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An Imperfect Lens: A Novel Paperback – October 24, 2006


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Broadway Books; First Edition edition (October 24, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400082129
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400082124
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,476,462 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Cholera arrives in Alexandria in 1883, followed by an intrepid French research team sent by Louis Pasteur to find and identify the "swimming monster." In this riveting account of a public health crisis and the (then) cutting-edge science that aimed to save countless lives, Roiphe (Secrets of the City) blends fact with fiction to bring historical scientists to life. The team includes Louis Thuillier, whose exacting professional persona belies a romantic side; compassionate veterinarian Edmond Nocard; Emile Roux, much respected, if a bit rough around the edges; and their fun-loving young assistant, Marcus. The Frenchmen race rampant death—and the German Dr. Robert Koch, who discovered the cause of tuberculosis—to find the cholera microbe. Roiphe weaves a love story within the urgent scientific mission, providing Thuillier with an object of affection in Este Malina, the intellectually curious daughter of a Jewish doctor. Este admires the medical passion of the French scientists, Thuillier in particular, and the two fall in love when she begins assisting in their lab. Against Alexandria's vibrant backdrop, Roiphe infuses her richly textured, propulsive story with a sense of doom brought by a microscopic enemy.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

Commissioned by an aging Louis Pasteur to identify and isolate the cholera microbe and "bring glory to France," an eclectic band of young researchers arrive in plague-stricken Alexandria in 1883. Set loose in this exotic locale, these novice scientists face a daunting task as pestilence and disease ravage the city. In addition to racing against time and famed German scientist Dr. Robert Koch, the team members face multiple political, cultural, and romantic distractions. Roiphe does an incredible job of painting paradoxical portraits of collective fear and coolheaded reason as she painstakingly reconstructs the life cycle of a deadly epidemic. This authentically detailed blend of fact and fiction gift wraps the history of an astonishing medical and scientific breakthrough inside an irresistible love story, providing a little something for everyone across a wide spectrum of readers. Margaret Flanagan
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 3, 2006
Format: Hardcover
An Imperfect Lens is atmospheric tale set in Alexandra, Egypt in 1883; the main character a lethal disease, cholera: ''unseen pulsing crescent moonshapes," that are steadily breeding in the exposed sewage, killing the city's poor, gradually finding its way into the houses of the rich. Feeding in the stomachs of the innocent, death is almost instantaneous - a sharp pain in the stomach, lips tinged with blue, a loss of bowel control, the body shriveled, turned grey like slate.

Paranoia is rife; the wealthy see it as a sign of the city's drinking and lack of morality, the less fortunate see it as a mark of God's will, a way for the rich to rid the city of an unwanted population. How is the disease transmitted? By air or bird droppings, or perhaps even food. People are instructed to always rinse their hands, and never eat unwashed food from market stalls. But the microbes continue to spread, on the edges of bed linen, on the shoes of unsuspecting servants, splashing in the city's puddles, streams and open sewers, on the surface of fruit, the edges of plates and cutlery.

Three Chemists from Paris - Louis Thuilliers, Emile Roux and veterinarian Edmond Nocard - are dispatched directly from the laboratories of famous scientist Louis Pasteur to Alexandra, hoping to isolate the microbe. The sights, sounds and smells of this exotic city, immediately seduce the idealistic Louis. Almost at once, he falls for Este Malina, the daughter of the City's Jewish doctor, who is the verge of being engaged when Louis meets her at dinner at the French consulate's home.

Este, bored with her life, begins to help out in the laboratory, awakening to the possibility of a career in the sciences, with Louis at her side.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Sarah Shafer on July 27, 2008
Format: Paperback
An Imperfect Lens is the true story of the 1883 cholera outbreak in Alexandria, Egypt, and follows Louis Thuillier, a young French scientist, as he and his colleagues race to discover the microbe responsible for the disease. The full title of the book, however, is An Imperfect Lens: A Novel--this latter designation allowing Roiphe to create a story around the historical facts. This she does in the form of a love story between Thuillier and a fictional protagonist.

In style, An Imperfect Lens reminds me of the work of Richard Preston and Erik Larson. But while The Hot Zone (Preston) and The Devil in the White City (Larson) are nonfiction that read like novels, Roiphe's book is a novel that reads like nonfiction. The characters are not very well developed, the story predictable, and even her detailed descriptions of Alexandria failed to move me (perhaps because, as is apparent in the Author's Note and Acknowledgements, she has never been to Alexandria).

Yet it is not a scientific history, either; there is very little to be learned about cholera itself. There are passages describing epidemics going back to ancient times, but we know only as much as the doctors and scientists in 1883. The descriptions of how the disease manifests itself are graphic but not especially informative, and little is said about the reasoning behind the scientists' methods.

If this were meant purely as a history, I would consider it better. However, Roiphe chose to create a separate story, in which she was limited only by her imagination, and it is in fact rather boring.

Perhaps her final statement in the Author's Note sums it up best:
"If any reader suspects that I would rather have been a scientist than a writer, I would immediately confess my preference for truth over fiction."
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Gershom Gorenberg on April 28, 2006
Format: Hardcover
"If the body were not the Soul, what is the Soul?" Walt Whitman wrote, in what could be the epigraph to this wonderful novel of science and love. Anne Roiphe shows that the men seeking to save the human body from the ravages of disease are modern knights. As a girl, her heroine dreams of a poet; as a woman, she discovers love with a scientist. Every sentence of the story is poetry - but sharper poetry than Lawrence Durell's prose about the same city, Alexandria. When you start reading, be ready not to stop till the last word.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is a well researched tale...full of human interest and historically accurate. You feel the impending doom in every small detail.
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