readalike: Henrietta Lacks and The Spirit Catches You

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot, and The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, by Anne Fadiman, read almost like partner volumes to me. These two nonfiction works share author/narrators who get involved in their subjects, spending a great deal of time with the families involved and forming personal bonds. Both Fadiman and Skloot are bothered by a sense of, if not wrongdoing, something having gone awry. The subject of both books is medicine, and the interaction of the institution of western medicine with a culture that doesn’t fully understand it. Humans are important. Ethics are involved, and there are no clear rights and wrongs – or perhaps it would be better to say it’s easy to see where we went wrong, but difficult to see what the right path would have been. Even the structure and tone of the two books are similar: to understand the subject at hand, we are often taken back a step or zoomed out, to a perspective where we can see the history or the culture’s role in a specific situation. The reader learns medicine, science, history without feeling lectured. I strongly recommend both.

3 Responses

  1. […] Rebecca Skloot before I really began blogging. (I made a few posts on it early on: here, here, and here, but none qualify as a review.) So I can only say, looking back, that as with On a Farther Shore, […]

  2. […] Down, which was one of the first books I personally recognized as “creative nonfiction” as I was beginning to conceive of the genre). Everything is circular. Like a […]

  3. […] review of Anne Fadiman’s The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down was one of three brief pieces I sent in to Shelf Awareness when I applied to write for them. The […]

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