Report on The Page Turners Meeting - Meeting, Thursday, 1 February 2018

What makes a book enjoyable to read? Obviously we all have our own views on that. The strengths of coming together in a book group open up the aspects of a book that others find enjoyable that you can then take away and ponder on. Is it that we want to be informed by what we read? Is being entertained more important? Is reading for escapism, or should we be shocked from time to time?
We shared and debated long and hard about our latest book – The Immortal Lives of Henrietta Lacks. The main premise of this book was unknown to us though the underlying themes were something we could all explore.
First the foundation of this non fiction book -A journalist (the author) named Rebecca Skloot recounts learning about an African American woman named Henrietta Lacks, who died in 1951 of cervical cancer, but whose cancerous cells became the first immortal human cell line, called HeLa.
And so to the themes
- Without her knowledge or consent, Henrietta Lacks’ doctors harvested her cells and used them to create HeLa, an immortal line of cells that led to many ground breaking scientific discoveries.
- Then the interplay of race, poverty and religion leading to the racial and ethical politics of medicine
Rebecca Skloot narrates the science lucidly and thoughtfully, moving on from just the facts to open up the moral and spiritual reality of what happened to Henrietta Lacks and her family.
Some of us found the science too much and a little baffling. But we agreed that some explanation is needed to describe the process of cell harvest and the subsequent research that is founded on human cells. The author is a biological scientist, and it was her background and training that brought her to the story in the first place.
The family story was very powerful. Set against the race segregation of America in the 1950s, which meant that the separation of patients in hospital was current and discrimination with information was rife. As well as Henrietta’s story there is an undercurrent of the exclusion and isolation shown to the family. Overtly in the case of one of Henrietta’s daughters, who was placed in an institution and then largely neglected by the authorities.
Another daughter, Deborah “becomes the book’s driving force, as Skloot joins her in her “lifelong struggle to make peace with the existence of those cells, and the science that made them possible.” To find the mother she never got to know, she read hundreds of articles about HeLa research, which led her to believe that her mother was “eternally suffering” from all the experiments performed on her cells”
We all decided there was so much to read about and so much to discuss. Some of found the repetitive nature of the writing rather overwhelming, but our discussion was enlightening and invaluable.
So, a score of 6.7 for the book and as one of our group said “the discussion was worth a 9”

Reference -
Back to Top