Saturday, December 10, 2011
Monday, December 5, 2011
Yet Henrietta Lacks remains virtually unknown, buried in an unmarked grave.
Now Rebecca Skloot takes us on an extraordinary journey, from the “colored” ward of Johns Hopkins Hospital in the 1950s to stark white laboratories with freezers full of HeLa cells; from Henrietta’s small, dying hometown of Clover, Virginia—a land of wooden slave quarters, faith healings, and voodoo—to East Baltimore today, where her children and grandchildren live and struggle with the legacy of her cells.
Henrietta’s family did not learn of her “immortality” until more than twenty years after her death, when scientists investigating HeLa began using her husband and children in research without informed consent. And though the cells had launched a multimillion-dollar industry that sells human biological materials, her family never saw any of the profits. As Rebecca Skloot so brilliantly shows, the story of the Lacks family—past and present—is inextricably connected to the dark history of experimentation on African Americans, the birth of bioethics, and the legal battles over whether we control the stuff we are made of.
Over the decade it took to uncover this story, Rebecca became enmeshed in the lives of the Lacks family—especially Henrietta’s daughter Deborah, who was devastated to learn about her mother’s cells. She was consumed with questions: Had scientists cloned her mother? Did it hurt her when researchers infected her cells with viruses and shot them into space? What happened to her sister, Elsie, who died in a mental institution at the age of fifteen? And if her mother was so important to medicine, why couldn’t her children afford health insurance?
Intimate in feeling, astonishing in scope, and impossible to put down,The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks captures the beauty and drama of scientific discovery, as well as its human consequences.
Synopsis: Knopf Canada is proud to welcome this bestselling, Pulitzer Prize—winning author with eight dazzling stories that take us from Cambridge and Seattle to India and Thailand as they explore the secrets at the heart of family life.
In the stunning title story, Ruma, a young mother in a new city, is visited by her father who carefully tends her garden–where she later unearths evidence of a love affair he is keeping to himself. In “A Choice of Accommodations,” a couple’s romantic getaway weekend takes a dark turn at a party that lasts deep into the night. In “Only Goodness,” a woman eager to give her younger brother the perfect childhood she never had is overwhelmed by guilt, anguish and anger when his alcoholism threatens her family. And in “Hema and Kaushik,” a trio of linked stories–a luminous, intensely compelling elegy of life, death, love and fate–we follow the lives of a girl and boy who, one fateful winter, share a house in Massachusetts. They travel from innocence to experience on separate, sometimes painful paths, until destiny brings them together again years later in Rome.
Synopsis: As Huw Morgan is about to leave home forever, he reminisces about the golden days of his youth, when South Wales still prospered and coal dust had not yet blackened the valley. Drawn simply and lovingly, with a crisp Welsh humor, Llewellyn's characters fight, love, laugh, and cry, creating an indelible portrait of a people.
Sunday, December 4, 2011
Synopsis: "Sometimes you do not truly observe something until you study it in reverse," writes Karim Issar upon arrival to New York City from Qatar in 1999. Fluent in numbers, logic, and business jargon yet often baffled by human connection, the young financial wizard soon creates a computer program named Kapitoil that predicts oil futures and reaps record profits for his company.
Synopsis: It's 1952 and the Scott family has just moved from Los Angeles to London. Here, fourteen-year-old Janie meets a mysterious apothecary and his son, Benjamin Burrows - a fascinating boy who's not afraid to stand up to authority and dreams of becoming a spy. When Benjamin's father is kidnapped, Janie and Benjamin must uncover the secrets of the apothecary's sacred book, the Pharmacopoeia, in order to find him, all while keeping it out of the hands of their enemies - Russian spies in possession of nuclear weapons. Discovering and testing potions they never believed could exist, Janie and Benjamin embark on a dangerous race to save the apothecary and prevent impending disaster.
Little Princes is a true story of families and children, and what one person is capable of when faced with seemingly insurmountable odds. At turns tragic, joyful, and hilarious, Little Princes is a testament to the power of faith and the ability of love to carry us beyond our wildest expectations.
NOTE: Paperback release scheduled for 12/27/11.
I remember pacing hospital and house and hills, and thinking that these operations would either work or not and he would either live or die. There was a certain clarity there; I used to crawl into that clarity at night to sleep. But nothing else was clear. I used to think, in those sleepless days and nights, what if they don't fix him all the way and he's a cripple all his life, a pale thin kid in a wheelchair who has Crises? What if his brain gets bent? What if he ends up alive but without his mind at all? What then? Who would he be? Would he always be what he might have been? Would I love him still? What if I couldn't love him? What if he was so damaged that I prayed for him to die? Would those prayers be good or evil?
I don't have anything sweet or wise to say about those thoughts. I can't report that God gave me strength to face my fears, or that my wife's love saved me, or anything cool and poetic like that. I just tell you that I had those thoughts, and they haunt me still. I can't even push them across the page here and have them sit between you and me unattached to either of us, for they are bound to me always, like the dark fibers of my heart. For our hearts are not pure; our hearts are filled with need and greed as much as with love and grace; and we wrestle with our hearts all the time. The wrestling is who we are. How we wrestle is who we are. What we want to be is never what we are. Not yet. Maybe that's why we have these relentless engines in our chests, driving us forward toward what we might be.
Born into a minor noble family, Catherine transformed herself into Empress of Russia by sheer determination. Possessing a brilliant mind and an insatiable curiosity as a young woman, she devoured the works of Enlightenment philosophers and, when she reached the throne, attempted to use their principles to guide her rule of the vast and backward Russian empire. She knew or corresponded with the preeminent historical figures of her time: Voltaire, Diderot, Frederick the Great, Empress Maria Theresa of Austria, Marie Antoinette, and, surprisingly, the American naval hero, John Paul Jones.
Reaching the throne fired by Enlightenment philosophy and determined to become the embodiment of the “benevolent despot” idealized by Montesquieu, she found herself always contending with the deeply ingrained realities of Russian life, including serfdom. She persevered, and for thirty-four years the government, foreign policy, cultural development, and welfare of the Russian people were in her hands. She dealt with domestic rebellion, foreign wars, and the tidal wave of political change and violence churned up by the French Revolution that swept across Europe.
The story is superbly told. All the special qualities that Robert K. Massie brought to Nicholas and Alexandra and Peter the Great are present here: historical accuracy, depth of understanding, felicity of style, mastery of detail, ability to shatter myth, and a rare genius for finding and expressing the human drama in extraordinary lives.
History offers few stories richer in drama than that of Catherine the Great. In this book, this eternally fascinating woman is returned to life.
Synopsis: As a kid, Jacob formed a special bond with his grandfather over his bizarre tales and photos of levitating girls and invisible boys. Now at 16, he is reeling from the old man's unexpected death. Then Jacob is given a mysterious letter that propels him on a journey to the remote Welsh island where his grandfather grew up. There, he finds the children from the photographs--alive and well--despite the islanders’ assertion that all were killed decades ago. As Jacob begins to unravel more about his grandfather’s childhood, he suspects he is being trailed by a monster only he can see. A haunting and out-of-the-ordinary read, debut author Ransom Rigg’s first-person narration is convincing and absorbing, and every detail he draws our eye to is deftly woven into an unforgettable whole. Interspersed with photos throughout, Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children is a truly atmospheric novel with plot twists, turns, and surprises that will delight readers of any age.
NOTE: Hardcover only ($9.44 at Amazon.com / $9.91 at BN.com).
Arthur and George (Fiction)
by Julian Barnes
Synopsis: Arthur is Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, physician, sportsman, gentleman par excellence and the inventor of Sherlock Holmes; George is George Edalji, also a real, if less well-known person, whose path crossed not quite fatefully with the famous author's. Edalji was the son of a Parsi father (who was a Shropshire vicar), and a Scots mother. In 1903, George, a solicitor, was accused of writing obscene, threatening letters to his own family and of mutilating cattle in his farm community. He was convicted of criminal behavior in a blatant miscarriage of justice based on racial prejudice. Eventually, Sir Arthur ("Irish by ancestry, Scottish by birth") heard about George's case and began to advocate on his behalf. In this combination psychological novel, detective story and literary thriller, Barnes elegantly dissects early 20th-century English society as he spins this true-life story with subtle and restrained irony. Every line delivered by the many characters—the two principals, their school chums (Barnes sketches their early lives), their families and many incidentals—rings with import. His dramatization of George's trial, in particular, grinds with telling minutiae, and his portrait of Arthur is remarkably rich, even when tackling Doyle's spiritualist side. Shortlisted for the Booker, this novel about love, guilt, identity and honor is a triumph of storytelling, taking the form Barnes perfected inFlaubert's Parrot (1985) and stretching it yet again.
Synopsis: "Lost Boy" John Bul Dau’s harrowing experience surviving the brutal horrors of Sudanese civil war and his adjustment to life in modern America is chronicled in this inspiring memoir and featured in an award-winning documentary film of the same name. Movingly written, the book traces Dau’s journey through hunger, exhaustion, terror, and violence as he fled his homeland, dodging ambushes, massacres and attacks by wild animals. His tortuous, 14-year journey began in 1987, when he was just 13, and took him on a 1,000-mile walk, barefoot, to Ethiopia, back to Sudan, then to a refugee camp in Kenya, where he lived with thousands of other Lost Boys. In 2001, at the age of 27, he immigrated to the United States. With touching humor, Dau recounts the shock of his tribal culture colliding with life in America. He shares the joy of reuniting with his family and the challenges of making a new life for himself while never forgetting the other Lost Boys he left behind.
Rachel Kalama, a spirited seven-year-old Hawaiian girl, dreams of visiting far-off lands like her father, a merchant seaman. Then one day a rose-colored mark appears on her skin, and those dreams are stolen from her. Taken from her home and family, Rachel is sent to Kalaupapa, the quarantined leprosy settlement on the island of Moloka'i. Here her life is supposed to end---but instead she discovers it is only just beginning.
With a vibrant cast of vividly realized characters, Moloka'i is the true-to-life chronicle of a people who embraced life in the face of death. Such is the warmth, humor, and compassion of this novel that "few readers will remain unchanged by Rachel's story".
Tuesday, November 22, 2011
Synopsis: A biography of World War II hero Louis Zamperini. As a boy, Louis had been an incorrigible delinquent but as a teenager he channeled his defiance into running, discovering a talent that carried him to the Berlin Olympics and within sight of the four-minute mile. When WWII came, he became an airman. Shot down over the Pacific he survived thirst, starvation, and sharks on a foundering raft. Captured by the Japanese, he survived for more than two and half years in several brutal Japanese internment camps as a prisoner of war.
Synopsis: When her father and brother had to flee Kabul, Kamila Sidiqui had to find a way to survive under Taliban rule. With nothing but an idea and the tenacity to see it through, she started a home business with her sisters that grew to support the finances of an entire neighborhood. Without any sewing skills to begin with, she learned to sew and she and her sisters worked from their home in the Khair Khana area of Kabul. As orders for dresses and pant suits started to increase, so did demand for additional pairs of hands. Soon, word got out about the business, and women from all over the area came knocking on their door. What started out as Kamila's idea to feed her own family turned into a source of income for other women in her community.
Owing to a lethal combination of foolishness and inexperience, the plane crashed, killing all aboard except two soldiers and a WAC. They faced certain death unless they left the crash site because the jungle canopy was so dense no rescue plane could see them. Wounded and in pain, the trio made a harrowing trip down the steep mountainside to a small clearing where they thought a rescue plane could see them. Their clearing turned out to be a sweet potato patch of a primitive tribe of superstitious natives who had never before seen a white person. This is a fascinating true story of one of the final first-contacts in human history.
Sunday, November 6, 2011
Please come and bask in the glow of book group!
Love to all,