Flawed in structure but beautifully written and completely captivating. (photos)

RODINSKY'S ROOM

Fascinating tale of Jewish mystic-hermit David Rodinsky, whose London room is opened up after nearly 20 years, by artist Lichtenstein and with contributions by author Sinclair (Downriver, 1993).

The term quirky doesn't come close to describing this work, which blends Lichtenstein's autobiography, her biography of Rodinsky, a social history of London's Jewish immigrant neighborhood, and Sinclair's critical look at Lichtenstein's attempts to discover the truth about herself and Rodinsky. Lichtenstein begins the story with her attempts to discover what she can of her family's immigrant past in the London neighborhood of Spitalfields, and then is quickly engrossed by the story of David Rodinsky, who was legendary in his neighborhood for his seeming disappearance. Rodinsky's room was left exactly as he had last left it—a small garret above a synagogue, filled with notebooks in a number of languages, religious texts, and his personal effects. From this room, Lichtenstein's journey to discover what she can of this strange man spirals outward to encompass a cross section of London's Jewish community and takes her to Israel, a shtetl in Poland, and just about anyone who ever remembered Rodinsky. Lichtenstein's intensely personal writing is first-rate, and she quickly creates a stirring portrait of Rodinsky as a man who suddenly found himself alone in his room as London's Jewish community moved away from his surrounding neighborhood. Less interesting are the chapters by Sinclair, which are interspersed throughout the work and serve to distract from a story that is intrinsically one of Lichtenstein and Rodinsky. As Lichtenstein discovers more and more of Rodinsky, her mission becomes less to discover the man than to discover his place of burial and to put his soul to rest through telling his story and saying Kaddish over the grave.

Flawed in structure but beautifully written and completely captivating. (photos)

Pub Date: May 1, 2000

ISBN: 1-86207-257-4

Page Count: 362

Publisher: Granta

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2000

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Skloot's meticulous, riveting account strikes a humanistic balance between sociological history, venerable portraiture and...

THE IMMORTAL LIFE OF HENRIETTA LACKS

A dense, absorbing investigation into the medical community's exploitation of a dying woman and her family's struggle to salvage truth and dignity decades later.

In a well-paced, vibrant narrative, Popular Science contributor and Culture Dish blogger Skloot (Creative Writing/Univ. of Memphis) demonstrates that for every human cell put under a microscope, a complex life story is inexorably attached, to which doctors, researchers and laboratories have often been woefully insensitive and unaccountable. In 1951, Henrietta Lacks, an African-American mother of five, was diagnosed with what proved to be a fatal form of cervical cancer. At Johns Hopkins, the doctors harvested cells from her cervix without her permission and distributed them to labs around the globe, where they were multiplied and used for a diverse array of treatments. Known as HeLa cells, they became one of the world's most ubiquitous sources for medical research of everything from hormones, steroids and vitamins to gene mapping, in vitro fertilization, even the polio vaccine—all without the knowledge, must less consent, of the Lacks family. Skloot spent a decade interviewing every relative of Lacks she could find, excavating difficult memories and long-simmering outrage that had lay dormant since their loved one's sorrowful demise. Equal parts intimate biography and brutal clinical reportage, Skloot's graceful narrative adeptly navigates the wrenching Lack family recollections and the sobering, overarching realities of poverty and pre–civil-rights racism. The author's style is matched by a methodical scientific rigor and manifest expertise in the field.

Skloot's meticulous, riveting account strikes a humanistic balance between sociological history, venerable portraiture and Petri dish politics.

Pub Date: Feb. 9, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-4000-5217-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2010

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A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor...

INTO THE WILD

The excruciating story of a young man on a quest for knowledge and experience, a search that eventually cooked his goose, told with the flair of a seasoned investigative reporter by Outside magazine contributing editor Krakauer (Eiger Dreams, 1990). 

Chris McCandless loved the road, the unadorned life, the Tolstoyan call to asceticism. After graduating college, he took off on another of his long destinationless journeys, this time cutting all contact with his family and changing his name to Alex Supertramp. He was a gent of strong opinions, and he shared them with those he met: "You must lose your inclination for monotonous security and adopt a helter-skelter style of life''; "be nomadic.'' Ultimately, in 1992, his terms got him into mortal trouble when he ran up against something—the Alaskan wild—that didn't give a hoot about Supertramp's worldview; his decomposed corpse was found 16 weeks after he entered the bush. Many people felt McCandless was just a hubris-laden jerk with a death wish (he had discarded his map before going into the wild and brought no food but a bag of rice). Krakauer thought not. Admitting an interest that bordered on obsession, he dug deep into McCandless's life. He found a willful, reckless, moody boyhood; an ugly little secret that sundered the relationship between father and son; a moral absolutism that agitated the young man's soul and drove him to extremes; but he was no more a nutcase than other pilgrims. Writing in supple, electric prose, Krakauer tries to make sense of McCandless (while scrupulously avoiding off-the-rack psychoanalysis): his risky behavior and the rites associated with it, his asceticism, his love of wide open spaces, the flights of his soul.

A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor will it to readers of Krakauer's narrative. (4 maps) (First printing of 35,000; author tour)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-42850-X

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Villard

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1995

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