Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Not Just One Man's Ode to his Penis

Author:  Saskia Goldschmidt   
Publisher:  Other Press, 11/11/14

One could be forgiven for thinking, at first blush, that The Hormone Factory by Saskia Goldschmidt is about a man's love affair with his most important appendage.

The book opens with Mordechai de Paauw, co-founder of one of the world's most important Pharmaceutical companies, as he lies on his death bed pondering the turns his life has taken and, most importantly, exactly what he might have done to his sweet young caregiver - had his penis still been working effectively.

As he lies in bed, wasting away, Mordechai shares a fascinating tale of his creation of a pharmaceutical empire during a time when Europe was being slowly, but surely, overtaken by Hitler and his Nazis.  As Mordechai, who is Jewish, becomes more and more powerful, everything he's ever worked for becomes threatened.  However, the true threat isn't the Nazis…It's Mordechai himself.

This can be a challenging book to read because the narrator is one of the most loathsome characters I've read in ages.  This is a man who is utterly selfish, egotistical, and power mad.  Although there are flashes when he shows that maybe, just maybe, he has some capacity to love, those flashes are brief and soon overtaken by his ego.

While there's a lot of sex in the book, and Mordechai himself is obsessed with it, the book isn't really about sex at all.  It's about abuse.  Rape.  Brutality.  And a man who has the ability to lie to himself around every turn.  Even as he abuses woman after woman, Mordechai has the ability to tell himself that his partners are willing - and truly believe it.  He's truly a sickening character.

The atrocities of Hitler and the camps do come into play later in the book.  While not a graphic representation at all, what happens later is truly heartbreaking - and further shows our narrator in a very unflattering light.

This book is not for everyone.  It's a very long character study of a man with no saving grace.  But it is exceedingly well written and leaves you - not with any hope or feeling of redemption - but with the absolute intention that you will not live your life the way that this man did.

Highly recommended for those who don't mind stepping into the muck for a bit.  You'll need to read something simple and sweet after finishing this, but it's worth the read.

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