A searing memoir filled with horrors that impressively remains upbeat, highly inspiring, and always educational.

CALL ME AMERICAN

A MEMOIR

Born to extreme poverty in 1985 in war-torn Somalia, Iftin chronicles the extraordinary obstacles he overcame to obtain residency in the United States.

The author’s parents—and almost everybody of their generation in a lower-caste Somalian tribe—lived outdoors as nomads, raising camels and goats. They had never heard of the U.S. and only had a vague idea of Somalia as a diverse nation that had been colonized by Italy. Six years after Iftin’s birth and shortly after a devastating war with Ethiopia, Somalia descended into a tribal civil war that left millions dead, starving to death, or homeless. Amid a seemingly hopeless life filled with daily study of the Quran and corporal punishment from teachers if the memorization was less than perfect, a preteen Iftin became a combination of dreamer for a better life and street hustler to supply his family with scraps of food. He found a way into a ramshackle video store, where he violated Muslim tenets to view American movies, painstakingly repeating phrases to himself to learn English. “The things I saw in the movies seemed unreachable,” he writes, “but at least I could learn the language they spoke.” Eventually, the narrative shifts from his life of quiet desperation on the streets to his then-unrealistic plan to leave Somalia. The author reached a fetid refugee camp in Kenya and was able to obtain a visa to enter the U.S., where he knew nobody. Explaining how Iftin reached the U.S. would involve a series of spoilers, but suffice it to say that he did achieve entry four years ago, after which he found lodging, paid work, and formal education in Maine, where he plans to attend college. The author felt secure and optimistic there until the election of Donald Trump.

A searing memoir filled with horrors that impressively remains upbeat, highly inspiring, and always educational.

Pub Date: June 19, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-3219-6

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: March 20, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2018

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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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