4.0 out of 5 stars
Inspired by true events surrounding the family business of a meatpacking company that diverged into a hormone "factory" in Holland, this novel relates the research, development and marketing of a successful operation that gave the world important hormones such as insulin and later testosterone and the contraceptive pill. It's also the story of the men who were behind this meteoric rise to wealth and fame -- and how it affected their families and workers.
Twin brothers, Mordechai and Aaron De Paauw, inherited the family's meatpacking business and join forces with a brilliant German scientist, Rafael Levine, when they decide to create Farmacon -- a subsidiary laboratory dedicated to pharmaceutical products with potential for world wide distribution. The narrative from the point of view of the youngest twin, Mordechai -- the head of the company -- is told as he lies dying, the victim of a stroke that has left his body a shell but his mind still active.
Mordechai is a megalomaniac who wields his power with abandon and personal self-interest as he excuses his every heinous act with any type of justification. He's sexually reckless and immoral, faithless to his loyal wife and to his brother seeing only his immediate gratification. Impetuous and impatient, he treats his employees and Rafael as if they were serfs in his little kingdom. When Hitler's rise to power and subsequent war interferes with Mordechai's safety, he manipulates things so that he can retain his control while sacrificing nothing to hold on to his greed and desires. He's an awful man, without conscience or empathy, and cares little about the plight of the Jews who work for him or those who have helped him.
Will there be redemption for Mordechai on his deathbed? He's forced to watch from his hospital bed as his company is hit with scandal involving his only son. Powerless, unable to speak, and completely helpless, events finally spiral out of his control.
I really enjoyed this short but fascinating fiction that follows very closely the story of the twin brothers from Oss in Holland. I'd enthusiastically recommend it for book clubs and anyone interested in the history of hormone discovery during the years before World War II.