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February 21, 2012 1:42 pm

Race, Religion and DNA

avatar by Deby Medrez Pier

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The Wandering Gene and the Indian Princess: Race, Religion, and DNA by Jeff Wheelwright. Photo: wiki commons.

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

By Jeff Wheelwright

W.W. Norton and Company, 260 pages, $26.95

“From breast cancer to secret Jewish rituals, hidden links signify unlikely kinships in this meditative exploration of the science of racial connectedness,” read Publisher’s Weekly’s review of “The Wandering Gene and the Indian Princess”.

A vibrant young Hispano woman, Shonnie Medina, inherits a breast-cancer mutation known as BRCA1.185delAG., which is a genetic variant characteristic of Jews.

The Medinas knew they  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 Inquisition. The discovery of the gene leads to a fascinating investigation of cultural history and modern genetics by Dr. Harry Ostrer and other experts on the DNA of Jewish populations.

Set in the isolated San Luis Valley of Colorado, this beautiful and harrowing book tells of the Medina family’s five-hundred-year passage from medieval Spain to the American Southwest and of their surprising conversion from Catholicism to the Jehovah’s Witnesses in the 1980s. Rejecting conventional therapies in her struggle against cancer, Shonnie Medina died in 1999. Her life embodies a story that could change the way we think about race and faith.

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