" A comic, bittersweet tale of family evocative of The Yiddish Policemen's Union and Everything Is Illuminated Alexander "Sasha" Karnokovitch and his family would like to mourn the passing of his mother, Rachela, with modesty and dignity. But Rachela, a famous Polish e;migre; mathematician and professor at the University of Wisconsin, is rumored to have solved the million-dollar, Navier-Stokes Millennium Prize Problem. Rumor also has it that she spitefully took the solution to her grave. To Sasha's chagrin, a ragtag group of socially challenged mathematicians arrives in Madison and crashes the shiva, vowing to do whatever it takes to find the solution-even if it means prying up the floorboards for Rachela's notes. Written by a trained geophysicist, this hilarious and multi-layered debut novel brims with colorful characters and brilliantly captures humanity's drive not just to survive, but to solve the impossible"--
This beautifully conceived novel revolves around the death of a world-class mathematician and the resolution of a proof about turbulence, or the chaotic movement of air and water in the atmosphere during a hurricane.
Rachela Karnokovitch was the stuff of legend--a brilliant mathematician immigrant to the United States. Born in Poland and raised in Siberia, she escaped to the United States in advance of her husband and her child and was welcomed with open arms into the IV League academic community. However, she preferred the chill of Wisconsin rather than the warm Princeton climate. She hated and derided any modifier to her genius, e.g., female mathematician, though the rarity of that made her even more precious, at least in the eyes of her husband and son.
Could there be a more unique premise for a novel than the funeral of a genius mathematician rumored to have held off dying in order to solve a major problem? This funeral gathers to itself a constellation of weird but bright individuals all circulating about that star of genius to see if the here-to-fore unannounced solution to the problem is anywhere apparent in Rachela’s papers. They sit shiva in her house for seven days. They search the office, walls, and floorboards of her house. They eat the food offered by neighbors, and drink continually. They generally make themselves a nuisance, though not without mathematician jokes, academician jokes, and a gradual but reluctant acceptance of reality.
In searching for the solution to the math problem, her son comes across Rachela’s diary. Rachela’s remembrances interspersed with shiva-sitting prompt her son to consider the big social questions that face us as humans: "Our capacity for love isn’t like a gallon jug that you fill up from a rest stop as you take a drive across the country. It can swell, and sadly, it can shrink. Less is not more. Less is less, and more is better, although I can’t say that I fully understood that at the time of my mother’s death. I’m a whiz at science and math. In matters of people, I am indeed a slow learner."
This is a first novel, though it does not read like one. It is a profound meditation on life’s large questions, on math, on academia, on love and marriage. It is told with humor, pathos, honesty, and the understanding that long experience and large intellect can bring. The writing is mature, assured, and graceful, and the author instinctively seems to understand the requirements of fiction. We readers can follow anywhere, even to a funeral, as long as it has passages like the mathematician Rachela as a child in Siberia encountering a bear as she scoured the woods for lily bulbs to supplement her inadequate diet.
I was offered a copy of this book by Penguin Random House in exchange for an honest review.
So glad that I did take a chance on this book. It is a gem. Like finding a friend. Instantly I formed a bond with Sasha, his mother, and the other
Quite funny. Witty yet wise family conversations; dysfunctional relationships; Jewish food; ill-mannered mathematicians; THE MATHEMATICIAN'S SHIVA is a play waiting to be staged! A large cast of truly memorable characters each with distinct insights on love, life and, of course, mathematics!
The shiva hijinks are punctuated by excerpts from a fictitious memoir entitled A LIFETIME IN MATHEMATICS by Rachela Karnokovitch--my favourite parts of the story. Her memories of living in exile with her father during WWII are literally and figuratively chilling.
8 out of 10 Highly recommended!
I must say that I was not disappointed by this impulse purchase, even though I thought the plot and story was a little
The premise is that the narrator is the son of a genius woman mathematician who had passed away. Her genius and reputation was such that many of her colleagues and rivals came to observe shiva for her in the hopes of discovering an important mathematical proof. While the premise seem quite thin, the author was quite nimble and adroit in describing the quirks and foibles of the mathematicians who had congregated, the deceased mathematian's extended family, as well as a number of other very quaint characters.
The story arc is one of a son's remembrance of his life as it reflected his mother's life. While the story was not extraordinary, the book kept me spellbound and interested in its entirety. In fact, it was a stay up late to finish the story kind of book.
While the book itself does not delve into the machinery of doing mathematics, it does do an excellent job of relaying the mathematical intellectual history.
In the end, it is a nice book that uses the esoterica of mathematics to tell a story, a very rare structure for a work of fiction. An attempt that is very much appreciated by this reader.
I didn't find it as deeply moving or gritty as I expected, but it was a warm, uncomplicated, sweet read.
I loved this book with Rachel's flashbacks of her life in a Siberian work camp and how she was trained to be the genius she was, and the scenes of old, less-talented men trying to decipher her papers. Sasha (Alexander) learns of family he never met and new friends.
I highly recommend this book as a low-key but keep story of love, family, and friendship. The math in this book is mostly alluded to except for a brief explanation of the Pythagoras theorem.