Mohrbooks Literary Agency
Published by
Spark / Little Brown (2020-11-10)
Current material
Final Pages
Original language


My Journey to Uncover the Cost of Saving a Life

by Standefer, Katherine E.

Lightning Flowers 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 technology possible.

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, 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.

Katherine E. Standefer is a writer based in Tucson, Arizona. Winner of the 2015 Iowa Review Award in Nonfiction, her essay "In Praise of Contempt" appears in Best American Essays 2016. Her other work has been published in or is forthcoming from The Normal School, Fourth Genre, The Iowa Review, The Colorado Review, Cutbank, The Indiana Review, Fugue, and The Rumpus, among many others. Standefer earned her MFA in Creative Nonfiction Writing from the University of Arizona, where she teaches creative nonfiction.

Available rights (1)

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Mohrbooks Literary Agency
Sebastian Ritscher

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In Lightning Flowers, Katherine 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.

Quote: Rachel Louise Snyder, author of No Visible Bruises

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.

Quote: Ann Neumann, author of The Good Death

LIGHTNING FLOWERS is a People "Pick of the Week"

Quote: Little Brown

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.

Quote: Francisco Cantú, author of The Line Becomes a River

an affecting, crystalline memoir

Review: O, the Oprah Magazine

An intensely personal and brave accounting of a medical battle and the countless hidden costs of health care.

Review: Kirkus, starred review

Lightning Flowers is both a memoir and a mystery, a riveting debut book by Katherine Standefer. She faces her own heart and the technological device that keeps it beating with the sharp eye of a journalist and the dramatic pacing of a novelist. Following the supply chain from her body to conflict minerals in the Congo, we see how the world is interconnected and interrelated. Standefer is a lyrical writer who has crafted an embodied text, understanding that our survival balances on the cliff edge of our complicity and our compassion.

Quote: Terry Tempest Williams, author of Erosion

This medical memoir reads like a detective story. If you've ever felt overwhelmed by a scary diagnosis, are tired of quarterbacking your own health care or simply need company while on hold with a doctor's office, this book will make you feel less alone. Pick it up and you will hear a human voice. Standefer alternates investigative chapters with passages about her personal life, including career changes, financial worries and her struggle to build an independent adult life while enduring endless medical travails. I preferred these chapters to the journalistic ones, not because the travel stories weren't gripping, but because I couldn't get enough of Standefer's unsinkable spirit and eye for little moments of grace.

Review: New York Times Book Review

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