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Alice Wexler

Mapping Fate

A Memoir of Family, Risk, and Genetic Research.

Click here for Alice's new book The Woman Who Walked into the Sea

Mapping Fate Alice Wexler In Mapping Fate, Alice Wexler tells the story of a family at risk for a hereditary disease, once called Huntington's chorea. That her mother died of the disease, that her own chance of inheriting it was fifty-fifty, that her sister and father directed much of the extraordinary biomedical research to find the gene and a cure, make Wexler's story both astonishingly intimate and scientifically compelling.

Recording her own emotional odyssey, Wexler sifts through memories, dreams, and her mother's beloved books and letters to find the personality of the woman Huntington's stole away. Despite such painful circumstances, Wexler writes with clarity and depth about mothers and sisters, about the nature of living at risk, and how her family was alternately driven apart and flung together by this destiny they could not escape.

In later chapters, she explores how her father, Milton, and sister, Nancy, developed innovative methods to stir up science. Nancy, like Alice, living at risk, helped organize the effort that led to the stunning discovery in 1983 of a genetic marker for Huntington's, decades before most scientists thought possible. She then spearheaded an international collaborative group that identified the gene ten years later. While in Venezuela to take family histories from people with Huntington's on the shores of Lake Maracaibo, Nancy showed the hesitant community her own biopsy scar. She was not just a doctor trying to help; she was one of them.

With grace and eloquence, Alice Wexler lifts her story beyond the specifics of Huntington's to write with a startling universality. It is as if, ultimately, she writes of all families with secrets and illness, of all mothers who are loved and longed for, of the reaches and limits of medical science. Mapping Fate is full of people thrown by chance into living extraordinary lives and illuminates the self-knowledge and action of which they are capable.


"[Mapping Fate is] made of heartbreak but so full of fascinating information of every kind that it has the extraordinary power to transcend pain*.This is an intense, beautiful, serious book. It reminds us that life can be awful, but that human beings carry the capacity to be heroic beyond measure."  
CAROLYN SEE, The Washington Post

"A fabulous read*.a book about love, scientific research, family fights, duplicity, compassion, courage and pain. It is brilliantly written by one of the principal characters in this real-life drama. You'll be riveted." 

"A valuable primer in medical ethics, human genetics, personal, and even literary style, Mapping Fate captures both the personal anguish and lifelong ramifications of a hereditary disease."  
BETTYANN KEVLES, Los Angeles Times

"Touching on science, autobiography, social criticism, feminism and more, this is a lucid and original account of the refusal to submit to fate and the cost that entails."  
AMANDA HELLER, The Boston Sunday Globe

"[Mapping Fate] deserves a wide audience. Readers interested in the psychological dimensions of illness, especially inherited illness, will find it riveting*.[It] is an excellent introduction to human genetics."
ROGIN L. ALBIN, M.D., Journal of the American Medical Association

Copyright © 1995 by Alice Wexler
Published by University of California Press

A review of Mapping Fate.
Email: Alice Wexler

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