the Segregation period to end attwenty-first century.
Even if I hate sciences, I loved this book so much ! It talks about medicine and biology but its principal aim is to denounce the lack of ethics of many medicals research and the miserable life Black people have been subjected to, since the Segregation to Nowadays. That book touched me so much : we can see the horrors that the medicine can do ! Although the way of writing is not exceptional, the work achieved is. Mixing biographical and historical elements, this work is intriguing from the start to the end and I strongly recommend it to you because it teaches much about medical history. This work leaves many questions in our mind : Why many people didn’t know what happened ?How could these harmful things happen in a democracy ?