Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Review: Life Sciences by Joy Sorman

I'm hitting two reviews today...I don't lie when I say my schedule is packed to the gills. The first one is something a little different than the reads I usually have on here. This book greets from France and addresses the phenomenon of society's trust in modern medicine/science and whether or not modern medicine/science always earns (or even ethically attempts) to live up to this trust. 

In other words, keep those thinking caps on because we're heading into controversary and deep thoughts.

Ready for the dive?  

by Joy Sorman
Foreword by Catherine Lacey
Translated from French by 
Lara Vergnaud
Restless Books
Coming of Age Novel
272 Pages

OCTOBER 12th!!!

Ninon Moise is cursed. So is her mother Esther, as was every eldest female member of her family going back to the Middle Ages. Each generation is marked by a uniquely obscure disease, illness, or ailment—one of her ancestors was patient zero in the sixteenth-century dancing plague of Strasbourg, while Esther has a degenerative eye disease. Ninon grows up comforted and fascinated by the recitation of these bizarre, inexplicable medical mysteries, forewarned that something will happen to her, yet entirely unprepared for how it will alter her life. Her own entry into this litany of maladies appears one morning in the form of an excruciating burning sensation on her skin, from her wrists to her shoulders.

Embarking on a dizzying and frustrating cycle of doctors, specialists, procedures, needles, scans, and therapists, seventeen-year-old Ninon becomes consumed by her need to receive a diagnosis and find a cure for her ailment. She seeks to break the curse and reclaim her body by any means necessary, through increasing isolation and failed treatment after failed treatment, even as her life falls apart. A provocative and empathic questioning of illness, remedy, transmission, and health, Life Sciences poignantly questions our reliance upon science, despite its limitations, to provide all the answers.

AMAZON   /   B&N  


Medicine and doctors spin and weave around a girl's pain in a tale, which questions intentions and the limits of modern science.

It started in the Middle Ages as a woman in her mid-thirties suddenly suffered a constant, tingling pain on her skin. From generation to generation, the illness continues from mother to daughter, each time bringing new and/or different symptoms. Ninon, an average teen girl, is aware of the curse she will inherit from her mother, but when it hits, the knowledge doesn't offer any relief. Like those before her, she tries to find medical assistance, but like those before her, the doctors can't seem to find a solution. With test after test and treatment after treatment, not only does she realize that modern medicine might not be capable of helping, but there are times, she's sure it's not even its true goal.

This book comes from a well-known and talented French author and has been translated into English. It's not a light book but steers with an obvious and clear purpose. The questions surrounding society's trust in modern medicine and science, how the medical world views women's health issues, and the, at times, true intentions behind medicine's greed and ambition at patients' expense are explored, allowing a darker side of all of this to come to light.  And one that, unfortunately, women can and do see glimpses of themselves.

I tend to read mostly fiction, which makes the more dry and direct flow of this book stick out to me quite a bit. This isn't written in a story form, meaning it doesn't hover around dialogue, scenes or world building in that sense, but rather takes a drier and concreter look at Ninon and her experiences. It begins with a foreword, which is interesting to read, from Catherine Lacey, and then, dives into the historical explanation of when the disease first appeared in Ninon's ancestors. It takes the form of a told account rather than sliding into a more personal tone and does flow smoothly and clearly.

Embracing hard-won realizations and exploring emotions, Ninon's experiences with her disease and the medical world leave more than a little food for thought. The ending does offer that needed ray of hope and allows even the darker shadows, which cannot be ignored, to not necessarily win the upper-hand. 

And here they are...

Joy Sorman is a novelist and documentarian who lives and works in Paris. Her first novel, Boys, boys, boys, was awarded the 2005 Prix de Flore. In 2013, she received the Prix François Mauriac from the Académie française for Comme une bêteLife Sciences is her first novel to be translated into English.

Lara Vergnaud is a literary translator from the French. She is the recipient of the 2019 French Voices Grand Prize and two PEN/Heim Translation Grants, and was a finalist for the 2019 Best Translated Book Award. Her forthcoming translations include works by Mohamed Leftah and Franck Bouysse. She currently lives in Washington, D.C.

Catherine Lacey is a Guggenheim fellow, a Whiting Award winner, and the author of four works of fiction: Nobody Is Ever Missing, The Answers, Certain American States, and Pew.

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