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The Wandering Gene and the Indian Princess: Race, Religion, and DNA

3.38  ·  Rating Details ·  126 Ratings  ·  32 Reviews
A vibrant young Hispano woman, Shonnie Medina, inherits a breast-cancer mutation known as BRCA1.185delAG. It is a genetic variant characteristic of Jews. The Medinas knew they were descended from Native Americans and Spanish Catholics, but they did not know that they had Jewish ancestry as well. The mutation most likely sprang from Sephardic Jews hounded by the Spanish Inq ...more
Hardcover, 272 pages
Published January 16th 2012 by W. W. Norton & Company
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Oct 05, 2012 Cyndi rated it it was ok
The topics here are fascinating. A young woman dies from a very aggressive form of breast cancer. Many of her extended family members have had breast or ovarian cancer too. The family discovers it is linked to a particular mutation in the so-called breast cancer gene. One that is specifically Jewish. But the family is Hispano, descendents of Spaniards who came to the American Southwest centuries ago, and intermixed with native populations. With no known Jewish ancestry.

How this gripping story tu
Oct 13, 2011 Sarah rated it did not like it
Shelves: science
In short: interesting subject matter, not the best read, however.

I almost put this book down at page 140 beause I thought the organization of the book was terrible and the author had not yet gotten around to telling the main human interest story of this book--Shonnie Medina's fight with cancer. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is a much, much better written book in this genre, which I would call science/genetic/medical case study.

Another irritation was the lack of quotation marks. I was ann
Mar 07, 2012 Kristen rated it liked it
This book was like a really good New Yorker article that spiraled out of control and ended up being a whole book. Don't get me wrong; it would have been one of those super long ones articles that are really fascinating and then you feel a bit self-congratulatory at the end of it for having read it and learned something. The pace of this book is just way too leisurely (OMFG the unending descriptions of the freaking mountains!) -- it is a very interesting story, you just wish he would hurry the fr ...more
Sam Dye
Aug 29, 2012 Sam Dye rated it it was amazing
This is a ground breaking book in the sense that it explores multiple areas that have not previously been given open expression. It took the author 10 years to gather this material and more importantly he had to build relations of trust with disparate groups to pull it together. The intimate coverage of the Hispano Jehovah Witnesses as contrasted to their previous Catholic life is done excellently. The discussions of the competing Jewish approaches to genetic screening is very thorough and sensi ...more
Naomi Young
Feb 25, 2013 Naomi Young rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: aclib, 2013
Enjoyed this very much, and if you like pondering fate, identity, history and faith along with a strong does of pure science, you will too.

The wandering gene of the title is the specific variant of the BRCA1 gene that is more prevalent in individuals with Jewish ancestry; the Indian princess is a New Mexico woman, Shonnie Medina, from a Catholic background, one of Jehovah's Witnesses, who died from cancer sparked in part by that mutation.

Author Jeff Wheelwright uses Shonnie's story as a tragic
Nov 22, 2011 Sara rated it liked it
Though this type of thing is right up my boyfriend's alley, I personally know very little about genetics and how genes are expressed and how they are traceable, apart from what I've gleaned from examining my own family history. I enjoyed this book because it was able to bring a historical and personal perspective to the science of genetics, tracing a particular genetic mutation through one woman's family, through her family history and the events which perpetuated her ancestors to migrate. I fel ...more
Scottsdale Public Library
Author Jeff Wheelwright delves eloquently and with sensitivity into the mystery of why a young Hispanic woman from the four corners region of the country and other members of her extended family are struck down by an aggressive form of cancer known to predominantly afflict women of Jewish descent. Wheelwright gathers the genetic scientists and genealogists at the forefront of the race to save these women’s lives and find answers to how race, religion and DNA impact our lives. Recommended for rea ...more
Jan 25, 2012 Roger rated it really liked it
Shelves: science, non-fiction
Excellent book on the story of a New Mexico valley interweaving the genetic issues with BRCA in a close community. A very touching story that I enjoyed a great deal.
Mar 07, 2012 Angie rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
The author irritated me because he kept relying on stereotypes (especially of Jehovah's Witnesses) as well as repeating quotes from people whom he had interviewed that reveal a Jewish prejudice (even though they were descended from them)! Why he chose this young woman's sad story to discuss the existence of Crypto-Jews in New Mexico and our Southwest is beyond me--how the women in her family deal with the traditions from their Catholic background, their Indian ancestors, and their newly found re ...more
J L's Bibliomania
Apr 29, 2012 J L's Bibliomania rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, jewish
This book is a well researched social history of the discovery of the BRCA gene mutations in the Hispanos of the San Luis Valley of Colorado.
Unfortunately, the book dragged. I wanted to know more, but kept putting this down in favor of other books.

My husband got sick of my repeated lament that the scientist in me wanted more science. In particular, the book lacks a Medina family tree that showing gene and disease status. I would have been satisfied with a diagram that anonymized the entries if
Margaret Sankey
Mar 16, 2012 Margaret Sankey rated it liked it
Look Dornbusch, Colorado Conversos! From a solid science writer, an expanded piece on the prevalence of BRCA1 mutations in the Jewish converso population who emigrated to the American southwest, with side explorations on the cultural intersections of religion, genetics and geography, including the Babylonian captivity, the genetic bottlenecks of 18th century Catholic communities, nuns and breast cancer studies, poverty and insurance, Jehovah's Witnesses and their conflict with the florid Catholi ...more
Nov 01, 2016 Yasmin rated it liked it
This book was at its best when talking about genetics or history. It's weakest parts were the contemporary chapters that tried to wax poetic about the landscape or make some deep observation about an average family and woman who fell victim to the cancer gene (these seemed to go on forever). Overall, it was interesting, but it could have been told in three or four chapters.

Also, and I don't remember why this is because I finished reading the book a few weeks ago, but I got the sense that the au
Mar 19, 2012 Austin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Wheelwright does impressive work tying in several interrelated story lines into an engaging book. The central story is that of Shonnie Medina, a young hispanic woman who dies of breast cancer in southern colorado. She's a carrier for the BRCA mutation that's gotten much publicity in recent years. It turns out that the specific mutation she has only exists in Jews. The author uses that discovery - made in 2003 - to trace the history of the Sephardic Jews, the Spanish inquisition, the settlement o ...more
May 18, 2013 Kerry rated it it was ok
While this book has some really good information, some of which is also very interesting, at times it was very difficult to know just where the author was headed. His punctuation style made me wonder if he had ever studied writing or grammar, or if he had been his own editor, and then I read that he had been the science editor for Life Magazine. I think the book lacked organization and needed some stronger editing. Changing from first person to third person narration in one paragraph without the ...more
Aug 29, 2013 Wendy rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
I really enjoyed this book. I love it when I learn new things while being entertained. This book is full of extremely interesting scientific and historical information, woven through a story of real people that were easy to identify with. Breast cancer is a devastating disease, yet the scientific advances are encouraging.

I want to learn more about genetics and the migratory history of the people of the world. I also would like to have a DNA test to determine my percentages of ancestry. It's fas
Jul 05, 2012 Marge rated it really liked it
I enjoyed learning from so many areas when I read this book. First of all the genetics studies were amazing. The world of genetics has expanded to unbelievable areas of understanding and fascinates me continually. The studies of Jewish genetics and the Biblical history overlap was another area I found I wanted to know more about. Learning about the Catholic and Jehovah Witness followers and especially the evolution of the Catholic church in this specific geographic area was another area of learn ...more
May 28, 2014 Vaughn rated it liked it
Shelves: 2014
This was an interesting exploration of the possibilities of unexpected DNA in Hispanic populations of Southern Colorado. Having been raised in this geographical area, I appreciated the deeper understanding of the culture, the history, and the attitudes of some of the people. In particular I gained greater insight into the unique contributions of the Penitente sect to the Hispanic population and attitudes.

There are several possible explanations for the Breast Cancer Gene found amongst this popula
Susan Hester
Jan 24, 2016 Susan Hester rated it really liked it
Interesting story of how our genetics, more history than we know, follow us for centuries. Breast and ovarian cancer can come from an inherited gene mutation, and there is a higher than normal number of such cases in the San Luis Valley, Colorado. It was an astonishing discovery how the genetic link was made, and this book details how it traveled from the Middle East and Europe to the Americas.
Jan 21, 2012 Michelle rated it it was ok
Shelves: science-issues
Ugh. This story might have had interest, but it was so poorly written I could barely bring myself to finish it. As it is, I skimmed the most boring parts. This was disorganized, crazily, floridly overwritten, disjointed and at times almost nonsensical. (Pages and pages on sunflowers???? Stating that Jehovah's Witnesses and Orthodox Jews are more alike each other than any other two religious groups?) Too bad.
Apr 18, 2014 Mj rated it it was ok
I did not finish the book and do not plan to do so. Though I am certain the information about the BRCA breast cancer gene us interesting, the author has not gotten to that subject in the first half of the book. Surely there is a better way to provide the information necessary to understand whatever the author has to say about the young women who us apparently the subject if the book
Apr 07, 2013 Nancy added it
Interesting and ambitious undertaking but the author wasn't a good enough writer to pull it off in a compelling and sustained way. Should have been much shorter. A good editor could have made the difference.
Gila Golder
Loved this book! History, science, narrative all blend together effortlessly & the historical and the scientific information was presented in layman's terms easy to understand. Extremely compelling. One of the best books I've read in a long time.
Aug 23, 2012 Smellsofbikes rated it liked it
Interesting, depressing multi-discipline book about breast cancer genetics, Sephardic and Ashkenazi Jews and their distant descendents in southern Colorado, and the intersection of modern medicine and various religions.
Aug 11, 2012 Darlene rated it it was amazing
Though the scientific lingo was usually well parsed and easy to follow, some of it became tiresome near the end of the book. However I am now 'officially' hooked on DNA and genetics especially as they relate to genealogy.
Jul 29, 2012 Kiya rated it liked it
REally interesting info, especially since I love learning about genetics, but writing style rather wandering.
Jul 01, 2012 Doug rated it really liked it
Very good. A story about how DNA and the genome can be used. Science, Sociology, History, and Medicine.
Jul 05, 2012 Cynthia rated it liked it
Why the title .....Indian Princess? Shonnie wasn't a princess in the way I think of royalty.
The back story of the Wandering Gene (Wandering Jew) wasn't developed as much as I would have liked.
Johanna rated it really liked it
Dec 27, 2012
Bookfan rated it liked it
Dec 03, 2014
Merrie rated it liked it
Feb 25, 2012
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