Saskia Goldschmidt translated from the Dutch by Hester Velmans

The Hormone Factory

Publication Date: Nov 11, 2014

267 pp

Trade Paperback

List Price US $17.95
Trim Size (H x W): 5.5 x 8.25
ISBN: 9781590516492


List Price US $17.95
ISBN: 9781590516508

A disturbing story that describes how the alliance between science and capitalism can lead to disaster when the people in charge lose track of their humanity

Mordechai de Paauw was the Dutch cofounder and CEO of the first pharmaceutical company to invent the contraceptive pill and hormonal treatments. Hitler’s invasion of Holland and the threat he poses to the survival of De Paauw’s family and the Jewish scientists working for him doesn’t affect De Paauw’s urge to test his treatments on his female workers and exploit them sexually. Even after the war, which he survives unscathed, De Paauw will continue his mischief until a catastrophe that he himself couldn’t have imagined allows him to come to his senses long enough to tell us his story.

The Hormone Factory weaves questions of scientific integrity, sibling rivalry, and sex into a narrative that is as troubling as it is thought provoking.

Excerpt from The Hormone Factory

Day by day I seem to be sinking more deeply into the gloom that has characterized so much of my time on earth. I know them well, the days when it feels as if you’re stuck ankle-deep in filthy, glutinous sludge and even the slightest movement demands just too much effort. The hours you lie in bed motionless because you’re locked in a cocoon of wretchedness. It’s from that supine position that you survey the world. The sun that rises and shines, as if its light could possibly make any difference. Mizie entering the room with her mirthless smile. The hustle and bustle of people in the street, as if their comings and goings made the world even one jot better or worse. Yes, for years I operated under the same delusions. Ah, how I believed that I mattered, that with my abilities, my determination, my intelligence, I would make the world a better place! And I have left my mark, that’s true. But whether it’s helped the world—who the devil knows? Out of the frying pan and into the fire, that’s all it ever amounts to, for every damn one of us.

Way back when, even in the darkest days of my depression, I always knew I’d eventually emerge from my cocoon, that I’d reconnect with the world and dive back into the fray. And I didn’t do it half-assed; I was one of the winners. Ever since Darwin, we’ve known that it’s either eat or be eaten. I always was a contender. But in the final analysis, all that striving has left me with just a single insight, and that is that none of it matters. Whether you’re the winner or loser, perpetrator or victim, it doesn’t make a damn bit of difference.



The Hormone Factory is a dark, fascinating exploration of man’s nature set during an era of exciting scientific discovery and geopolitical turmoil.” —The Lancet

“A story written with color and momentum.” —de Volkskrant

“A beautiful novel about the proud tyrant De Paauw that is based on imagination, but probably contains a lot more truth than we would like.” —Brabants Dagblad

1. On page 25 De Paauw states, “And it’s the woman’s job to nurture.” Explore the irony of a man with such traditional notions of gender, and who is also a misogynist, being involved in the making of the contraceptive pill, which is usually considered a cornerstone of women’s reproductive rights. Are there any other instances of irony in the novel?

2. What do you make of De Paauw’s relentless use of clichés (see “kicked the bucket’’ p 81; “let our hair down” p 98; “that’s the way the cookie crumbles” p 243), considering his pioneering role in the world of business?

3. On page 178 De Paauw says, “I did not recognize myself in Rivka’s description of me.” How does he see himself? How do each of the other principal characters in the novel see him?

4. Do you think De Paauw is a reliable narrator? Explore how his megalomania manifests itself throughout his story, how he justifies his actions, and how that shapes the narrative.

5. Why does De Paauw always refer to Hitler in derogatory terms but never use his actual name? Why do you think he returns again and again to his lack of education? (See page 251, “Not bad for a kid who never finished high school.”)

6. De Paauw often mentions feeling guilt. Does he ever try to assuage his guilt? Compare his reaction toward guilt with Aaron’s reaction. Does Rafael Levine’s description of his experiences during the war (see pages 237–244) complicate how the novel presents guilt? If so, how?

7. Is De Paauw’s description of Rivka, Rosie, and Bertha as “the three Furies, those harpies” (p 286) a display of his misogyny or his guilt?

8. Compare the relationship between Rafael Levine and De Paauw with the relationship between science and capitalist endeavor, as it is presented in the novel.