The Mathematician’s Shiva by Stuart Rojstaczer

Finished reading on February 18^{th }, 2016

Rating: 10/10

I picked out this book solely on the basis of the description on the back of the book because it mentions ‘the greatest female mathematician’ and ‘notoriously eccentric’. I had to read it even though I’d never heard of the book or the author before.

It was a great read – the plot is fascinating (but reminded me a bit of The Proof by David Auburn, but only because there’s a mathematician that has died) , the characters are curious and well put together and the ending is very surprising – I didn’t even consider that something like that would happen.

One of the main characters in the book is Sasha Karnokovitch whose mother, the great female mathematician Rachela has died. Whilst Sasha wants to deal with her death as fast as possible, Rachelas colleagues from everywhere want to spend seven days sitting shiva (not the Hindu god Shiva that I thought when first coming across the book) after the burial.

That’s when things get crazy with eccentric mathematicians flooding Sasha’s child-hood home trying to work out a proof to the Navier-Stokes problem, the solution for which, rumour has it, Rachela had come up with but had kept secret.

While there’s that going on there are several flashbacks to Rachela’s childhood- leaving Poland for Siberia and defecting the Soviet Union and arriving at United States.

I enjoyed the book a lot. It is funny in many places in just the right way.

” We’ll get you a scarf. That will help. You’ve never been skiing at all, not even downhill?”

“Never.”

“It’s like walking in the mud. You lift up your feet to get out of the mud and then you press down and get stuck again.”

From The Mathematician’s Shiva by Stuart Rojstaczer

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