In general, I’ve come to believe that as great as some notable novels are, written through the decades by talented authors (and I’ve only read a small bit of them), often fiction can pale next to real-life accounts of little examined historic events. Sure, there are numerous volumes dedicated to the grand stage that are monumental wars and epic political struggles throughout millennia for readers and history buffs like me to sample.
But sometimes it is the intimate story of one important individual, and the people and effects surrounding her, that continue to ripple through time in unexpected ways and have an ongoing impact in the lives of many. Such is the case for author Rebecca Skloot’s close chronicle of an African-American woman who died young in 1951, but who will outlive those of us breathing today.
A few years ago, my good friend Bev (of BevsBookBeat) wrote a splendid review for The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks that captivated me. I’d heard of the book, and it certainly sparked my interest, but it hadn’t caused me to move it up in my book/audiobook stack. Reading Bev’s review did just that, and I’m so happy it did. I’m not even going to attempt to cover why it’s one of the best books of that year (and even today) for me, but point you to Bev’s written assessment because she covered it better that I ever could:
“This is a non-fiction that reads like fiction~~I read it in three days because I couldn’t put it down. I stayed up until 2 in the morning reading it. It was the most fascinating book I have read in a long time and the best book I read this year. This book is so rich in information about science, medicine, and how one person can unknowingly change the world…”
I will only say that the scope of the story spans from the microscopic to the colossal. Especially when one comprehends the scale and growth of the HeLa cell line. That it cuts across race, class, faith, science, family, and the law, which frequently touches our everyday lives, says a lot. Ms. Skloot, in writing her book, is to be commended for what she accomplished in her written history of the lives of Henrietta and her family, and for showing a fair light on the science and medicine most of us take for granted.
Author Skloot’s amazing account of Henrietta Lack and her legacy is at once an informative, heartbreaking, and powerfully fascinating bit of history that is surprisingly personal.
The Random House audiobook that held me spellbound did Skloot’s well known and acclaimed work a deserved justice, as well. Narrators Cassandra Campbell and Bahni Turpin could not have performed their narration any better, or have been better matched to the material, in my opinion. It was another example of a lightning in a bottle instance for a book and its reader(s) in the audio format.
Given the range and diversity of the people set down in the book, and the subject matter, I don’t think their delivery and vocal achievement can be underestimated. If you listen to the audiobook, there is segment — involving the news of Henrietta’s daughter and the author — that will likely catch you as it did me. I won’t spoil it for you, but neither the professional reader nor this listener could fake their reaction.
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is a highly recommended book and audiobook for anyone interested in history and of the remarkable individuals chronicled.
Book: ISBN – 9780307712509
Unabridged Audiobook: ISBN – 9780307712516