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Mendel's Dwarf Paperback – July 1, 1999
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A distant relative of the first geneticist, pea-pollinating Gregor Mendel, Ben has long used libraries as a refuge, and education as a way out (if not up). Still in his 20s, he's determined to identify the gene that made him "one of nature's practical jokes." Offered a post at the Royal Institute for Genetics, he immediately puts achondroplasia on the table. The director may well consider research into dwarfdom commercially unviable, but Ben knows better. His height will finally be of help: "There are lots of organizations interested," he insists. "The Little People of America, groups like that. When they see me coming they reach for their covenant forms."
Mawer interleaves Ben's research with the story of his affair (a "menage à une et demi") with the Institute's ill-fated assistant librarian, Jeane Piercey: "Mousy, of course. I feel that all librarians ought to be mousy. It should be a necessary (but not sufficient) qualification for the job. Mousy? Agouti? What, I wonder, is its genetic control? Perhaps it is tightly linked to the gene for tidiness." Mawer also juxtaposes Ben's passion with that of his legume-obsessed ancestor. Mendel, it turns out, pined for Frau Rotway, a married woman in the inevitable company of her own achondroplastic, a dachshund.
Mendel's Dwarf wears its considerable learning lightly--the author is a biologist--and readers will be alternately moved, charmed, and shocked by Ben's "astringent kiss of irony." Because the hero makes several difficult choices in the course of this fine novel, we admire his bravery, along with his resilience, at every turn. For Ben, the smallest gesture can become the largest (nods being "big absurd things, my head being about the same size as my body. You can't miss them. They are the gestural equivalent of screaming"). And alas, such acts are often poignantly beyond Ben's grasp: "I wanted to put my arm around her, of course, to bring her that fragile thing that we call comfort. But of course I couldn't reach." --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Library Journal
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top Customer Reviews
Lambert is an intelligent, acerbic, somewhat bitter character -- he has learned through his life to endure the polite and not-so-polite stares, the prejudices, the patronizing smiles of so-called 'normal' people. He has even learned to use his all-too-obvious condition in his studies and lectures -- making self-effacing jokes to lull his audience into a sense of relaxed cameraderie and submission, only to turn around and make a stabbing point with the determination and aim of Captain Ahab going after Moby Dick.
There is a love story here as well, in Lambert's relationship with Jean Piercey Miller. It is told very movingly -- it allows us to see fondness and emotion flourish in the heart of one who has been hardened by the treatment he has received at the hands of the world. There is also a purely erotic side, darker. It is tinged with a definite sadness, for we can see other, less healthy emotional undercurrents in both characters as well -- there is joy and sorrow in the cup from which they drink.Read more ›
The novel's theme shifts between the current love story of Benedict and a librarian, Jean (get it?), and Mendel's activities and researches with peas and corn. Interesting and difficult questions are raised by way of this story:
1) Why was Mendel's research largely ignored in its time although it was the obvious solution to questions raised by Darwin about evolution? (It had the scintillating title, "Research in Pea Plants," and the Darwin-Huxley-Fisher group were more interested in descriptive natural history and the British Empire than in Pascal's triangle and probability quotients.)
2) How was eugenics used as a rationale for the British Empire and by Hitler for the Holocaust, and are we still doing it?
3) Is it even possible to avoid unnatural selection in our time? (Isn't the practice of birth control a form of eugenics?)
There are footnotes and references throughout, but be careful. I checked a reference to a journal, Trends in Genetics, May 1995 via PubMed, but although I found the journal, could not locate the article he cites.
There is suspense throughout, even to Benedict's final dilemma. The book might have been called Benedict's Choice, but the author was too imaginative for that.
Aside from enjoyment, this book might be an excellent selection for a course called Science in Literature. Teenagers, especially, would identify with Benedict's loneliness and would be interested in the social and ethical dilemmas raised by our knowledge of modern genetics.
Descended from Mendel, a geneticist, Benedict's mission in life is to isolate the gene that caused his affiction. He earns a first class degree at Oxford University and becomes an esteemed expert on the subject.
The book has it's share of humor and lust, and his relationship with Jean, a mousey librarian, is very enjoyable for the reader. I felt very involved with Ben - up until the end you are usure just how his story will unfold.
On the negative side, I skipped a little of the detail from Mendel's experiments, but this didn't distract from a book that discusses the complications and injustice of Acondroplasia, and the determination of Ben that the reader will not pity him, but enjoy his personal battle with the mutation. A very worthwhile read.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
If your a person who doesn't like inclusive endings, don't read this book. It is, none-the-less, brilliantly written and well researched. Read morePublished 5 months ago by Amazon Customer
Anyone with even a passing interest in eugenics and genetics would find this book of interest. It stands firmly on its own two feet as a dramatic novel, clever, sad, thought... Read morePublished 6 months ago by Mia
very good descriptions. some uncomfortable realism in describing the life of a dwarf. overall quite good.Published 8 months ago by Michael J. Toomey
Lots of information about Genetics, which provided some pacing for the rather scant plot.Published 11 months ago by houlihan
Very good book with an interesting look into human nature. A twist at the end....Published 14 months ago by Kathy Clark
Have not even finished it yet and I love it.....My cousin was dwarf. We dearly loved her and defended her.... Read morePublished 19 months ago by Laura
I was intrigued by the concept of the novel and liked that the storyline tied in the real life geneticist, Gregor Mendel, but this one fell flat for me. Read morePublished 20 months ago by EpicFehlReader