In 2004 genetic testing revealed that Masha Gessen had a mutation that predisposed her to ovarian and breast cancer. The discovery initiated Gessen into a club of sorts: the small (but exponentially expanding) group of people in possession of a new and different way of knowing themselves through what is inscribed in the strands of their DNA. As she wrestled with a wrenching personal decisionwhat to do with such knowledgeGessen explored the landscape of this brave new world, speaking with medical experts, religious thinkers, historians, and others facing genetic disorders.
Blood Matters is a much needed field guide to this unfamiliar and unsettling territory. It explores the way genetic information is shaping the decisions we make, not only about our physical and emotional health but about whom we marry, the children we bear, even the personality traits we long to have. And it helps us come to terms with the radical transformation that genetic information is engineering in our most basic sense of who we are and what we might become.
While it was Gessen's misfortune to have inherited her mother's cruel mutation, it was her good luckand oursthat she also inherited her mother's storytelling grace and critical dexterity (Yolka Gessen was a writer and a translator). Blood Matters is valuable reading to almost anyone facing a huge health decision, not only for the literary commiseration it offers, but also for the inspired example of medical sleuthing on one's own behalf that it provides. Gessen keeps an inflammatory topic at room temperature, writing elegantly and without self-pity. The book is very funny in places…It's also very lucid, even when the science gets complex. It's a liberating book. Strange as it sounds, it would make a great Mother's Day present.