Actually I began this book waaay before the film project gathered steam but have not yet finished and am embarrassed to say that I didn’t read five years ago. My friend Barbara Bergren gave me Rebecca Skloot’s The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. She heard Skloot and some of Lacks’s family at a presentation at the University of Connecticut. I instantly recalled hearing Skloot say one of the researchers who viewed Lacks’s body recalled the poignant vision her toenails. She had taken the time to give herself a pedicure before her cancer overwhelmed her.
My initial impressions of the book: the writing excels and Henrietta’s husband is an unmitigated bastard. Henrietta should be declared immortal not just because of her cells. She becomes the anchor in the family despite the massive burdens of poverty and other deprivation. Her friends and neighbors adore her. Immortal Life is also the best sort of detective story. The stakes are far higher than the basic “who-done-it” or even the question of which jihadists or narco-terrorists are taking over what. The double narrative of family and global impact drive the book.
As I approached the halfway mark, I realized that Immortal Life demonstrates the perfect confluence of racism, crass commercialism, and ethical myopia to the point of blindness. Maybe the latter two are pretty much the same thing. The big question, which I cannot fathom, and apparently most others can’t, is why we don’t own our cells. If we can control every other aspect of ourselves, including intangibles like privacy (well, sort of), why should Big Brother own the most intimate part of ourselves?
There may be an update.