As someone who has worked in labs and often heard about HeLa cells, I looked forward to learning more about their origins. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks started off as riveting storytelling about Henrietta Lacks, a poor African-American woman being treated at Johns Hopkins for cervical cancer in the 1950s. Without her knowledge, a biopsy of her tumor was used to create the first immortal human cell line, which was then used in myriad ways to advance scientific knowledge. Initially Rebecca Skloot was adroitly juggling three story lines—Henrietta's life story, the scientific breakthroughs, and approaching the scarred Lacks family—but the rhythm disappeared when she was left with primarily Henrietta's descendants. Skloot has invested considerable time and patience to ingratiate herself to the Lackses; perhaps that is why the story continues for several chapters after Henrietta's reach ends and the cells are almost always referred to as "Henrietta's cells." It's astonishing to see the level of miscommunication and disconnect between the scientists and the family. The Afterword is an interesting and more neutral look at the ethics of property rights on biological material.
Lyrel B. (lyrel) reviewed The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks on
Helpful Score: 12
Very well researched and explained. Though I have a science background, I think the topic is very accessible to non-science types. The book is about psychology, medicine, politics, ethics, and the general human condition all mashed together.
Nat S. reviewed The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks on
Helpful Score: 9
An excellent read. Explores the history of one of the most prolific human culture cell lines that I myself used as a graduate student! Even if you have no since background, the science is well explained without being broing or overwhelming.
Also explores history of routine mistreatment of African Americans by medical professionals in America and the lingering mistrust even today. It is also the story of family that lost their mother too soon and the unending trap that lack of education is
crackabook reviewed The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks on
Helpful Score: 8
This was a fascinating true story about the cancer cells of Henrietta Lacks taken, grown for research, all without her or her families knowledge. We learn about her and her family up until present day plus all of the science in between which brought us vaccines and insight into the human body not known before due too the culture of these cells living to this day. DO NOT miss this book, have no fear Rececca Skloot pens this book in such a way that no degree is needed to understand it and you are sure to be moved by the contents. A must read for all who walk on this earth.
This is a amazing true tale of a poor black woman in the '50's that found herself sick. She went to John Hopkins hospital and was examined, and they found a growth on her uterus like Henrietta told them about.
The doctor did what they could in treatment options of those days, and also took two samples of the cells on her uterus.
These cell began to grow in the petri dishes and cultures and the rest is history.
This book is rich in history and pain the Lacks' have gone through to get truth told about thier mother.
This book was very well researched but also personal and engaging. Not a dry history lesson for certain. I really liked this book and could not put it down.
I hope this book sells like hot cakes and gives the Lack family and the author some monitary gain for the future. My copy was the ARC, selling on eBAy
Absolutely riveting!! The story of Henrietta Lacks and her family is amazing. She died of an exceptionally virulent form of cervical cancer, but her cancer cells have lived on and are pretty much immortal. Her cells have helped scientists study viruses, cancers, and other things like space travel and radiation exposure. It's fascinating how the medical community has used the cells, and yet neither she nor her family have any ownership of them. This books deals with the ethics of medical research, while also examining the treatment of blacks from the 50s to present day.
Susan B. reviewed The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks on
Helpful Score: 2
The first and only time I ever heard the name Henrietta Lacks, or "HeLa cells" was a brief mention in my college biology class in the 1970s. Author Rebecca Skloot, through extensive research and years of interviews with those who knew her, brings Henrietta to life: an African-American wife and mother who died in 1951 of a particularly aggressive form of cervical cancer. Samples taken of her tumor were unique at the time: they continued to live and reproduce indefinitely. With "HeLa" cells a multimillion-dollar industry was launched, and Henrietta's cells have been involved in almost every major medical breakthrough in the last 50 years. This is also the story of Lacks and her family, who knew nothing about the cells or the millions of dollars made from them,until many years later. The book combines history and science to explore racism,and bioethics in the second half of the 20th century,and ends on an uplifting note. It's a fascinating and very readable book, and is definitely worth the time.
How can a book about cellular research be such a page turner? The author wove the story about Hela cells into the story about the involuntary donor of the cells, Henrietta Lacks, in a way to make it impossible to get the Lacks family out of my head. The family suffered such a terrible loss during a time when medical standards and procedures put little thought or care into the patient or the patient's family...and even less if they were black. This is an incredible story told in an incredible way, and I highly recommend this story to everyone because there is no one alive today who has not benefited in some way from Henrietta's cells.
Review first publshed on my blog: http://memoriesfrombooks.blogspot.com/2012/10/the-immortal-life-of-henrietta-lacks.html
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is a fascinating story of a woman who died in 1951. Until this book was written, she was virtually unknown, but her life and death have had an incalculable effect on the field of medicine.
Henrietta Lacks was a poor woman trying to survive. She was diagnosed with cervical cancer and treated as a charity patient at Johns Hopkins. Without her permission or even her knowledge, doctors who treated her took and cultured her cells. Her cells showed such properties and such ability to thrive and multiply that they became an important tool in medical science. They were reproduced, bought, and sold by the millions and were critical in medical advances such as the polio vaccine, gene mapping, and other applications.
Meanwhile, Henrietta's family continued to suffer and struggle. On top of that, her children had to deal with the fact that a part of their mother was somehow alive out in the world. Others reaped professional and financial benefits while Henrietta's family did not.
This books alternates between telling the story of the HeLa cells and the story of Henrietta and her family. It takes a story of science and makes it about the people involved.
The topic is a fascinating one, and the book includes a lot of research. Sometimes, it is difficult to read because it contains so much information. I enjoyed the the story of Henrietta's life and family. I also enjoyed learning more about the scientific development that resulted. However, for most of the book I found myself skimming through a lot of the details. It was interesting, but it was just a bit too much.
After reading the first six chapters yesterday evening ... this is an amazing book. Well written, reads like a novel, but is a true story of a woman and her family. She died never knowing that her immortal cells would do so much good around the world.
The history of HeLa ... descriptions of the treatments Henrietta received ... terrifying and noteworthy. Her legacy to us all is immortal. Mankind's debt to her bottomless.
A well researched book on the contribution Henrietta Lacks unknowingly made to medical research and into the journey of her family coming to terms the best they could with what happened to their wife/mother/sister/cousin. Raises some good questions about medical ethics and privacy issues.
This book started off good. I could not put it down. Henrietta Lacks was 30 years old with cervical cancer in 1951. While being treated at Hopkins, doctors took a sample of her cervix.
These cells were able to keep dividing and not die off which made them very valuable to science. Her family was not aware that the cells were taken from her. Henrietta died from the cancer. The author tracks down what has happened to Henrietta, her family and her cells (HeLa). Toward the end of the book it got too scientific for my interest so it was a slow read then. Interesting true story.
An amazing story. Although it's filled with scientific terms, anyone who is interested should be able to read and understand it easily. It's more than just a story of how medical scientists used Henrietta Lack's cancer cells to further the search for cures, and created building blocks of knowledge for medical mysteries the world over, as if that weren't enough. It's also about the overwhelming poverty, and the ignorance of the poor during the time period partially covered in the story. The Lacks family wasn't the only one treated badly by the medical system available to them at the time (the fifties.) In fact, in many ways they were lucky. They had Johns Hopkins nearby which had been created expressly to give good medical care to the poorest of the poor. The using of cells taken from surgical patients to help further scientific studies was not uncommon then, especially tissue taken from poor Black patients. We all have a lot to be thankful for because of the amazing studies done using these cells. I learned a lot by reading this book. I found it an excellent read.
I really enjoyed this book. Not the happenings, but the story.
I found the back and forth of the chapters - the human story and the Lacks - against the factual story of legalities was done very well. Personally I enjoyed the factual portion almost as much as the family story. I know a number said they glossed over the factual stuff to get back to the more readable family information, but for me there is just such a good balance that I enjoyed all of it. I think reading the factual part tends to more fully explain the injustice and suffering that the family has had to endure.
Am I grateful that those cells were harvested - I must admit that I am. I was in that first surge of children getting the new polio vaccine. My mother and a number of my paternal aunts and uncles had bouts with cancer that was put in remission prior to their death. The information and research learned by those cells was phenomenal.... but I am also thoroughly disgusted with the method that brought it about.
I believe this book will stay with me for a long time. I really liked this book - even the medical factual stuff. Actaully that medical factual stuff probably made more of an impact on me. I emphathized with the Lack family, but I am having more of a lingering effect with the unethical and lack of laws that allowed this type of thing to even happen. I think what worries me most is that not a whole lot has changed - laws are still not in place and there does not seem to be much ethical advancement when it comes to taking and storing body parts, blood or tissue without our consent. We think we are advanced - maybe in some ways we are - but this book makes me wonder... just how advanced are we?
This is a great story, with an underdog heroine who affects many of us, though we probably don't know it, and a scientific mystery story complete with twists, turns, unexpected paths leading off in all directions and a valiant family trying to reclaim their relative, long gone but living on. Rebecca Skloot, the author, writes vividly and engages our interest with empathic portrayals of a huge cast of characters. She doesn't overwhelm you with the technicalities, but explains clearly the science behind Henrietta Lacks' amazing cells...still living 60 years after her death, and instrumental in cutting-edge research through the decades. It's also a very human story, of poverty and illness, of people who are marginalized and exploited, who keep their heads up in the face of crushing obstacles. It leaves you with questions: how would you feel if your body was used without permission for the benefit of science and if profits were made on that science which didn't get passed along to your loved ones?
Excellent and disturbing - this book starts with cells taken from a woman whose family could not give informed consent (their education level was low and the doctors spoke in "Medical English") and ends with how any tissue removed from any of us is no longer our property and is subject to any sort of research without compensating us. Rebecca Skloot manages to write a riveting book about race, medicine, economic class, education, ethics, history, and the reader. Not a small feat.
My book group chose this and I wasn't that excited. I really liked it though. The author did a great job of balancing points of view and facts versus lives and feelings. There are interesting moral issues which are mentioned, but not preached about. Nicely done.
A few people in my book group thought it might be a dull book, but everyone liked it due to the balance of human interest and scientific information.
This book was a required reading for one of my classes, but it was also recommended to me by a family member long before the class assignment. As such, I didn't approach this book with the same apprehension I approach other class required readings. For the record, I haven't read many nonfiction books that I really enjoyed... Until I read this book.
Even though this is a well-researched nonfiction book, it reads like fiction. The great part about this book is that the abundant information about such complex and technical topics, like cancer and genetics, is presented in a way that isn't too overwhelming for the average reader to understand.
So, if you wish to read an interesting and informative book, I can't point to a better book.
Henrietta Lacks dies early in this story but 60 years after her death her impact lives on: in the science she inadvertently helped create, in the damaged lives of her children and grandchildren, and in the ethical questions surrounding medical research.
As a science nerd who cut my teeth on HeLa cell culture, this was personal and fascinating. The incredible series of coincidences that had to happen for Henrietta Lacks and her cancer cells to come to the attention of the research biologist most able to bring her unique qualities to the world is astonishing. Henrietta's haphazard and tumultuous background versus her noble and lasting legacy makes you wonder what undiscovered greatness we all could have hidden inside our mundane lives.
One of the best books I've read in a while. This book covers race issues, our class society, and medical ethics without every making any one of those issues the real heart of the book.
The real heart of the book is Deborah Lacks, Henrietta's daughter. The reader gets to know Deborah and see what it feels like to learn that her mother's cells were harvested without her knowledge. As a poor uneducated woman in the inner city of Baltimore, Deborah struggles to understand the science behind her mother's cell lines, as well as the spiritual implications it might have for her mother. She tries to reconcile the good her mother's cells have done for the world with the fact that her own family can't afford health care.
The book also highlights the fact that while Henrietta had remarkable cells, the fact that her cells were harvested is not unusual. We all have cells out there, somewhere, that may be used for scientific research at any given time. Should we be able to claim ownership over these cells, or are we better off letting things remain the way they are with cells belonging to the scientific community to be used for the common good?
It's been weeks since I read this book, and I haven't been able to stop thinking about Deborah or the ethics behind cell research since. You won't regret reading this, I promise.
I kept reading this book because I felt like it was important information to know. The story is a true story and very sad at times, so it took me a while to get through, not a page turner, but once you start it, you have to finish it.
Unbeleivable, shocking, amazing - just some of the adjectives I can use to describe this nf story
I found out many things I did not know & was unaware of happening even till this day. At times I got a little tired of all the people , scienctists, doctors etc. with the medical information. Some seemed repetitious , but I kept on because the story gets better as you get into her family & their lives. Great, great book & well done by author.It's hard to retain all the medical facts, but it's well worth the time & effort to read. I can see why the author had to gather so much information to tell this tale. She set up a Henrietta Lack foundation also.
Doctors took her cells without asking and they never died. They launched a medical revolution and more. The book reads like a novel. The writing has been called riveting, indelible, extraordinary, gripping,astonishing, moving, stunning, graceful, remarkable, powerful, masterful, thrilling and original. It is all those things. It is also funny and tender. This is the first book I have read that has won 19 awards--most "Best book of the year." It is the best science writing I have ever read. Read it. You won't be sorry. You'll be glad you did.
Having just finished reading this (in the hospital no less), it's a wonderful read. Skloot seamlessly jumps between characters and timelines with each chapter, never bogging down in deep technical jargon nor spoon feeding you the story. Equal parts history adventure, science lesson, family counseling and a treaty on medical ethics, it is a superb read.
It is simply amazing what this country has always does "in the name" of something or someone & gets away with it. I can't believe the horror this family has been put through & didn't even realize what was happening. I'm so glad I got to read this book, & I thank Ms Skloot for shinning a light on another piece of history most would rather leave alone.
I found this book fascinating. The story of Henrietta Lacks and her family and the various ways they interpreted medical intent after finding out about the growing HeLa cells was very interesting, but there is so much more. I was amazed by the changes in cell research since the 1950s, and the strides relative to obtaining patient consent. Researchers used test subjects, who often had no knowledge of a test being done, to see if injected cells would cause cancer (they did.)Despite what many would see as ethical concerns, it was not law. Researchers patented the cells of others for great commercial gains without the knowledge of those they took the cells from. Legally! We do NOT have the rights to our own body parts we may think we have.
The book is clearly written, and is the consummate mystery story.
I like biographies and historical fiction so I wasn't too sure what to expect as I picked this book up. Truly I expected this to be a slow read with a lot of technical detail. The opposite was true! I couldn't put this book down! It was a good balance of family history, medical research and just good story telling that presents the moral dilemmas raised via medical research and looking to the greater good. It's also interesting to hear the family's perspective and be awakened to how their life experiences were affected by the HeLa cell line.
This gripping narrative addresses history, science and the human parts of this amazing account with equal facility. The story itself is astonishing, encompassing a vast amount of medical progress in the past 60 years. The writing is equally commendable because it enables the reader to comprehend some complex science, events, and ethical questions with clarity.
One of my favorite books.
As a nonfiction book it was highly educational about many important topics in medicine both back then and today. I had not heard of HeLa cells before reading the book, nor the Hayflick limit and can definitely say I learned a lot reading it. I haven't noted others saying this in their reviews, so maybe I'm in the minority here, but I found myself uncomfortable during the very detailed descriptive sections describing for instance Cooties home, furniture, possessions, decorations as well as many other sections describing how other members of the family lived, which I felt was unnecessary for the book. Did we really need to know that? Did we need to know their criminal backgrounds? Was it not enough for the author to describe they lived in extreme poverty? I felt that if she had published the book prior to the death of Deborah, she would never have included so much personal description (including how they dressed, looked, talked) that would have humiliated the family to read, and will humiliate future generations of Lacks family to read. This continued to disturb me as I read the book. Learning about HeLA was enough to make the book successful.
I loved this book. I usually am not drawn to non-fiction...but I couldn't put it down. Fascinating and frightening look at ethics regarding medical practices in the fifties and beyond. So glad I read this book and now understand the many policies we have in place today to protect individual rights.
This book was a fascinating look at the life, death, and immortality of a young black woman named Henrietta Lacks. Diagnosed in 1951 with an aggressive cervical cancer, her biopsied cells were taken without her knowledge or consent and given to a researcher who was attempting to to grow human cells for scientific research. She died shortly after, but her cells replicated and became known as HeLa. They have been vital in creating the polio vaccine and studying cancer, among other things. However, her family was never told about Henrietta's contribution to science and the world was never told about the woman who faded to obscurity while her cells lived on. This book shares her story, the story of her family, and the scientific progress that has been made as a result of these cells.
My first lab job involved learning cell culture. I've since worked with HeLa cells and gone through years of grad school without giving thought to the origins of HeLa. Sad to read this book and think how this could have happened to anyone. Well written, not as technical or science-laden as one might think. Author did an excellent job portraying the Lacks family with just the right amount of sympathy without painting researchers and doctors as "evil."
Fascinating and eye opening two fold story. Skloot deftly tells how the influence of racism on the medical profession affects Henrietta Lacks and her family. The author also gives a clear outline for non-clinical readers of the development of the HeLa cells and how Henrietta's unknowing "donation" has benefitted the human race.
I was skeptical when this was the book club choice of the month - scientific non-fiction - yeesh! And yet, I loved this book. Skloot is a good writer and a gutsy lady. The science writing is clear and understandable. Her book and Henrietta and her family's story honestly moved me to tears. We also had a great group discussion about lots of issues including informed consent, race, class, religion, education, the cycle of poverty, restitution, and universal health insurance.
This book is a must for every human being. It is an important part of science and history. The book went back and forth from science to the fascinating life story of Henrietta Lacks and her offspring. I was never overwhelmed about the science and couldn't put it down. It raises important moral questions that still are ripe for discussion.
Truth is truly stranger than fiction, and more horrifying and more heartbreaking. This is a must read. There is a lot of medical terminology and descriptions of medical/laboratory procedures but the author does a fantastic job of explaining these while still keeping the story interesting. Not a quick read but I most definitely recommend.
This was a really interesting look at the woman behind one of biology's most famous cell lines. If you liked Splendid Solution, about the discovery of the polio vaccine, I think you would also like this book a lot as well. The author's description of the challenges she faced writing book was a bit of an intrusion, but really shed a light on the lives of Henrietta's descendants, which is important to the story.
This is a must-read by everyone! It tells of people being taken advantage of, but that is not the main point. We all have benefited in some way by these immortal cells.
I was not sure how so much science could be understandable to a non-scientist like me, but there is enough definition to get the picture. The people are so interesting! The story moves so fast that it is a real page-turner.
I cannot recommend this book more.
In February 1951, a black woman named Henrietta Lacks was diagnosed with cancer. Some of those cancer cells were cultured and grown in a lab, and ultimately created a cottage industry in tissue farming and research. Though Henrietta passed away in the 1950's, her family never knew that her cells still lived on in labs around the world. This is the story of Henrietta, but it's also a larger story about the family she left behind, and how they coped with her loss, and about how they learned that her cells were still alive and well. This is an intriguing and compelling read, never boring, and never too technical. The author, Rebecca Skloot spent a large amount of time getting to know the Lacks family and researching the biological history of Henrietta's cells and manages to tell the story quite well without ever talking down to the reader. She raises some interesting questions and allows the reader to draw their own conclusions. I would heartily recommend this!
This book contains a great deal of scientific information, which is necessary to explain what the Lacks family went through, but hard for those like me who are not as interested in the scientific side of things. I was about to put the book down because I was so tired of reading about cell production when I finally reached the part of the book where Ms. Skloot finally begins to tell more about the family. I was much more interested in the family and what they went through than the scientific explanations, so I was very relieved when she finally got to the personal side of the story. I'm glad I hung in there until I reached the part about the family, but it isn't a book I will read again.
Heather T. reviewed The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks on
This is a real eye opener to how medical practice has changed. The author managed to make it extremely interesting and captivating. I really enjoyed this book and my heart was rooting for the Lacks the whole time.
One may wonder if this book is too complicated or hard to understand, too medically prone....but it isn't. It is a great story about a real woman. It is good and thoughtful, interesting and full of things I did not know....in language I can understand easily. Much thanks to Rebecca Skloot. :)
Henrietta Lacks was an amazing woman who was unknown. Because of her, life saving changes happened. And, yes, lots of money was made too. This highlighted issues with medical ethics and consent. I'm so glad this book exists. It tells an important story. I liked how it was laid out. Not dry, boring like it could have been. Sad that her daughter, Deborah, didn't live to see it's publication.
For a time in my life, I worked as a secretary filing medical research type patent applications and found it fascinating. However, at that time, I had not heard about Henrietta Lacks' cells and the story that revolved around it. When I came across this book, I immediately gravitated to the subject matter and was drawn into the story about the cells and how they were taken and used for many research purposes without Henrietta or her family having any knowledge of it. The book shows the stark contrast between the medical researchers' lives and educational background and Henrietta's family's living conditions and lack of education. The book touched me and brought me to tears multiple times. I found this book to be enlightening and thought provoking and would highly recommend it.
Christine H. reviewed The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks on
A fascinating and most enlightening read! Will never see a simple hospital visit for routine treatment or otherwise in the same light. An injustice was truly committed with Mrs. Lacks and an even greater wrong was inflicted upon her family. Medical science and the world is forever indebted to the contributions gained by the unauthorized use of Mrs. Lacks' cells!
Horrible story line. Boring characters not much to hold anyones interest unless maybe if you work in the field of medicine. Don't waste your time reading it. Possibly one of the worst books I ever read.
What an intriguing book! When Henrietta Lasks died in 1951, her death had little to do with history or did it? Before Henrietta died of cervical cancer, doctors took her cells without her knowledge or consent. Those cells changed the world of medicine like nothing before.
The author has spent uncountable hours researching and interviewing family members, doctors, and researchers. Although companies have made billions off of Henriettas cells her family still lives in poverty. I appreciated the weaving of the personal story with that of the medical side. If you go to the doctor and are asked to sign HIPPA papers thank HeLa and how over the years consent rules and regulations are changed.
I found it interesting how the rules have changed since the 1950s and how cells from a poor black lady from the south have lived for over half a century.
Utterly amazing true story of cancer cells living 70 years after being removed from their host/victim. While the family of this woman, Henrietta Lacks, were never to benefit from her unknowing contribution to science, medicine itself has benefited immensely. Her cells have made possible thousands upon thousands of studies and research into diseases, and resulted in medicines that have saved countless lives, beginning with the polio vaccine in the 1950's. The author discovers and befriends her impoverished family and does extensive research into her life and times. Excellent - definitely recommend! D.
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
A thoughtful, sad and telling chronicle of the life of a 1950s black woman living in the Baltimore, Maryland area serviced by the Johns Hopkins Hospital. (Keep in mind that Johns Hopkins Hospital was originally funded to provide medical care for the poor regardless of color, etc).
The bio sketch relates: Doctors took her cells without as
king. Those cells never died. They launched a medical revolution and a multimillion dollar industry. More than 20 years later, her children found out. Their lives would never be the same
As succinctly as possible that short intro tells the story of this American tragedy.
As early as 1914 Justice Benjamin Cardozo, New York State Court of Appeals wrote:
"Every human being of adult years and sound mind has a right to determine what shall be done with his own body; and a surgeon who performs an operation without his patient's consent commits an assault, for which he is liable in damages.
I know that this rule of law, since it applies in the area of Medical Malpractice, may not exactly apply to Ms. Lacks and her family, but when you factor in that her original cancer was misdiagnosed it bares consideration. Moreover, when you agree that the ends do not justify the means, the question arises why was her rights, dignity and well-being of her final days and the afterlife of her children and husband so cavalierly abused? I guess only the pharmaceutical companies can answer that question.
This book, while difficult to read and accept should be on your list of things to read this summer and then to reflect on how far have we come in treating all Americans equally.
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
Author: Rebecca Skloot
Her name was Henrietta Lacks, but scientists know her as HeLa. She was a poor Southern tobacco farmer who worked the same land as her slave ancestors, yet her cells -- taken without her knowledge -- became one of the most important tools in medicine. The first immortal human cells grown in culture, they are still alive today, though she has been dead for more than sixty years. If you could pile all HeLa cells ever grown onto a scale, theyd weigh more than 50 million metric tons-- as much as a hundred Empire State Buildings. HeLa cells were vital for developing the polio vaccine; uncovered secrets of cancer, viruses, and the atom bombs effects; helped lead to important advances like in vitro fertilization, cloning, and gene mapping; and have been bought and sold by the billions.
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 Henriettas 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.