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Authors: Simon Mawer

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Mendel's Dwarf

BOOK: Mendel's Dwarf
Praise for
Mendel’s Dwarf
“A grand scientific adventure and a tragic human love story … as idiosyncratic and mysterious in its own way as the first gene.”
—The Philadelphia Inquirer

Mendel’s Dwarf is
intelligent, ambitious, ferocious.”
—San Francisco Chronicle
“A remarkable performance. Lambert’s voice is distinctive, unique, and often downright chilling; it grabs you by the throat.”
—The Washington Post
“Farious, tender, and wittily erudite.”
—The New Yorker
“Hypersmart and delectably stylish.”
“A gripping, life-and-death exploration … in [an] intricate and flawless plot. In Mawer’s ingenious tale, Benedict’s life and that of his great-great-great-uncle Mendel criss-cross and interweave, heightening the reader’s understanding of both men’s minds and of the intricate beauty of fundamental genetics.”
—The Times

Mendel’s Dwarf
is an improbable, bittersweet, and wonderful novel about the science of genetics and life … [the] story will grow and stay with the reader long after the book is put aside.”
—Detroit Free Press
“Dark, funny, bitter … the ethical dilemmas of modern genetic research in a love story that lurches from sharp humor to jaw-dropping sadness … a marvelous read.”
—The Independent
“An acidly funny, achingly sad love story.”
—The Voice Literary Supplement
“[A] heartening—and heightening—tale.”
“Dangerously clever … a lively, engaging narrative. Sophisticated, tortured, and witty, Lambert is a character on the grand scale, a combination of erudition and cruelty reminiscent of Nabokov’s Humbert Humbert. And like Humbert, Lambert is tortured by an impossible, unrequited love, which ultimately drives the novel to a tragic, shockingly cruel denouement. [Mawer] is a poetic, masterful explorer of hidden motives, erotic desire, divided loyalties.”
—Publishers Weekly
(starred review)
“Simon Mawer has written a gripping tale of scientific intrigue and moral uncertainty … In this novel, he brings to life the ethical dilemmas inherent in genetic science far more vividly than any article about cloned sheep.”
—The Baltimore Sun
“Mawer weaves a story that is in turns compassionate, erotic, and angry … A wonderfully crafted, thought-provoking tale in which the science never gets in the way of the story; highly recommended.”
—Library Journal
“Benedict, Mendel, and genetic science create a unique tension, with clever prose, and the author’s insight into human sadness turning it all into something truly profound.”

Mendel’s Dwarf
is an extraordinary novel, a work of history, science, pure prose, and persuasive stunning irony. Through its narrator, a geneticist who is himself a dwarf, it gives brilliant focus to the essential horrors of our century along with its narrative perfection has at its heart a dark and luminous kinship with such tales as ‘Beauty and the Beast’ and Kafka’s
. It is a novel of dire magnificence.”
—John Hawkes, author of
The Frog

Other Press edition 2012

Copyright © Simon Mawer, 1998
First published in the United States by Harmony Books, a division of
Crown Publishers, Inc. in 1998
Published by Penguin Books in 1999

eISBN: 978-1-59051-624-9

Production Editor: Yvonne E. Cárdenas

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without written permission from Other Press LLC, except in the case of brief quotations in reviews for inclusion in a magazine, newspaper, or broadcast. For information write to Other Press LLC, 2 Park Avenue, 24
Floor, New York, NY 10016. Or visit our Web site:

Publisher’s Note:
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.


To the memory of my father
who gave me half my genes
and much else besides


Title Page
[Chain Termination]
About the Author

octor Benedict Lambert, the celebrated Benedict Lambert, the diminutive Benedict Lambert, the courageous Benedict Lambert (adjectives skating carefully around the essence of it all) stands to address the members of the Mendel Symposium. Applause has died away. The silence—eyes watching, breath held, hands stilled above notebooks supplied by courtesy of Hewison Pharmaceuticals—is complete. There before the good doctor, ranged in rows like sample tubes in a rack, are all the phenotypes one could wish to see: male and female, ectomorphic and endomorphic, dolichocephalic and brachycephalic, Nordic, Mediterranean, Slav, Mongoloid (three), Negroid (one). There are chins cleft
and normal, hair curly
and straight, eyes blue
and brown and green, skins white, brown, yellow, and black,
crania bald
and hirsute. It is almost as though the organizers (the Mendelian Association of America in conjunction with Hewison Pharmaceuticals
and the Masaryk University of Brno) have trawled through the whole gamut of human variation in order to come up with a representative genetic mix. And yet …

 … and yet there is a constancy that is obvious to all, but consciously perceived only by the truncated figure up on the podium: each and every one of the earnest watchers is subsumed under the epithet
phenotypically normal

Doctor Lambert undoes his wristwatch and places it conspicuously on the lecture bench, a practiced gesture of no chronometric significance. Then he smiles, glances at a page of notes (of equally little mnemonic moment), clears his throat, and begins: “We have all of us visited the monastery.” They have. Some nod in agreement, wanting to agree with him, wanting to please him, wanting in some way to compensate. “To do so we have all of us passed, with little attention, through the great square outside, which the city fathers have renamed Mendlovo námĕstí in his honor. In the days of Gregor Mendel himself and for many years after, this square was simply known as the Klosterplatz, Monastery Square. Right into this century it lay on the edge of the town, between the Spielberg Hill and the water meadows along the banks of the River Svratka.”

History lesson? they wonder. Urban planning? Museum policy within the context of a developing tourist trade? Heads nod. Eyes glaze. The entertainment is, perhaps, over. It is a warm day.

“The Klosterplatz was the place where fairs were held. There were booths where fire-eaters blew flames from their mouths and bears danced and pickpockets filched their living. It was also the place of freak shows, the kind of place where monsters were put on display, the kind of place where people with deformities were exhibited for all the world to gaze at in horror and revulsion and amusement. People like me …”

And they are lying in the palm of his hand like peas newly shelled from the pod.

“Conjoined twins, as well. Bearded ladies, certainly. Acromegalic
giants, wart men, elephant men, children with scaly skin and flippers for arms, in fact the whole gamut of human deformity and disaster. And you, ladies and gentlemen, would have gone to stare. At people like me.”

Silence. Is anyone so careless as to allow a pin to drop? Guilt is a palpable substance in the atmosphere, a vapor that irritates the air passages and stings the eyes. Although the squat figure on the podium watches them through phenotypically normal eyes (brown), nothing else about him is normal. His body is not normal, his face is not normal, his limbs are not normal. He possesses a massive forehead and blunt, puglike features. His nose is stove in at the bridge, his mouth and jaw protrude. His limbs are squat and bowed, his fingers are mere squabs. He is one meter, twenty-seven centimeters tall.

“It was Gregor Mendel who enabled us to understand all this, and, by understanding, bring acceptance of a kind. It was he who, contemplating his peas, saw within them those units of inheritable potency that, for better or for worse, we all of us possess. He was the Galileo of biology, seeing these moons for the first time, seeing them as clearly as we do today, although he had no instrument to aid him and nothing material on which to project his vision.”

A sip of water, for the effect rather than for the thirst. His gestures are practiced, almost rehearsed. He is used to all this, aware of every movement in the hall, every cough, every whisper, every glance of every eye.

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