Monday, May 23, 2011

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

Title/Author: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks/Rebecca Skloot
Publisher: Pan MacMillan
Pages: 384
ISBN 13: 9780330533447

In a nutshell
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is more than just a story about a woman and her cells which are still alive till today. Not only have they been replicated, distributed, and used without the owner's consent, but they have also saved millions of lives and earned big corporations a lot of money. And yet, nobody has heard of her until today. And yet, the Lacks's family can't even afford health coverage.

"It's a story 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’re made of."

It's a story which allows us and her family to learn of the life of a woman who continues to live on and save millions of lives throughout the world. It's a story of family, love, loss, faith, trust and betrayal.

What I liked
I was a little apprehensive about reading it at first, fearing that it'd have too many scientific jargons that I wouldn't understand and would need to google them. That'd be too much work. So I flipped through the first few pages and was immediately hooked. Skloot made it as simple and straightforward as possible. Most of the time, I understood it when Deborah (Henrietta's daughter) explained it in her own words.

I must say, this is the best non-fiction book I've read thus far, but also a very disturbing one. The story of this family and what has happened to them, is really painful to digest, so much so that I wish it was fictional. I wish that it didn't happen, and that Skloot is writing it to prevent it from happening.

It took 10 years for Skloot to write this book, and it's clear why. The detailed research, the conversations that took place, the technique used to make this story flow fluidly, and to infuse it with specific detailed scientific information yet making it an engaging read, is a very arduous task. Gaining such personal information and building a strong relationship and trust with the Lacks family isn't easy either especially with the racial conflict. But Skloot did it.

It's hard not to be affected by this story of the Lacks's family and not to feel their anger, frustration, loss, and sense of betrayal. It was even harder for me to hold back my tears at the end of this book. But throughout the story, we'll also come across a few good, sincere people who offered help whichever way they could.

Everyone should and MUST read this book. Not only because it's good, but because it creates awareness and makes one take a long hard look at the need for standardized health care in our society.

Let me end this review with one of my favourite quotes (from Deborah): When repeatedly asked if she was angry about what happened to her mother and mad at the doctors and researchers responsible, she replied, "...if you gonna go into history, you can't do it with a hate attitude. You got to remember, times was different."

My verdict?
Definitely a perfect 5. An unputdownable, this one!

Here's the book trailer.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

One Day by David Nicholls - THE MOVIE

So, the movie is here! Check out the trailer:

Hmm...the movie looks quite promising... :)

If you'd like to read the book review, click here.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

The 20 Essential Indian Novels

Thank you Katina for sharing this with me! Read this article and thought it might interest you too. Some really good titles here which might tempt you to add them to your 'To Read' list? ;)

"India's ancient, volatile history, multicultural and multiethnic heritage, and varied geography make it a hotbed for amazing literature. Unfortunately, so few of its vast offerings garner much recognition or renown in the United States. Bibliophiles and students hoping to delve into the dazzling array of Indian literature available might want to consider this list a great, diverse start; however, by no means does this downplay the importance or value of other writers and works.

Untouchable (1935) by Mulk Raj Anand: Untouchable bluntly dives into the plight of the Dalit caste, situated at the desperately poor, sick bottom of the then-rigid social hierarchy. Author Mulk Raj Anand found inspiration in his aunt's experience dining with a Muslim family and subsequent shunning. From there, he crafted an eloquent, exceptionally compelling case against dissolving the caste system and creating more opportunities for the marginalized and invisible. (I'm adding this to my list!! :))

Nectar in a Sieve (1954) by Kamala Markandaya: This highly acclaimed bildungsroman pulled directly from author Kamala Markandaya's life experiences. As India segues into a more urban, industrialized nation, 12-year-old protagonist Rukmani finds herself in an arranged marriage with Nathan. Both of them struggle to raise children and meet their needs as neighborhood dynamics shift in the wake of a tannery's opening.

The Ramayana, as Told by Aubrey Menen (1954) by Aubrey Menen: Anyone easily offended by religious satires may want to stay away from this novel, but those open enough to give it a chance will find it a nifty little gem. Here, beloved Hindu epic The Ramayana forms the basis of a comedic tale that whipped up controversy and resulted in a temporary banning. Despite all this fervor, author Aubrey Menen clearly respected his source material and merely meant to make light of it from a then-contemporary perspective.

Train to Pakistan (1956) by Khushwant Singh: So much post-partition Indian literature emphasizes the political ramifications, the ways it impacted the populace on a more personal, intimate level receives little acknowledgment. Khushwant Singh hoped to derail this mindset by weaving an evocative tale of Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs waging battle over a murder. It remains a highly effective glimpse into one of India's most volatile periods — which currently continues to influence the region's overall geopolitical climate.

Clear Light of Day (1980) by Anita Desai: Anita Desai's semi-autobiographical novel watches family dynamics shift alongside India's partitioning by British colonials. Many of the internal fractures deftly parallel those found externally, and the narrative speaks about broad and intimate themes and situations simultaneously. Ultimately, though, forgiveness begins to seep into everyone's various wounds."

Other titles include Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Chidren, Vikram Seth's A Suitable Boy (Note to self: must find a suitable time to read this), Arundhati Roy's A Suitable Boy, and David Davidar's The House of Blue Mangoes (which is in my 'To Read' list) and many other very intriguing titles!

If you love what you've read so far, you must then check out the complete list here.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

God of Carnage (PJLA Malaysia)

God of Carnage (originally Le Dieu Du Carnage), a French play debuted in Zurich way back in 2006. It has since been adapted into English, playing at London and New York. In 2009, the play was given the Laurence Olivier Award for Best New Comedy, and won Best Play at the 2009 Tony Awards.

And it's now playing in Malaysia. For more details, go to PJ Live Arts.

In a nutshell
What brought the four characters together is the incident of an 11-year-old boy, Benjamin, has hit another boy, Henry, in the face with a stick at a playground. Alain and Annette, Benjamin's parents, played by Will Quah and Lina Teoh, are visiting the apartment of Michael and Veronica, the victim’s parents, played by Megat Sharizal and Maya Tan Abdullah, to work out a way in which an apology might be made.

It all seemed fine and dandy at first, until the discussion delved into issues such as politics, work, money, and humanity among the four of them.

What I liked
The cast. I think they did a great job. I especially liked Maya and Megat. Megat...was....HILARIOUS and was such a natural too :) (I saw on youtube the original actor who played Michael, he wasn't as funny) I had the most fun watching Megat, especially when he started letting loose. He did look like a boring character at the begining, but like they all say, never judge a book by its cover. In fact, all characters turned out to be what they weren't , except maybe for the cynical Alain and the idealist Veronica.

Lina Teoh's voice projection. I thought she did it very well. I don't know, but I personally find it a very difficult skill to acquire. Maybe I just don't have it haha And my, does she vomit ever so skillfully! LOL My bro enjoyed the 'tau fu fa' because he was seated right at the front! :D

Alain's handphone - the phone with a attitude! I like its character haha It also set a kind of anticipation whenever it rang, especially when the conversation went from Alain and his assistant to Veronica and Annette.

Definitely the conversations. Laugh we did, yes. But was it only because they were funny or also because they were true and we could relate to what they said, especially about parenting, marriage, politics, work, 'murder', and relationships?

My take away message
There were other serious issues being discussed in all that puke-y mess, chair/bag-hurling havoc and hamster-killer argument, but what appealed to me most that night, was what Annette said; her rather, last minute epiphany, 'There is wrong on both sides'. I was just saying this to my colleague that afternoon. It takes two hands to clap; there's no way a conflict can arise with just one party being on the wrong. As you can see in this play, everyone is playing the blame game, and there was no end to it. They didn't even solve the problem, not even come to a conclusion.

We're always too caught up in wanting to be right, wanting to look righteous, wanting to be heard, but not wanting to take up responsibilty for own doings and not wanting to care about others. Nobody gives a 'rat's ass' about what the other says or thinks. In other words, selfish-lah...

It also made me realise, that we adults still have those childish emotions in us, don't you think? ;) It was fun seeing celebrities like Lina Teoh and Will Quah behaving like kids haha What an adorable couple on stage! :)

What I didn't quite like...
The ending. Felt 'hanging' because nothing was decided. So the ending didn't feel like an ending to me.

Some thoughts
Would it be funnier had it been adapted to a Malaysian setting, with our local accent and slang? Hmmm...

And why so much emphasis on the clafouti? Any implications? Hmmmm....

My verdict? 7/10

If you haven't seen this play, a word of advice: DON'T SIT AT THE FRONT :)



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