Rafa & HeLa

My most recent reads are non-fiction.  Normally I read much more fiction than non, but I’ve been a little disgruntled with my fiction selections lately, which coincided with the arrival of two interesting non-fiction books.

Rafa: My Story by Rafa Nadal with John Carlin

I’ve felt pretty ambivalent about this book since it was announced some time last year.  He’s twenty-five  years old!  How can it possibly be time for an autobiography or memoir?  Ultimately what made me order a copy was a review that indicated that the book was written in alternative POVs and was organized primarily around Wimbledon 2008.  Having read Strokes of Genius, which is written from the perspective of an unabashed Federer fanboy, I was curious about Nadal’s recollections and impressions of the match.

To be frank, it was difficult to hear Rafa’s voice in the book, even in the sections narrated by him.  Likely a function of the writing style (I’m assuming the work was done by Nadal and Carlin in Spanish or Mallorqui and translated by Carlin), the language is not at all like his voice in English (still improving) or Spanish (very well-spoken and thoughtful in interviews I’ve read and heard).

Most interesting to me were his observations about Djokovic being the biggest threat to both him and Federer.  I’d be curious to know when the last draft was put to bed — before Djokovic went on a tear this season, or once it was already in progress?

(Note: several words above really need accents, but I can’t figure out how to do them in WordPress without writing the post in Word and then cutting and pasting.  My apologies.)


The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

In 1951, cancer cells were harvested from Henrietta Lacks, a patient on the Johns Hopkins Hospital charity ward.  A JHH doctor attempting to culture cells managed to grow them, and it was a huge breakthrough — human cell cultures had all died relatively quickly up until then, but her (cancerous) cells could be cultured and grown and transported.  HeLa cells went on to be grown/replicated and experimented with for a variety of things in labs around the world, including cancer, STI/STDs, the effects of space travel on human cells, etc., and were the basis for at least one multi-billion dollar biomedical supply companies.  Meanwhile, Lacks’ family knew nothing about it, and lived in poverty, unable to afford healthcare.

So much about this book was utterly disturbing:  the lack of informed consent and disclosure; the appropriation of Lacks’ tissue; the carelessness with which her family was treated at the time of her death and subsequently when biologists wanted to test them; etc.

At one point, the author writes that it is easier for Lacks’ family to understand/believe that god transformed her into an angel via her cells, giving her eternal life, than to understand the science behind the cells.

TheBiochemist tells me that the cervical cancer that killed Lacks must have been utterly brutal, because the HeLa cells she has worked with will live through treatment that would kill anything else:  exposure to radiation that will kill a mouse does not kill HeLa cells.


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One response to “Rafa & HeLa

  1. Pingback: October in books | Shuffling Through A Bookless Desert

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