An inventive coming-of-age novel from acclaimed French novelist Joy Sorman, Life Sciences boldly investigates the female condition, bodily autonomy, and the failings of modern medicine as one young woman confronts a centuries-old, matrilineal curse.
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.
Praise for Life Sciences
"An arresting allegory.... [Ninon's] determination to jump 'out of the line of cursed, mad, degenerate women' makes her an engaging character as well as a powerful cipher of resistance to the stories she's grown up with.... Readers will feel empowered by this tale of taking control of one's body."—Publishers Weekly
"It's an often dark tale about women who struggle with health issues that the medical establishment cannot—or does not want to—cure, or even identify. But stories can be changed, and Ninon might just be the woman to do it. Life Sciences is an immersive, harrowing novel about the power of stories to turn a captivating fable into a prophecy."—Eileen Gonzalez, Foreword Reviews
"A singular insight from this torrent of an illness narrative—spoiler be damned—is that we might be most healed by a practitioner, healer, or otherwise, who takes their own medicine, who is sick with us. As Joy Sorman's protagonist Ninon makes her medical rounds, racked with a mystifying pain, her circle of healers widens (is a tattoo artist one?). And as this propulsive book, like pain itself, metabolizes all healers, I begin to notice the witchy inroads of help, where or if it can happen, or—stakes derange—if help helps."—Caren Beilin, author of Blackfishing the IUD and Revenge of the Scapegoat
"When a French teenager inherits a painful curse, ordinary life ends and a quest for healing begins.... The second novel from Sorman, a prizewinning novelist based in Paris, comes to us in a beautiful translation by Vergnaud.... [T]he ending is worth getting to."—Kirkus Reviews
About the Author
Joy Sorman is a novelist and documentarian based in Paris. Her first novel, Boys, boys, boys, was awarded the 2005 Prix de Flore. In 2013, she received the Prix François Mauriac from l'Académie française for Comme une bête.
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