A vibrant young Hispano woman, Shonnie Medina, inherits a breast-cancer mutation known as BRCA1.185delAG. It is a genetic variant characteristic of Jews. The Medinas knew they were descended from Native Americans and Spanish Catholics, but they did not know that they had Jewish ancestry as well.Read more...
A vibrant young Hispano woman, Shonnie Medina, inherits a breast-cancer mutation known as BRCA1.185delAG. It is a genetic variant characteristic of Jews. The Medinas knew they were descended from Native Americans and Spanish Catholics, but they did not know that they had Jewish ancestry as well. The mutation most likely sprang from Sephardic Jews hounded by the Spanish Inquisition. The discovery of the gene leads to a fascinating investigation of cultural history and modern genetics by Dr. Harry Ostrer and other experts on the DNA of Jewish populations.
Set in the isolated San Luis Valley of Colorado, this beautiful and harrowing book tells of the Medina family's five-hundred-year passage from medieval Spain to the American Southwest and of their surprising conversion from Catholicism to the Jehovah's Witnesses in the 1980s. Rejecting conventional therapies in her struggle against cancer, Shonnie Medina died in 1999. Her life embodies a story that could change the way we think about race and faith.
- ISBN-13: 9780393081916
- ISBN-10: 0393081915
- Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company
- Publish Date: January 2012
- Page Count: 272
- Dimensions: 9.42 x 6.45 x 0.98 inches
- Shipping Weight: 0.98 pounds
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2011-10-10
- Reviewer: Staff
From breast cancer to secret Jewish rituals, hidden links signify unlikely kinships in this meditative exploration of the science of racial connectedness. Wheelwright, a science journalist, tells the story of Shonnie Medina, a young Hispano woman in Colorado of mixed Indian and Spanish ancestry who died of breast cancer in 1999. She carried a genetic mutation, BRCA1.185delAG, with implications both scary (a high risk of aggressive breast and ovarian cancer) and intriguing, because geneticists consider the mutation a reliable marker of Jewish descent. Wheel-wright maps the mutation’s itinerary from the Babylonian Captivity in the sixth century B.C.E., when geneticists believe it first appeared, through the voyage of conversos—forced converts to Christianity—from Spain to the New World, where hints of Jewish practices persist among Hispano Catholics. But Wheelwright also ties Shonnie’s fate to culture and temperament: the apocalyptic expectations she drew from her Jehovah’s Witness faith; her vanity and feistiness, which led her to reject a mastectomy in favor of “alternative” treatments. (The author’s quiet indictment of New Age medical quackery is devastating.) Wheelwright pairs a clear exposition of the controversial sciences of genetic screening and ethnogeography with a sensitive account of how a modern identity is woven from ancient physical and spiritual strands. 10 illus. (Jan.)