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Lightning Flowers  By  cover art

Lightning Flowers

By: Katherine E. Standefer
Narrated by: Katherine E. Standefer
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Publisher's summary

This "utterly spectacular" book weighs the impact modern medical technology has had on the author's life against the social and environmental costs inevitably incurred by the mining that makes such innovation possible (Rachel Louise Snyder, author of No Visible Bruises).

What if a lifesaving medical device causes loss of life along its supply chain? That's the question Katherine E. Standefer finds herself asking one night after being suddenly shocked by her implanted cardiac defibrillator.

In this gripping, intimate memoir about health, illness, and the invisible reverberating effects of our medical system, Standefer recounts the astonishing true story of the rare diagnosis that upended her rugged life in the mountains of Wyoming and sent her tumbling into a fraught maze of cardiology units, dramatic surgeries, and slow, painful recoveries. As her life increasingly comes to revolve around the internal defibrillator freshly wired into her heart, she becomes consumed with questions about the supply chain that allows such an ostensibly miraculous device to exist. So she sets out to trace its materials back to their roots.

From the sterile labs of a medical device manufacturer in southern California to the tantalum and tin mines seized by armed groups in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to a nickel and cobalt mine carved out of endemic Madagascar jungle, Lightning Flowers takes us on a global reckoning with the social and environmental costs of a technology that promises to be lifesaving but is, in fact, much more complicated.

Deeply personal and sharply reported, Lightning Flowers takes a hard look at technological mythos, healthcare, and our cultural relationship to medical technology, raising important questions about our obligations to one another, and the cost of saving one life.

©2020 Katherine E. Standefer (P)2020 Little, Brown Spark

Critic reviews

“In Lightning Flowers, Katherine E. Standefer offers a full accounting of the cost of a single life, and it is nothing short of astonishing. She travels, literally, to both the brink of death and the edge of the world to discover exactly what it means to live. Her courage is palpable, on the page and in life. This book is utterly spectacular.” (Rachel Louise Snyder, author of No Visible Bruises and What We've Lost Is Nothing)

Lightning Flowers is a quest for an answer to the most basic human question: what is a life worth? For a young American woman, kept alive by a hunk of metal in her chest, the answer is to be found in the African mines that produce titanium, cobalt, nickel...the precious metals used to make our essential microelectronics, including heart defibrillators. No trial in this quest can be avoided: heartbreak and debt, culture shock and corporate empire, medical indifference and poverty, trauma and mortality. There is an alchemy of tender magic and brute force in Standefer's writing; Lightning Flowers transports us into the heart of Africa - and the heart of a woman forced to question our global, racialized economy even as she identifies the raw materials that give her life.” (Ann Neumann, author of The Good Death)

“In her stunning debut, Katherine E. Standefer reveals how a single piece of supposedly lifesaving machinery has forever implicated her in ruinous global supply chains, how entire economies of extraction have come to reside deep within her body. With great clarity and resilience, Lightning Flowers invites us to become intimate with the moral and environmental calculus of our own lives.” (Francisco Cantú, author of The Line Becomes a River)

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