Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Emperor of all maladies: a biography of cancer by Siddhartha Mukherjee; in translation

As it was only possible to get ahold of the Dutch translation of Emperor of all Maladies in the libraries here, this is what I read. I found it a fascinating book. The storyline, with its underlying question of how what I now know about cancer fits with the history of development of treatment, was laid out very well. He also sorts through the information in an incredible way - somehow organising and connecting what is obviously a wide range of efforts to fight cancer - despite those efforts being often made disjointly from each other.

He also does a good job of giving a face to cancer: besides the numerous stories of the researchers and doctors and lobbyers fighting cancer, he also tells the tales of those who have cancer, both those who survive and those who don't. Cancer becomes real in a new way to the reader.

Although I found the scientific part of the book incredibly fascinating, I must admit that I was somewhat disappointed by the humanside. Listening to others praise the book, especially the human side of it, I've tried to figure out why I was disappointed. I wonder if reading it in translation hindered my catching all the nuances - and made the individuals slightly flatter. I also wonder if the individuals I know who have had cancer, a number of whom have died, have coloured my understanding of the human side of cancer too much: no matter how many faces or people Mukherjee names, there remains always something slightly less human in a brief synopsis of someone's struggle with cancer when it compares to the reality of having watched a 23-year-old international student lose his fight with stomach cancer.

Another (positive) review of the book can be found at the website from Mountain View Public Library

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