Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
“Lessons in Chemistry” by Bonnie Garmus was one of those rare reading delights that kept me glued to my Kindle for “just one more chapter”.
Go read the blurb if you want to know what this novel is actually about. Meanwhile, maybe on the sixth attempt, I’ll find a way to express my joy about having read this book which hit all the right notes for me: As the father of a daughter with a razor-sharp mind, I was infuriated about the despicable treatment Elizabeth receives.
»“We can learn more, we can go further, but to accomplish this, we must throw open the doors. Too many brilliant minds are kept from scientific research thanks to ignorant biases like gender and race. It infuriates me and it should infuriate you. Science has big problems to solve: famine, disease, extinction. And those who purposefully close the door to others using self-serving, outdated cultural notions are not only dishonest, they’re knowingly lazy.”«
We’ve come a long way since the 60ties but we still suffer from all that Elizabeth mentions and more and yet we still discriminate based on gender, race, sexual orientation, etc.
Many companies out there still pay their female employees less than their male counterparts for the same work! Even today many companies out there wouldn’t even consider hiring a transgender person; regardless of their qualification!
Yes, that does infuriate me a lot!
In my country, Germany, the churches are actually allowed to fire people who leave organised faith. They are also allowed to reject applicants based on their faith – while simultaneously complaining about lack of applicants!
That also infuriates me!
Yes, when it comes to such topics I’m a really angry man.
And along comes Bonnie Garmus and writes an easily-readable novel that no intellectually honest person could read and refute its core message: We’re all humans and we should receive the same fair treatment.
Garmus, though, doesn’t need a soapbox to step on and shout out her anger: With lots of warmth, humour, empathy and understanding she shows us how absurdly unfair the times of Elizabeth Zott must have been…
»“Sex discrimination,” she answered, taking the number-two pencil she always wore either behind her ear or in her hair and tapping it with emphasis on the table. “But also, politics, favoritism, inequality, and general unfairness.”«
… how far we’ve come…
»“Excuse me, Father,” Calvin said, leafing through his copy, “but there’s a problem with mine. Some of the pages are missing.”
– “They’re not missing, Calvin,” the priest said. “They’ve been removed.”
– “Because they’re wrong, that’s why. Now open your books to page one hundred nineteen, boys. We’ll start with—”
“Evolution’s missing,” Calvin persisted, riffling through the pages.
– “That’s enough, Calvin.”
The ruler cracked down hard against his knuckles.«
… but also how far we’ve yet to go…
»“Specifically, I wanted to ask: Don’t you think it’s possible to believe in both God and science?”
– “Sure,” Calvin had written back. “It’s called intellectual dishonesty.”«
By far not everything was fun and light – at times I could almost feel the pain experienced by Elizabeth. And yet she never gives up – sometimes even against her own wishes because she refuses to give in to what people expect of her.
Elizabeth Zott refuses to be kept down, she refuses to be held back and be told what she can or cannot do. She doesn’t cater to the expectations of a male-dominated society. Yes, she harbours doubt – like we all do at times – but in contrast to many of us, she struggles on.
It all boils down to this:
»“Whenever you start doubting yourself,” she said, turning back to the audience, “whenever you feel afraid, just remember. Courage is the root of change—and change is what we’re chemically designed to do. So when you wake up tomorrow, make this pledge. No more holding yourself back. No more subscribing to others’ opinions of what you can and cannot achieve. And no more allowing anyone to pigeonhole you into useless categories of sex, race, economic status, and religion. Do not allow your talents to lie dormant, ladies. Design your own future. When you go home today, ask yourself what you will change. And then get started.”«
Five stars out of five!
*: Seventh attempt post scriptum: No, I’m still not entirely happy with this review but I don’t think I can do any better – so go and read this great novel yourself!