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An Imperfect Lens

A Novel

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Paperback published by Broadway Books (Crown Publishing Group)

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About This Book
Acclaimed author Anne Roiphe evokes the sights and sounds of 1880s 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 air.

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.
Show less
Acclaimed author Anne Roiphe evokes the sights and sounds of 1880s 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 air.

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.
Product Details
Paperback (304 pages)
Published: October 24, 2006
Publisher: Crown Publishing Group
Imprint: Broadway Books
ISBN: 9781400082124
Other books byAnne Roiphe
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    Anne Roiphe was not quite seventy years old when her husband of nearly forty years unexpectedly passed away. But it was not until her daughters placed a personal ad in a literary journal that Roiphe began to consider the previously unimagined possibility of a new man. Eloquent and astute, moving between heartbreaking memories of her marriage and the pressing needs of a new day-to-day routine, Epilogue takes us on her journey into the unknown world of life after love.

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    In this captivating memoir, novelist Anne Roiphe shows us what it was really like to grow up rich and Jewish in New York in the 1940s and 1950s. Revisiting the world of her childhood, Roiphe brings alive a cast of characters who are both difficult to love and impossible to forget. Through the eyes of this precocious, loving daughter, we witness the brutalities that lurked behind the mah-jongg tables, cocktail parties, and summer houses of her family. By turns heartbreaking, funny, and mercilessly honest, Roiphe's story exposes the fault lines of misery that exploded in domestic battles on the home front, far overshadowing the war overseas. The locus of the story is 1185 Park Avenue. It is one of the buildings on the northern end of the avenue -- just before the train tracks mark the beginning of Harlem -- that wealthy Jewish families claimed as their own in the first half of the 20th century. Amidst the maids and the governesses and the doormen and the psychiatrists live the members of the Roth family, in Apartment 8C. They include an unfaithful father who uses his wife's fortune to entertain other women and play cards at his club; a misfit son who won't eat his food because he believes his parents are trying to poison him; a disappointed mother who waits all day for her five o'clock scotch and her crossword puzzle; and an eager daughter who tries to negotiate peace at the dinner table. Bound by custom and greed, as well as love, they stay together until their world at 1185 Park has done its damage. Only the daughter escapes whole -- to become the writer we now know as Anne Roiphe. 1185 Park Avenue is both a history of an era and a portrait of the artist as a young woman. Roiphe makes it impossible for us to view the 1940s and 1950s with unabashed nostalgia or to think the same way about the people who were crushed by its lies and deceptions. Her redemption, though bittersweet, stands as a haunting triumph long after we have turned the last page of her compelling story.

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    Water from the Well

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