A slow start (with LRB back issues providing stiff competition for my short attention span), but totally absorbing once I gave it my time and attention. And by the end, a few tears.
The Garden of Evening Mists is set in the Cameron Highlands, in Malaya / Malaysia across three time periods in the narrator’s life: the Japanese occupation, The Emergency, and the present day (actually early 1980s when I read the Wikipedia synopsis). We learn about the peninsula’s history and Japanese zen arts from gardening to wood block prints and tattooing.
And what a wonderfully alluring opening sentence:
On a mountain above the clouds, in the central highlands of Malaya lived the man who had been the gardener of the Emperor of Japan.
Smashing retelling of the Arthurian legend, from Lancelot’s perspective. More gritty than the fairy tale world of Camelot tends to be, but not too gruesome. And the battle tales didn’t go on too long! A book with a more emotional focus than I’d expected.
Oooh, look, there’s a follow up out in May. Camelot‘s now on the list!
And it’s a smashing read. Old money on their uppers, posh people with ponies, Tory and Liberal MP shenanigans in the House of Commons and Socialist Workers Party activists agitating at the other end of the political spectrum, Cormoran’s chaotic love life and Robin and Matthew’s marriage (yes, sorry, spoiler, it did go ahead), the Uffington White Horse and the 2012 London Olympics. Plus Latin aphorisms and quotations from Catullus and Plato – and Ibsen.
Worth the wait and very happy to have found it in Hereford Library on Friday.
One of those books I set aside… Partly because of the lure of Lethal White, and partly because I found the structure a bit of a slog: The Secret Life of Trees reads a bit like a list of trees padded out with taxonomic and evolutionary background. I craved some social or history detail.
I feel I ought to pick it up again at some point, seeing as I’d just got to Order Fagales aka Oaks, Beeches, Birches Hazelnuts and Walnuts, which covers most of the trees here at Forty Acres.
Fascinating science-meets-biography book about the life, and afterlife, of Henrietta Lacks, a poor African-American woman from Maryland who died of cervical cancer in 1951, but whose cancer cells were cultured for use in medical research and her HelLa cells are used by researchers worldwide.
Rebecca Skloot first follows her own fascination with the elusive Henrietta Lacks, but her 10 year investigation and writing of this book was spent mostly in the company of Henrietta’s daughter, Deborah who was only 4 when her mother died. As well as scientists and medical staff, we meet the extended Lacks family, and the book provides a real insight into the life of the poor in America and the African-American experience in particular.
Two of the key themes are the evolution of ethics relating to the use of human tissue/cells in medical research – particularly in the US where research is so commercialised and the profits from a successful outcome runs into the US$ Billions, none of which flows back the person from whom the original matter was taken – and the gradual emergence of the requirement for informed consent.
And, putting her money where her mouth is, Rebecca Skloot established The Henrietta Lacks Foundation when she published her book, which went on to be a best seller in the US. The Foundation’s mission is:
Helping individuals who have made important contributions to scientific research without personally benefiting from those contributions, particularly those used in research without their knowledge or consent.