cover image An Imperfect Lens

An Imperfect Lens

Anne Richardson Roiphe, . . Shaye Areheart, $25 (296pp) ISBN 978-1-4000-8211-7

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. (Jan.)