An Imperfect Lens
With 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.
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After a night at anchor, a local pilot at the wheel, the Andromeda made her way around the small lighthouse that stood at the end of a long jetty. The dhows, brigantines, barques, and sloops entering the new port navigated carefully through the rocky channel of Boghaz.
Once in the harbor the ship...
1. Discuss Este’s relationship to her physical appearance. Why does she seem to derive comfort from seeing her own face in the mirror? What is reassuring to her about seeing her reflection? Do you notice this preoccupation change during the course of the book?
2. Discuss Este’s relationship to her...
“With dazzling richness and suspense, Anne Roiphe brings to life 19th-century Alexandria and its myriad cultures. An Imperfect Lens subtly delineates the interplay of venality and compassion within men and women struggling to cope with disaster. This is a novel of exceptional immediacy and insight.” —Lauren Belfer, author of City of Light
“Set in the borderlands between science and religion, East and West, enlightenment and ignorance, An Imperfect Lens is a wonderfully written story reminding us that medical research was not always an industry but, rather, a sacred calling and a holy quest. Poetic, fascinating, and a damn good read.” —Mary Doria Russell, author of The Sparrow
“Weaving together the true-life story of scientists trying to stem a deadly epidemic, and the struggle of a Jewish family to survive political repression circa 1880s Egypt, Anne Roiphe has written a fascinating, almost painfully vivid novel that is compulsively readable.” —Naomi Ragen, author of The Covenant
From the Hardcover edition.