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The Wandering Gene and the Indian Princess: Race, Religion, and DNA Hardcover – January 16, 2012
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With a novelist's gift for story and insight, an artist's appreciation for the stark beauty of the Southwest, and a passion for scientific investigation, Wheelwright addresses the thorny implications of genetics and portrays a family bravely facing a tragic consequence of a long-hidden legacy.
From breast cancer to secret Jewish rituals, hidden links signify unlikely kinships in this meditative exploration of racial connectedness....[A] sensitive account of how a modern identity is woven from ancient physical and spiritual strands.
Wheelwright is a marvelously intelligent writer with a lyrical bent that complements his scientific rigor. His compassionate account of such complex subjects is both engaging and enlightening.
...clear-eyed journalism and his deft handling of so many different, complex strands -- the science, the history, the stories of Shonnie and her family, thorny issues of race and religion -- are Wheelwright's real achievement.
“Wheelwright is a marvelously intelligent writer with a lyrical bent that complements his scientific rigor. His compassionate account of such complex subjects is both engaging and enlightening.”
- Irene Wanner, Seattle Times
“A freewheeling trip through Southwestern culture and religion, Jewish history and modern genetics…An intriguing tale told with gusto.”
- Kirkus Reviews
From the Back Cover
"At once an involving mystery, a tale of love and tragedy, an interreligious adventure, and a scientific quest, all set against a sere and stunning Southwestern landscape. A finely crafted, compassionate, fascinating book."
Top customer reviews
The subtitle of the book is definitely a good representation of what is inside; each of these topics seemed to get equal treatment. When the focus was on the DNA or race, the book held my interest. However, when the focus was more on religion, I found myself skipping pages. I didn't see how the history and beliefs of the Jehovah's witnesses helped the reader understand the genetics of this mutation. There were some surface similarities with Rebecca Skloot's book, as both have a very strong human angle. The book was a quick read, it taught me some new things about population genetics and BRCA mutations, and it served as an excellent jumping-off point for me to learn more.
Mr. Wheelwright has clearly done his research. The genetics information is impressive in its scope, and yet delivered in a readable way. I learned a lot about the chronology of the gene sequencing discoveries which I did not know, and confirmed many things I already did.
A lot of the information is gathered from Jewish studies, as the BRCA 185delAG gene is found almost exclusively in that gene pool, which is a fascinating side bar of conventions and controversies as well
I have a friend who was undergoing preventative oopherectomy after discovering the BRCA gene when I began the book, and recovering from the reconstruction of her preventative mastectomy when I finished it, so it was an unbelievably timely read for me. The additional information about that gene helped make sense of a lot of things for me.
But it's not just a chick book. Mr. Wheelwright takes great care to weave the story of the family affected by the BRCA gene with the history of the New Mexico territory, the migration patterns of the Hispano settlers, and the religious beliefs, ethnic blends, and customs that impacted both of these. It is an amazing fabric when seen as a whole. As a "big picture person", I very much appreciated seeing the whole.
I can't wait to recommend this book to my book club, as I believe it has so many talking points and raises so many good questions, we will be up all night!
(1) Origins of the isolated Hispano community of northern New Mexico and Colorado's San Luis Valley, including their American Indian and Spanish heritage.
(2) Research into genetic genealogy and DNA analysis leading to the discovery of the breast cancer mutation BRCA.185delAG.
Jeff Wheelwright brings a clear discussion to the story of the Hispano community and their link to Jewish ancestry going back approximately 2000 years. His writing at times is not as succinct as I would have liked but he successfully takes the reader into the lives of Shonnie Medina, who lost her life to breast cancer at a young age, and her extended family. The genealogy of this community is fascinating and the discussion of current advances in DNA analysis is of equal value. Wheelwright respects the reader's intelligence without becoming lost in scientific jargon. I was left wanting to learn more, and the Notes section at the book's end has a wealth of additional resources for the reader.