This book arose out of a lecture series given by the author at the University of Toronto. Divided into five chapters, which I guess represent five lectures he gave, this book is difficult to give a label to. A mix of science, biology, medicine, history, social commentary and personal memoir it covers all sorts of stuff about blood: the good stuff in our bodies that carries around oxygen that keeps us alive; the bad stuff that carries diseases such as HIV, malaria, plague; who invented blood transfusions; Lady MacBeth and that damned spot; blood as a weapon of power; his musings on blood being thicker than water or not; do men and women have different blood; human sacrifice; drug taking in sport; and taking up most of the book blood as a factor in race, culture and ethnicity. And this latter theme is really what the author is looking at in his exploration of blood and what it all means.
By way of background, Lawrence Hill is a successful Canadian author, whose black father and white mother migrated from the US to Canada when they got married in 1953 to escape the difficulties such a union at the time brought. He grew up in a family very involved in human rights, and most of his writings are concerned with issues of identity, especially race. For those of a certain age, you may be surprised to know that the author's brother is Dan Hill, he who sang that tear jerker song of the 1970s 'Sometimes When We Touch'. On googling their images, to me they look nothing like brothers, and I can understand his fascination and intense interest in looking at how our origins and blood lines define us. But more importantly perhaps how others see us and may label us differently from what we ourselves think we may be.
This, then is the crux of the book, and although it wasn't quite what I thought it would be, it really is a most interesting and informative read. There may be a little too much self-indulgence on the part of the author, but in a world where peoples of different cultures, religions, races, and ethnicities are meeting and having children of their own, these are very real issues that he is bringing up. It made me feel good to be an NZer, where on our five yearly census form, under the 'Which Ethnic Group Do You Belong To' there is a space for 'Other' where increasingly people are simply putting 'New Zealander' rather than identifying themselves as just one of the many others listed.