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Acclaimed author Anne Roiphe evokes the sights and sounds of s Alexandria, Egypt, a bustling center of trade and travel From teeming docks to overflowing market stalls, from grand homes to grimy narrow alleyways, cholera microbes rise and bob in streams of water and tiny droplets, clinging to moisture as man clings to airWith a keen mind and dedication to his work, young Louis Thuillier has impressed his mentor famed scientist Louis Pasteur enough to be sent to Alexandria as one third of the French mission searching for the source of the cholera that is terrorizing the city Along with the other members of the French mission scientists Emile Roux and Edmond Nocard and their enterprising servant Marcus Louis longs to find the cure, bringing glory to himself and to France Este Malina is the lovely daughter of a respected Jewish doctor, whose family has lived in Alexandria for hundreds of years A life of comfort has made Este a romantic, and she hopes to marry a man with the heart of a poet Neither expects to find a soul mate in the other, but when Este begins to assist at the French mission s lab, a deep bond forms Este, though, is engaged to another, and Louis is not Jewish her family would never allow them to marry In spite of their many differences, the lovers desire grows and their fantasies threaten to distract them from their work In Alexandria, the disease rages on, as mysterious as it was a thousand years before Political intrigue threatens to separate Este and Louis permanently Their love, as fragile as the glass slides they use in the lab, is in danger before it has had a chance to thrive With An Imperfect Lens, rich with the sights and scents of a different era, Anne Roiphe once again demonstrates the storytelling power for which she has long been hailed From the Hardcover edition


10 thoughts on “An Imperfect Lens

  1. Stephen Gallup Stephen Gallup says:

    Until now, I might not have said that historical fiction wasinteresting to me than any of a dozen other genres After finishing this one, however, and reflecting that it s the latest in a series of exemplary historical novels I ve enjoyed over the last couple years, it s time to recognize what is happening to my reading preferences.This story is set in Alexandria, Egypt, during the cholera epidemic of 1883 Louis Thuillier and two other scientists arrive, having been sent by the famous Lou Until now, I might not have said that historical fiction wasinteresting to me than any of a dozen other genres After finishing this one, however, and reflecting that it s the latest in a series of exemplary historical novels I ve enjoyed over the last couple years, it s time to recognize what is happening to my reading preferences.This story is set in Alexandria, Egypt, during the cholera epidemic of 1883 Louis Thuillier and two other scientists arrive, having been sent by the famous Louis Pasteur in hopes of identifying the microbe that causes cholera That much is historical fact To the mix, the author adds an assistant who is farinterested in womanizing than in doing his duty, a local Jewish doctor with a high society wife and a much sought after daughter, a morally inferior young man who has known that daughter all his life and intends to marry her, a stranded British merchant who is befriended by the doctor s family and is grateful up to a certain point, and there are other characters Given that the book is only 291 pages, the cast of characters seemed excessive to me But that is my only complaint There is a great deal to this story, and I m sure a second reading will bring outthan I grasped the first time through.Another character, of sorts, is the elusive microbe itself, which the narrator occasionally tells us is lurking in a damp towel hanging on a line, on the surface of fruits that have been sliced with an unwashed knife, and when last glimpsed, as the epidemic is abating in a strand of scum floating out to sea The microbe, we are told, is amoral It does what it does the descriptions of its effect on people are gruesome simply because that s what it does But, frankly, certain other characters are little better There is no true malice in what they do, but they hurt blameless individuals just the same.Those who are not amoral, i.e.,those who attempt to do what is right, don t have such clear guidelines The scientists, who send frequent telegrams back to the absent Pasteur, are like believers trusting in a silent God He sent them forth with a few basic rules, such as being sure to wash their hands frequently and to avoid drinking water that hasn t been boiled, but as far as pursuing the microbe is concerned, they are flying blind.I think I want to reread The Plague, the allegorical Camus novel this reminds me of, and then return to this again And I think I m going to wash my handsoften now, too


  2. AdiTurbo AdiTurbo says:

    The historical story is fascinating, but Roiphe drowns it in too decorative descriptions, long and convoluted, which slow things down and dilute the facts The pace was too slow for me, and I didn t like the writing DNF.


  3. Chrissie Chrissie says:

    NO SPOILERS I have read other books by Anne Roiphe I love the author s ability to create a time and place, to depict it with such detail that you see it, smell it, hear it and feel it Again she succeeds with this, right from the beginning chapters of this novel Here, in this story, we are transported back to Alexandria, Egypt, to 1883 when cholera is ravaging the city There is a race on which country s scientists will find the cause for this disease Louis Pasteur has sent three young Fr NO SPOILERS I have read other books by Anne Roiphe I love the author s ability to create a time and place, to depict it with such detail that you see it, smell it, hear it and feel it Again she succeeds with this, right from the beginning chapters of this novel Here, in this story, we are transported back to Alexandria, Egypt, to 1883 when cholera is ravaging the city There is a race on which country s scientists will find the cause for this disease Louis Pasteur has sent three young French scientists to Alexandria, along with clear guiding instructions and a servant boy named Marcus The three are Louis Thuillier, Emile Roux and Edmond Nocard And then of course there must be some romance thrown into the story, so Roiphe has thrown in Este Malina, the lovely daughter of a respected Jewish doctor But look how Roiphe describes, with all the senses, Alexandria At last shore, the carts piled with goods rattling along the narrow planks of the docks, the strange sound of the muezzin calling the faithful to prayer, the gold sandy color of the buildings, the customhouse with its soldiers in uniform, braids and buttons glistening in the heat, and the donkeys with their long ears flattened back against their heads and the children with their hands out, crouching in the doorways, flies stuck to their encrusted eyelids The smell was strange dung, saffron, ginger, banana, human sweat, fish packed in barrels, waiting to be carried to the market They saw turbans and loincloths, and sandals made of paper and wood Bells were ringing, men were calling out numbers in Arabic and French and English, and sailors were tying up sails Louis felt dizzy Marcus placed the large carton they had brought on a wagon, and Louis hopped up on the front seat, with Roux and Nocard behind Marcus rode standing on a rail in the back They headed for Hotel Khedivial at the corner of rue Cherif Pasha and rue Rosette, where they had taken a week s lodgingsat 7% of the book Roiphe is not only adept at describing places and scenes, but also people Here we have a bit about Marcus The three of then walked into the caf Marcus followed them, his eyes glazed If he were a dog, someone would have patted him on the head as it was, he sat at a table in the darkened room, repeating his uncle s words as he departed Paris Travel is broadening for a young man Shakes you up, it does He did feel shaken, but was he broadened His stomach still heaved and he barely sipped at the absinthe drink that Louis had ordered for him It was on the table in a long thin glass, pale green, cloudy the taste of licorice pleased him, but the burning in his esophagus did not A boy who is not quite a man is not eager to know the outlines of his esophagus, the details of the act of eating, the route the food takes to his stomach He prefers to think of himself as not so much a body with parts as a blossoming landscape, springtime in the pastures He stared at his drink and grew sleepy. 7% You can also see from just this short passage that a major theme concerns the science of disease and the human body how it functions, when well and when ill.And who is Louis Take a peek at the first dinner party, when the three scientists are invited to the consul general, M Girard At dinner, Louis was seated next to the very round, rosy colored wife of an Alexandrian doctor The first course seemed to be a thumb sized fish lying on a bed of mushrooms Then concoction had a strange smell Louis picked up his fork and mutilated the fish, smashing it into the mushrooms, without bringing the smallest piece to his mouth Slowly he drank a glass of wine, after wiping the rim of the glass with his napkin..he glanced down the table and saw a young woman with long dark haired back with a bright green ribbon Her skin was coffee colored, like that of the natives Her eyes were dark and wide Her neck was long and graceful Who is the young lady down the table he asked his companion My daughter, replied the lady She is beautiful, is she not She is, he said Beauty is an asset in a woman, said the wife of the doctor Of course, said Louis Not wanting to seem like a beast, he added, Beauty is worthless without character True, said the wife of the doctor, but character is often worthless without beauty in a woman, that is Louis fell silent What should he say next..Louis had never in all his life been served by a butler There seemed to be ten of them in the room He had never tasted the fowl with tiny bones that floated in a gravy on his gold rimmed plate He had never eaten from such a plate He had never put such a large silk napkin on his lap before He had never tasted such fine wine In fact he did not like it quite so well as the kind purchased by the glass at any corner caf in Paris, but he knew enough to know that this was his failure, not his host s9% That is enough Are you intrigued by the characters, by the place, by the book s subject You must decide if you are drawn to the descriptive writing style, learning about Alexandria and cholera Do you want to knowabout Louis, this young scientist, who know so much about chemistry and yet feels so misplaced in the splendor of the elite Alexandrian upper class society I like that the history of cholera and what was known concerning the disease are documented here in the book Here follows a quote concerning the history of the 1817 outbreak of cholera in India According to a conclusion arrived at in 1819 by the Bengal Medical Board, the the proximate cause of the disease consisted in a pestilential virus, which acted primarily upon the stomach and the small intestines and the depressed state of the circulatory powers and diminished action of the heart were consequent on the severe shock which the system had received in one of its principal organs45% Many interesting facts are presented It had been claimed on several occasions that the wealthy had purposely poisoned the poor using cholera to remove them from cities And how does it feel to dissect a human being, a young child killed by cholera, to find the cause, to find the microbes there on the imperfect lens Think, if the lens could be improved Think, if they could only seeYou will find yourself washing your hands rigorously as you read this book Neither is the book just about cholera It is about fathers and their daughters It is bout both mother to son and mother to daughter relationships too One was married oneself, and showered with candies by one s friends, and lifted on high by the men of the community, and everyone admired you and the real life began and you had a daughter and the daughter grew and you went with her to purchase the dress for the most important event in her life Was this not the way it had always been, generation after generation, l dor v dor, as they said in Hebrew. 55% What if your daughter is headstrong and wants to herself plan every step of the marriage without her mother s interference Are times changing I am just wondering But then I read a few pagesand I smile Este and her Mom certainly do not agree on everything In fact, they do not agree at all, so they drop the subject Now I feelnormal 0 And there isYou will be glued all the way through to the very last page You must not look up the character names or cholera in Wikipedia What an adventure There is a clear and detailed author s note at the end I thoroughly enjoyed every minute spent reading this book I highly recommend it It is a terribly fun read Even when things are grim, I was laughing Wait till you see the behavior of the French consulate s wife


  4. Mary-Ann Muffoletto Mary-Ann Muffoletto says:

    Ever read a book where a bacterium is one of the characters Well, Cholera figures prominently is this book though it never speaks Ominously lurking throughout the story, it is simultaneously evil and benign It doesn t mean to kill anybody it s just making a living like everyone else To say it kills indiscriminately is not quite right the poor suffer disproportionately This work of fiction is based on actual characters a team of scientists Louis Pasteur dispatches to Alexandra, Egypt du Ever read a book where a bacterium is one of the characters Well, Cholera figures prominently is this book though it never speaks Ominously lurking throughout the story, it is simultaneously evil and benign It doesn t mean to kill anybody it s just making a living like everyone else To say it kills indiscriminately is not quite right the poor suffer disproportionately This work of fiction is based on actual characters a team of scientists Louis Pasteur dispatches to Alexandra, Egypt during an 1880s cholera outbreak to try and find the elusive microbe.Woven into the story is a prominent Jewish family, whose ancestors have lived in the city for hundreds of years yet are still considered outsiders And they become yet another generation victimized by anti Semitism A Jew does not pay attention to every insult to his tribe If he did, he couldn t live with his neighbors or do business in the marketplace or move about his city without fear Ultimately, the Malina family, well liked and respected in their community, cannot be saved from unfounded accusations Ironically, they re exiled to Germany where, with relief, the family s father, Dr Malina, says At least, our family will be safeour great grandchildren will live in that civilized country in comfort


  5. erica erica says:

    I m tired of reading books based on wonderful ideas that aren t fully developedAlso, Este is a brat.


  6. Tracy Tracy says:

    Enjoyed the descriptions of Alexandria in 1883 and the subject matter of cholera was fascinating The ending was very rushed and too dramatic Would have been four stars, but ending knocked it down to three.


  7. Katia M. Davis Katia M. Davis says:

    I did not enjoy this book I found it very long winded with a lot of info dumping The story did not move along with much swiftness and it was a labour to plough through the pages Nothing much seemed to happen apart from endless description of people falling ill and scientists peering in vain down their microscopes at things dredged from the bowels of the sick The writing was wordy and florid I particularly did not like the crystal ball sentence towards the conclusion of the book regarding Je I did not enjoy this book I found it very long winded with a lot of info dumping The story did not move along with much swiftness and it was a labour to plough through the pages Nothing much seemed to happen apart from endless description of people falling ill and scientists peering in vain down their microscopes at things dredged from the bowels of the sick The writing was wordy and florid I particularly did not like the crystal ball sentence towards the conclusion of the book regarding Jews moving to Germany in the 1880s, whose great grandchildren would be able to live in a peaceful and harmonious world clearly that would not be the case based on history, the characters obviously would not know that I thought it a cheap trick thrown in to make the reader think, ah, little do you know what the future holds It lessened the reading experience for me, such as it was I would not recommend this book, which could essentially be summed up in a few sentences Cholera breaks out in Alexandria, people start to die horrible deaths A rival team of French and German scientists try to identify the cause whilepeople die horribly Meanwhile, one of the female characters discovers love, but the romance is pretty boring because the book is overwhelmed withpeople dying Some dodgy political and trade dealings are thrown in for good measure.I did not feel close to these characters at all I did not feel as if I was experiencing their world


  8. Miss_otis Miss_otis says:

    I m a fan of well done historical fiction, and I liked this a great deal There are many, many things to hold the reader s attention the desperate race to find the cause of cholera, two romances both involving the same girl, Este with very different outcomes, British colonialism, the interaction of long established Jewish families within Alexandria, the dynamic between the three young French scientists It never became overwhelming, nor did it feel like Roiphe was trying to jam too many char I m a fan of well done historical fiction, and I liked this a great deal There are many, many things to hold the reader s attention the desperate race to find the cause of cholera, two romances both involving the same girl, Este with very different outcomes, British colonialism, the interaction of long established Jewish families within Alexandria, the dynamic between the three young French scientists It never became overwhelming, nor did it feel like Roiphe was trying to jam too many characters into one story all the plot lines were well developed and intertwined neatly Par for the course with me, though, I thought the most interesting character was the lab assistant, Marcus, and could have read a littleabout him.What did get somewhat overwhelming were the lengthy passages describing both cholera and Alexandria I felt those passages went far past simply evoking fear of the disease or awe horror disgust of the city it became a bit like taking a vacation to Washington, DC, and trying to see every single museum in three days Others may like it, I personally don t need that much description to form an image in my mind Additionally, there s really only so much description of the scientific research process that I need


  9. Lianne Lianne says:

    This novel, set in 1880 s Alexandria, is both a medical mystery and a romance It was inspired by a one line reference in a non fiction book The Microbe Hunters, and deals with a mission to discover the causes of a devasatating cholera epidemic in the city Louis Pasteur sends a team of his young assistants to gather evidence so that the French can claim the achievement The main character is based on a real scientist named Louis Thuillier who rises to this challenge in a heroic way In Alexandr This novel, set in 1880 s Alexandria, is both a medical mystery and a romance It was inspired by a one line reference in a non fiction book The Microbe Hunters, and deals with a mission to discover the causes of a devasatating cholera epidemic in the city Louis Pasteur sends a team of his young assistants to gather evidence so that the French can claim the achievement The main character is based on a real scientist named Louis Thuillier who rises to this challenge in a heroic way In Alexandria he and his team befriend a Jewish doctor and his family, the Molinas In the meantime, a German researcher, Koch, also arrives at the scene so a competition to discover the cause of cholera ensues Louis and Este Molina, daughter of the Jewish doctor embark on a romance The novel depicts the squalor and decadence of the city as well as a fascination with science and the scientific method The story is both disturbing and realistic in its depiction of the disease and how powerless the citizens of the city are in the face of its path i was interested to read this novel because I also have ben re reading Durrell s Alexandria quartet, and recently read the new Cleopatra biography


  10. Heather Heather says:

    I definitely enjoyed Roiphe s tale of cholera in 1880s Egypt The book kept me engaged and the reading was quick and effortless In particular, I loved how Roiphe personified cholera, almost making it a character in the novel in and of itself The treatment of cholera in the novel and frequent mentions of how the disease could potentially be spread kept me anxious about who could potentially be struck down next.On the other hand, the book had quite a few run on sentences that made reading a litt I definitely enjoyed Roiphe s tale of cholera in 1880s Egypt The book kept me engaged and the reading was quick and effortless In particular, I loved how Roiphe personified cholera, almost making it a character in the novel in and of itself The treatment of cholera in the novel and frequent mentions of how the disease could potentially be spread kept me anxious about who could potentially be struck down next.On the other hand, the book had quite a few run on sentences that made reading a little problematic at times Additionally, the characters were at times a little flat to me, with the romance being a bit easy, if that makes sense And, though I am sure Roiphe intentionally did this to reflect reality, none of the villains of the story got their comeuppance only the protagonists suffered negative consequences in the novel Again, this seems to have been a deliberate choice be Roiphe, but it left me a bit unsatisfied.Overall, despite the minor issues I had, the novel is a quick and enjoyable read