The history of a multinational corporation in a thrilling novel about sex addiction and the abuse of power
In her debut as a novelist, Saskia Goldschmidt has chosen the true story of two brothers and a scientist who set up a pharmaceutical factory in the years running up to the Second World War. The author transforms this story into a tragedy of biblical proportions, with hormones flying all over the place.
Main character – and unreliable narrator is the 97-year-old Mordechai (‘Motke’) de Paauw, a former conman and womanizer who is looking back on his life from his deathbed. ‘A coach and horses could drive through the gaps in my conscience,’ he says at the beginning, while his twin brother Aron’s high moral stance led him ‘right into the abyss’.
Next comes a picaresque account of the rise of the factory in the southern part of the country. We learn how Motke and Aron, with the help of a vain scientist, isolated hormone preparations from offal. How the brothers were driven apart by Motke’s haggling, his loose morals and, finally, a scurrilous plan. How the company survived the war while Aron died in a concentration camp. And how Motke picked up his carefree life again after the war – but is now heading for a resentful and unhappy death.
Told at a fast pace, packed with colourful vignettes of daily life in the twentieth century, The Hormone Factory offers a fascinating insight into the ruthlessness of businessmen or, as Motke says himself: the men who know what it means to sacrifice their own lives and those of their loved ones for a large business.
Motke is neither subtle nor sympathetic, but his candid voice and his unhypocritical approach to life make him a character you won’t soon forget. This is clear from the first page, when he says, ‘Yes, I have left my mark. But whether that helped the world? In avoiding the rain, we stumble into a ditch. We do nothing more, none of us.’