Over a long and distinguished career in neuroscience, Prof George Paxinos has identified more areas of the brain than anyone else in history, he has also written 57 books on the subject. Now he has dipped into the waters of fiction with the publication of his first novel “A River Divided”.

It took him 21 years and countless revisions to publish the book, a process that was harder than anything he had attempted before.

“The central idea came to me one night in 1999, of identical twins raised apart and I filled in the plot over the years,” Paxinos told Neos Kosmos. The rest was sheer persistence as he set about writing and revising the book to his ultimate satisfaction.

The idea developed in the book so that the identical twins are cloned from the remains of a man found near Masada, the Jewish fortress near the Dead Sea that resisted a Roman siege to the death.

The remains are those of the biblical Jesus. The clone is accidentally divided into two identical embryos which are transferred to two host mothers. One grows up in Australia the other in completely different circumstances in South America. The twins meet again as adults confronting each other from very different positions.

The novel guided by the story grapples with important ethical and moral issues, with the environmental crisis at its heart. In the 1980s Paxinos was a key advocate for the founding the Light Rail Association to bring back the tram to Sydney and in 2015 he was the Australian Cyclists Party candidate in the New South Wales state elections.

“The issue of our time today is the environment. I try to penetrate what Christ would have said today. In Christ’s time the issue was justice. We must not give the next generation, the burden of a damaged environment,” Paxinos said.

READ MORE: George Paxinos launches new book: The Brain Atlas

“If Christians get over the initial shock of the finding (and cloning) Christ’s remains, I think they will find it was a choice made from affection for Christ and the ideas he produced. I hope they will not find this idea disagreeable.

“A book needs heart, soul and mind, the book has all three elements but it is also (about) reflection, conflict and internal debate. It grapples with some important issues.”

The book’s title, “A River Divided” refers to the confluence of two very different rivers, the lighter coloured muddier colder Rio Solimões and the darker, warmer Rio Negro. The rivers which meet near the city Manaus and retain their individual character until they eventually blend 25km downstream to become the mighty Amazon River. Plans to dam a river in the region, draw the twins who are in opposite ends of the situation.

The action of the book runs through various settings from Israel, to Australia, the Vatican and South America and the author visited each place as part of his research in writing the novel.

When he wrote “The Brain Atlas” he put in 110 hours a week for several months in order to complete it.

“I gave more to this than my scientific works,” Paxinos said.

“Literature is hard. I would not let my scientific books go (for publication) until I could not add anything more. I did not feel that way for this book and up until the last moment I felt I was improving the manuscript. A book must hang together with the right flow, expression and emotions, it must not be inappropriate.”

His academic books are highly acclaimed in the field of neuroscience with his first one “The Rat Brain in Stereotaxic Coordinates”, as the most cited publication in neuroscience and was the third-most cited work in all of science for several decades.

In teaching undergraduates and post graduates over the years helped him to gauge what would work for readers of the novel- unlike his academic books, a novel should not be didactic or preach, the story and the characters guides the flow of the book.

Some key concepts of neuroscience to weave their way into the “A River Divided”: the role of our genetic endowment versus the influence of our environment in sculpting our character being one example.

“Had the brain been smaller then we would not have had technology, had our brain been larger and better functioning then we would have solved many of the problems that affect us now. Unfortunately, the brain is just not the right size,” Paxinos said.

“I used my neuroscientist background to craft the characters. I visited the places reflected in the novel and received a lot of help from scientists. It is accurate and comprehensible scientifically to the point that a Greek kindergarten teacher diagnosed the symptoms of Temporal Lobe Glioma in one of her friends on the basis of the description of the symptoms in one of the characters in the novel.”

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He had tried to first get the book published in Australia but conveying what it was about with its complexity of themes was a problem. He took the manuscript to Greece in 2015 where Livanis Publications took it up and translated into the Greek under the title “In His Image”.

“The publisher in Greece said: ‘Don’t tell me anything, just read me the last page.’

“The lady cried and I thought a publisher will normally only cry if the book does not sell,” Paxinos joked.

Having seen the book in his native language, he obtained a better understanding of the emotions of the characters he had created and spent another six years improving the English version.

“Every time I revised the book, I would make many corrections but each time they improved the book.”

The persistence that is his trademark has paid off but Paxinos says his next novel should be titled “How to write a novel in less than 25 years.”

♦ “A River Divided” by George Paxinos is published in Australia by Heads and Tales will be available from Mid-November in Booktopia and good book stores.

“A River Divided” by George Paxinos will be available in all book shops from mid-November. Photo: Supplied