To Rise Again At A Decent Hour by Joshua Ferris

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I had to read this book when I saw that it was one of the contenders for the Man Booker Prize, by an American author no less.

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The first thing I did to this library book upon opening it, however, was to correct the epigraph in pencil.

Do not tell me, Mr. Joshua Ferris, that you expect readers to believe a verse in Job, of the Old Testament, says merely, “Ha, ha.” It smacks of atheism.

But, wait. That is exactly what you are addressing, with a plethora of other issues, in your fascinating book about a dentist named Paul O’Rourke in specific, and our American culture in general.

At first, I found Paul terribly funny:

Ignoring the poignancy of everyone’s limited allotment of good mornings, I would not say good morning. Or I would in all innocence forget about our numbered opportunities to say good morning, that horrifying circumscription, and simply fail to say it. Or, I would say good morning sparingly, begrudgingly, injudiciously, or tyrannically…What was so good about it anyway, the too-often predictable, so-called new morning? It was usually preceded by a long struggle for a short drowse that so many people call night. That was never sufficiently ceremonial to call for fresh greetings.

But, by page 200 or so of this sharp wit, one tires of such groaning. One realizes that there is very little that will appease Paul’s  humour. His days consist of attending to his patients, wishing that his ex-girlfriend, Connie, would still love him, and lamenting his life. Not to mention the lives of those around him.

I was not going to spend my Friday night being gawked at. My Thursday nights never caused me any troubles. It was always my Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday nights that caused me troubles. On those nights, I was reduced to eating and drinking. The city (Manhattan) had almost nothing else to offer, and if this great city had almost nothing else to offer, imagine what it was like in lesser cities, or the suburbs, or the small rural towns where so many people are clerks and farmers, and you will understand, finally, why this country has become a nation of fat alcoholics and the nurses and therapists who tend to them.

Paul makes astute observations on those around him, specifically how people (including himself) are obsessed with their “me-machines”, constantly checking them for emails, texts, updates, or even to Google a certain topic. Here is a passage of the very clever dialogue he writes in a conversation with his hygienist:

…she’d say, “Oh, for goodness’ sake. Put the phone away once you enter the street and take a look around you. Why must you always be reading your phone?” I’d tell her, she’d say, “If you know it is merely a distraction from the many things you don’t want to think about, why let yourself be a slave to it?” I’d tell,  her, she’d say, “That is the most blasphemous thing I have ever heard. A little technology could never take the place of the Almighty. We are talking about the Almighty, for heaven’s sake. Mobile phones or no mobiles phones, we still have the primal need to pray, do you we not?” I’d tell her, she’d say, “Sending and receiving email and texts are not a new form of prayer. Do you not understand that that little machine, by taking your attention away from God and the world He created, is only increasing your despair?” I’d tell her, she’d say, “I don’t give a fig for the world it’s created. It will never rival God’s.

And now we come to the heart of the book, for ultimately this is a book about faith. Or, about being Jewish. Or, about not having any faith at all.

When Paul discovers an unknown source has put up a web site in his name, and is delivering emails to his box, he is most disconcerted. They are very personal, and they are very insightful about who he is as a person.

I know it must be uncomfortable for someone to pop up out of nowhere and diagnose your troubles with pinpoint accuracy. I don’t think you’re an animal in a cage-far from it. You’re the full measure of a man, thoroughly contemporary, at odds with the America dream of upward mobility and its empty material success, and in search of real meaning for your life. I should know, Paul, I was there once, too. In fact, you might even say that you and I are one and the same.

The rest of the novel takes us through Paul’s effort to discover the source of these emails, and in so doing examines the role of the believer. It is a powerful book, which has given me much to think about. If this is truly how the majority of Americans think, we have become a lost nation.

I don’t know how To Rise Again At A Decent Hour will fare in the Man Booker competition, but I think the original, creative writing of Joshua Ferris deserves to have brought it to the short list so far.

Sunday Salon: Sitting With A Simple Scone…

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and a cup of coffee as my husband prepares for church. I am simply too tired this morning, to stand as a greeter in the main door facing the crush of people and loud music emanating from the sanctuary. I need a Sabbath in every sense of the word; namely a day of rest.

There was a minor catastrophe with technology earlier this week as I tried to clean up my Google+ account. Ever looking for Organization, I thought I would just discard whole albums of pictures which seemed to be cluttering up my space. When I opened my blog a day later, all that sat where a picture should be was a gray rectangle.

“Fine,” I thought, “I’ll just give up blogging altogether. I’m sick of these template changes, platform changes, picture disappearances (all brought about from my own quest for Perfection) and this is it, I’m done.” But, my husband reminded me that Google backs up everything, and sure enough, there they were when I dug them out of the proverbial trash. So, I’ll carry on as usual. With my familiar reclining lady and no more changes.

October 18 brings us Dewey’s Read-a-thon…I cannot wait for that. Perhaps in one long weekend I can help make up for the lack of reading time I’ve enjoyed this September.

And, November brings us German Lit Month hosted by Lizzy and Caroline. Stu mentioned finding books by Joseph Roth in his local library, but clearly I need to move to his town; we have nothing but a plethora of American authors in our library. Perhaps the library has a volume by Thomas Mann I can dust off, but what I’m really looking forward to reading is Stefan Zweig’s Letter From an Unknown Woman sent to me a few months ago by Pushkin Press. Have you any other suggestions for a German author you enjoy?

Soon I will post about an American book in the short list for the Man Booker Prize. It has given me quite a lot to think about, and I’m anxious to discuss it with you. Until then, may your reading be rich and your days of autumn golden.

Coloring Animal Mandalas: 30 Hypnotically-Beautiful, Mystical Wildlife Designs

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“From the Sanskrit word for “circle,” mandalas have been used for meditation and healing for thousands of years.

Coloring Animal Mandalas adds the beauty of the animal kingdom – including butterflies, tigers, swans, snakes, peacocks, seahorses, and even unicorns – into these intricate designs for page after page of coloring book bliss.

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As as you transform the detailed shapes in this book into stunning works of art, you’ll find yourself relaxing, focused, reaching a higher state of mindfulness, and…

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simply enjoying yourself.”

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Maybe you’re  a person like myself, who has never quite outgrown the joy of a new box of colored pencils or a new coloring book to go with them. My mother used to buy me beautiful coloring books from The Little Traveler in Geneva, IL, when I was a little girl. The designs were intricate, which I have always enjoyed, and receiving this book of mandalas from Ulysses Press was such a joyful reminder of those childhood days.

I find coloring the designs to be a very calming experience, a slowing down of my busy life which is much needed in an evening when I am too tired to read. I hope you will find pleasure from this book, too.

 

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Illustrator Wendy Peirsall is a lifelong artist who has been drawing mandala coloring pages since 2009. She lives with her husband and three children in Woodstock, Illinois. Find a time-lapsed video of her coloring the elephant mandala above here.

The Black Cat by Edgar Allen Poe

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Who but Edgar could take the lovely feline found in so many cozy homes and turn it into a thing of horror? The narrator of  this story relates how he and his wife had several pets (birds, gold-fish, a fine dog, rabbits, a small monkey) but the most beautiful and sagacious was a cat.

This cat, named Pluto, was our narrator’s favorite pet and play-mate. Yet through great intemperance, he seizes it one night and cuts its eye out of the socket. As you can well imagine, the cat avoids him after this, but is unable to avoid its ultimate demise at the hands of its owner who hangs the cat in a nearby garden.

In the middle of the night he and his wife are awakened by a terrible fire. Their home is burned completely, yet the neighbors are entranced by the one remaining wall, the one on which the bedstead rested, which bears the image of a cat upon its freshly laid plaster.

Although the narrator procures a second cat of black, with a white patch ever more resembling the gallows in his mind, there is no rest from the evil which now seems to be taking over. Even the wife is not spared her husband’s guilty wrath, or the influence of a creature out for revenge, whichever way the reader intends to interpret the story. How easy it would be to place the blame of one’s evil actions on an innocent creature, when they can only be placed squarely on our own imperfect nature.

Still, when the leaves turn their edges into golden crispness, and the dusk falls sooner than it did a few weeks ago, it is somehow pleasant to think of black cats…to wonder that if they are wronged, they will somehow cause the truth to prevail.

Salvation of a Saint by Keigo Higashino

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“From a cup of coffee what dreams may bloom…”

I have just finished Keigo Higashino’s Salvation of a Saint, the first book of September to have caught my interest sufficiently to see it to the end. It is a fabulous mystery, exactly the kind of book which keeps you reading until you are done.

When Ayane’s husband is found dead on the floor of their home, with the contents of a cup of coffee spilled around him, we are immediately brought to the awareness that this cup of coffee was his demise.

But how? His wife, Ayane, was visiting her parents a train ride away. His new mistress had just left after a late night tryst. So who plotted such an ingenious plan which would kill a man from afar, through his own desire for a perfect cup of coffee? And most of all, why?

I was riveted to the exploration of the characters’ personalities and pasts; the things they held on to that made them act a certain way in the present. Discovering their flaws made discovering the intricacies of the mystery all the more fascinating.

I read this book for the Japanese Literature Challenge 8, and for Aarti’s A More Diverse Universe. It is the second book I’ve read by Keigo Higashino, an author who “is currently the most widely read author in Japan, with more than three dozen best sellers, hundreds of millions of copies of his books sold worldwide and nearly twenty films and television series based on his work. He won the Naoki Prize for The Devotion of Suspect X“…which is the next book of his I want to read.

Incandescente

Incandescente 1

“O Adolescence, O Adolescence

I wince before thine incandescence…

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When anxious elders swarm about

Crying “Where are you going?”,

thou answerest “out,”

…Strewn!

Incandescente 4

All is lost and nothing found

Lord, how thou leavest things around!”

~Ogden Nash

I’m not sure why Chanel chose the name “Incandescente” for this warm red Rouge Allure lipstick, but to me it fits the poem by Ogden Nash quite well. “I’m going out!” it seems to say, “I know not where,” and I love its daring freshness.

I love this color. I love the feel. I love the joy of a new red lipstick.

This time, I just may have found the elusive perfect red.

(See Lisa Eldridge show us the Chanel Rouge collection here.)

Discussion for Haruki Murakami’s Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage

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Haruki Murakami (1949- )

As promised, I am posting the questions Random House gave us for the purpose of discussing Haruki Murakami’s latest book, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage. So many questions seem rather a lot, so I’m going to choose to address only a few. Feel free to choose any you like, and respond here in the comment section or on your own blog. May the discussion commence!

 

1.   What is the significance of the name of the novel, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage? Why is Tsukuru branded “colorless”? Would you say that this an accurate description of him? Is this how Tsukuru sees himself or is it how he is seen by others? What kind of pilgrimage does Tsukuru embark upon and how does he change as a result of this pilgrimage? What causes these changes?

 

I think that before Tsukuru went on his pilgrimage, he was colorless. Consider this quote from early in the novel, “Tsukuru Tazaki was the only one in the group without anything special about him. His grades were slightly above average. He wasn’t especially interested in academics, though he did pay close attention during class and always made sure to do the minimum amount of practice and review needed to get by…He didn’t mind sports but was never interested enough to join a team…He had no deep interest in the arts, no hobby or special skill. He was, if anything, a bit taciturn; he blushed easily, wasn’t especially outgoing, and could never relax around people he’d just met. Everything about him was middling, pallid, lacking in color.”  In comparison to his friends, in comparison to a life he could be living boldly, Tsukuru is indeed colorless.

 

2.   Why does Tsukuru wait so many years before attempting to find out why he was banished from the group? How does he handle the deep depression he feels as a result of this rejection and how is he changed by this period of suffering? Is Tsukuru the only character who suffers in this way? If not, who else suffers at what is the cause? Do you believe that their distress could have been avoided? If so, how?

 

I think that Tsukuru lacks the courage to attempt to find out the particulars about his banishment. He was wounded so deeply, he simply could not face the rejection; in the face of that wound it must not have really mattered why his friends rejected him, as much as the fact that they did.

 

How can only one person be affected when relationships fail? All suffered, even if not quite as acutely as Tsukuru did. In his rejection, their bond of unity was broken.

 

3.   Do you consider Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki a realistic work of fiction? Why or why not? What fantastical or surreal elements does Murakami employ in the novel and what purpose do they serve? What do these elements reveal that strictly realistic elements might not? Kuro says, “I do think that sometimes a certain kind of dream can be even stronger than reality” (310). In considering genre, do you believe that this is true?

 

To me, the dreams in this novel were not real; they did not really happen. I think they were Tsukuru’s subconscious at work, that many times we suppress ways we really feel, or thoughts we really think, and they come back to us in dreams until we sort them out. The dreams very power perhaps make them “stronger than reality”, but only because of the hold they have on our emotions.

 

4.   Tsukuru reveals that his father chose his name, which means “to make things.” Is this an apt name for Tsukuru? Why or why not? How does Tsukuru’s understanding of his own name affect the way that he sees himself? Where else in the story does the author address making things? Are they portrayed as positive or useful activities?

 

5.   Why is Tsukuru’s friendship with Haida so important? What is the outcome of this relationship? How does the relationship ultimately affect Tsukuru’s perception of himself? Does it alter Tsukuru’s response to the rejection he was subjected to years earlier in any way?

 

6.   Why does Haida share with Tsukuru the story about his father and the strange piano player who speaks of death? What might this teach us about the purpose of storytelling? How does Tsukuru react to this story? Is he persuaded by Haida’s tale? What does the story teach us about belief and the power of persuasion?

 

7.   Sara says that we live in an age where “we’re surrounded by an enormous amount of information about other people. If you feel like it, you can easily gather than information about them. Having said that, we still hardly know anything about people” (148). Do the characters in the story know each other very well? Do you believe that technology in today’s world has helped or hindered us in knowing each other better?

 

8.   When Tsukuru finally sees three of his friends again, how have each of them changed? How do they react to seeing one another after all this time? Are their reactions strange and unexpected or predictable? What unexpected changes have taken place over the years, and why are they surprising to Tsukuru? Has anything remained consistent?

 

9.   When Tsukuru visits the pizzeria in Finland, how does he react after realizing he is the only one there who is alone? How is this different from his usual response to isolation throughout the story? Discuss what this might indicate about the role that setting plays in determining Tsukuru’s emotional state.

 

10.   Does Tsukuru’s self-image and understanding of his role within the group align with how they saw Tsukuru and perceived his role in their group? If not, what causes differences in their perceptions? Do Tsukuru’s thoughts about his rejection from the group align with his friends’ understanding of why he was banished? How did Tsukuru’s banishment affect the other members of the group?

 

11.   Why do Tsukuru and Kuro say that they may be partly responsible for Shiro’s murder? Do you believe that the group did the right thing by protecting Shiro? Why or why not?

 

12.   The Franz Liszt song “Le mal du pays” is a recurring motif in the novel. Shiro plays the song on the piano; Haida leaves a recording of it behind; Tsukuru listens to it again and again; Kuro also has a recording. Why might the author have chosen to include this song in particular in the story? What effect does its repetition have on the reader—and the characters in the novel?

 

“Le mal du pays” is a song with a haunting melody. And, any song that we hear during a particular time in our lives never really leaves us. Don’t you have the experience, when you listen to such a song, that you’re back in that moment? You can almost physically feel the time, the memory, the people you were with. I think this song carried such meaning for Tsukuru not only because of its beauty, but because of the import it had in his life from the people who meant something to him.

 

Also, Haida tells him, ” ‘Le mal du pays.’ It’s French. Usually it’s translated as ‘homesickness,’ or ‘melancholy.’ If you put a finer point on it, it’s more like ‘a groundless sadness called forth in a person’s heart by a pastoral landscape.’ It’s a hard expression to translate accurately.” What better piece of music to accompany Murakami’s themes of sadness and alienation?

 

(I was so moved by what Haida says later, about Lazar Berman playing Franz Liszt’s Years of Pilgrimage suite ‘Year 1: Switzerland’ that I bought a copy for myself, and I’ve been listening to it ever since. “A Russian, Lazar Berman. When he plays Liszt it’s like he’s painting a delicately imagined landscape. Most people see Liszt’s piano music as more superficial, and technical. Of course, he has some tricky pieces, but if you listen very carefully to his music you discover a depth to it that you don’t notice at first. Most of the time it’s hidden behind all the embellishments. This is particularly true of the Years of Pilgrimage suites. There aren’t many living pianists who can play it accurately and with such beauty. Among more contemporary pianists, Berman gets it right, and with the older pianists I’d have to go with Claudio Arrau.”)

 

13.   Sara tells Tsukuru: “You can hide memories, but you can’t erase the history that produced them” (44). What does she mean by this? Do you agree with her statement?

 

I highlighted this quote every time that it appeared in the novel, and I’ve counted at least three. This quote has particular significance to me because when my first husband left his son and I in 1997, I could not bear any memory of our life together. I threw out whole photo albums, and boxes of letters he’d written to me. I was foolish enough to think that in discarding the memory, I could erase the time.

 

It is not that simple, and even the memories don’t stay hidden for long.

 

I don’t believe we can erase either the memories, or the history, of our lives.

 

14. Kuro says that she believes an evil spirit had inhabited Shiro, and as Tsukuru is leaving her home, Kuro tells him not to let the bad elves get him. Elsewhere in the story, the piano player asks Haida’s father whether he believes in a devil. Does the novel seem to indicate whether there is such a thing as evil—existing apart from mankind, or is darkness characterized as an innate part of man’s psyche?

 

15.   While visiting Kuro, Tsukuru comes to the realization “One heart is not connected to another through harmony alone. They are, instead, linked deeply through their wounds” (322). This, he says, “is what lies at the root of true harmony.” What does he mean by this? Do you agree with his statement?

 

16.   Why does Tsukuru seem to be so interested in railroad stations? How does his interest in these stations affect his relationship with his high school friends? Later in his life, how does this interest affect his understanding of friendship and relationships? The author revisits Tsukuru’s interest in railroad stations at the end of the book and refers to the sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subways in 1995 great disaster of 3/11 in Japan. Why do you think that Murakami makes mention of this incident? Does this reference change your interpretation of the story?

 

I have read Murakami’s book Underground which tells of the sarin gas attacks in Tokyo. I think the reference to that incident applies to Tsukuru because innocent people are often the victim of someone else’s cruelty. The question becomes not, “Why did I suffer this way?” but “How can I get through it with courage and grace?”  Tsukuru was as innocent as those who were gassed, yet he suffered terribly at the hands of others who care mostly about their own agenda.

 

17.   Is Tsukuru’s decision with respect to Sara at the end of the story indicative of some kind of personal progress? What is significant about his gesture? How has Tsukuru changed by the story’s end? Do you believe that the final scene provides sufficient resolution of the issues raised at the start of the story? Does it matter that readers are not ultimately privy to Sara’s response to Tsukuru’s gesture?

 

18.   Tsukuru wishes that he had told Kuro, “Not everything was lost in the flow of time” (385). What does he believe was preserved although time has gone by? What did the members of the group ultimately gain through their friendship despite their split?

 

19. How does Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki compare to Haruki Murakami’s earlier novels? What themes do the works share? What elements of Murakami’s latest novel are different or unexpected?

 

I find that this novel has many themes that are prevalent in Haruki’s writing: loneliness, depression, and alienation are all present here as well as in Kafka on The Shore, Hear The Wind Sing, Pinball, 1973, and especially Norwegian Wood. For me, this book had many parallels to Norwegian Wood. In particular, I found a quote I’d copied from that book, “No body likes being alone that much. I don’t go out of my way to make friends, that’s all. It just leads to disappointment.”  This quote alone seems to sum up so much of the way Tzukuru felt before he went on his pilgrimage. Thank goodness Sara told him, “You need to come face-to-face with the past, not as some naive, easily wounded boy, but as a grown-up, independent professional. not to see what you want to see, but what you must see. Otherwise you’ll carry around that baggage for the rest of your life.”

 

 

 

As for you, do you agree with any of these thoughts? Do you have something you’d like to add or address which I’ve left out? I’d be so glad to read what you have to say.

Do You Like My New Blog Home?

You may or may not be surprised at arriving here. If you’ve read my blog for any length of time you know that, contrary to my nature in real life, in blog land I’m the Queen of Change. Headers, templates, fonts, it makes little difference; there’s often a change when you land on Dolce Bellezza.

But, this time it’s a big one. This time I’ve pointed my custom domain to WordPress instead of Blogger. Why? Because Blogger is, in my opinion, singularly unhelpful in giving customer support. I have been trying to renew my domain since August 3, and I’ve been circling through forums and pages for weeks. I’ll spare you the full story, but suffice it to say I got no where.

I did, however, receive a plethora of anonymous comments because when you turn off word verification every robot in the world finds your site to spam.

Anyway here I am, with a beautiful header of a street in Italy, and if you look closely you’ll see the word “libreria” in the bottom right. What better shop to have in a book blogger’s header than a bookstore? My husband said to please not leave “the laying down woman” off, and so I have added her circle to give us something familiar.

I’m comfortable with this. I hope it doesn’t jar you too much, and I hope to write endlessly fascinating posts soon. But for now, I’m just glad to have a new blog home. I hope you like it, too.

Sunday Salon: September is…

Oh friends, you have no idea how this 70 degree weekend is like the Balm of Gilead to my soul. Friday held indescribable heat in my second story classroom, a veritable pizza oven for the children and me. By 10:30 the downstairs hallways were filled with classrooms trying to cool off, and I decided it was best to suffer in silence in our own room. At least it was quiet. At least our semi-melted crayons were in reach, and I could show them books from my own rocker.

One of the books we discussed, in looking at how our perspective changes as we read, was Henry and The Kite Dragon by Bruce Edward Hall. It is based on a true story, and if you haven’t read it yourself, or to a child you love, I strongly suggest that you do.

Which brings us to Aarti’s challenge beginning September 14:

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Because I read so much translated literature, it is not hard for me to find a novel written by “a person of color.” I have a plethora of books in Japanese literature, and I’d love to reread Sandra CisnerosThe House on Mango Street because I read not one book by a female author for Richard and Stu’s Spanish Lit Month a few months ago. Sandra Cisneros, Julia Alvarez, Isabelle Allende, are all Spanish authors I’ve loved. But, I think I’ll read Empress Orchid by Anchee Min for next week, and perhaps Small Island by Andrea Levy if I have time before September ends.

Of course, don’t forget to come back and chat about Haruki Murakami’s Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage on September 12. I will put up a few final thoughts I have about this marvelous book, and the discussions questions presented by Random House. Feel free to answer any of them that appeal to you, and know that I treasure the discussion that reading together affords.

Until then, may your week to come be cool.

Literally.

The Mathematician’s Shiva by Stuart Rojastaczer

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The Mathematician’s Shiva by Stuart Rojstaczer is ostensibly a novel about a shiva held for mathematician Rachela Karnakovitch. But it is much more than describing the seven days one sits in honor of the loss of a loved one. No, this novel is an homage to mathematicians and scientists, Russia and America, mothers and fathers, but most of all to courage and strength.

It is told through the narrative of Sasha, Rachela’s son, interspersed with chapters from her own memoir. We catch a glimpse of what it meant to have lived through the war, suffering under Stalin’s terrible hand. Yet that which does not kill us, can only make us stronger. Or, as my mother would say to me, “Courage grows strong in a wound.”

Rachela learns mathematics as a child, an eleven year old girl who is close to starvation. Through the deprivation she endured, and the brilliant mind she possessed, she became adept at solving complex mathematical problems. Her life was unique as a Soviet defector, a Jew, and a woman who was a genius in mathematics.

She writes in her memoir, “I needed a war to make me into a mathematician. I needed deprivation to make me appreciate every little gift, every tiny increment-like a crumb of food, yes-of understanding while solving a problem. I don’t believe a spoiled child, even one encouraged to pursue the intellectual world, can ever be anything more than a second-rate mathematician. This is what war gave me, a life of the mind that would sustain me almost always.”

It took a great deal of courage to sustain herself. As a child she left Russia with her parents; as a young mother she defected to America certain that her husband and son would find a way to follow.

When she dies from lung cancer at the age of 70, the problem faced by her son is how to keep her funeral from “turning into a Russian theatrical tragedy.” A private ceremony is not possible; the great mathematical minds of Rachela’s world insist on sitting shiva with her family, for they are convinced that her solution to the famously difficult Navier-Stokes problem lies somewhere in her home.

The dialogue, the relationships, the insight into family life in general, and the minds of incredibly strong women in particular, is what makes this novel shine. It is a novel I devoured in one day, making my Labor Day vacation one long to be remembered. This is one of the most spectacular novels I have read this year, for I feel that Stuart Rojstaczer has written what it means to be an immigrant with incredible determination finding one’s way in America. He has written of American strengths and idiosyncrasies with an appraising eye. He has written of a son’s love for his mother, for his family, for his history with a tenderness that almost makes me weep. Except for the parts where I laughed with joy at the connection I found between his family and my own.

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