This is yet another reread – I first read (and listened to) The Mathematician’s Funeral back in February just because I found it on Audible and it looked good, kind of fun. But from the narrative it was apparent there were little diagrams included in the text and I wanted to see those – so I also got the ebook. Wow! Delightful! And I knew a group which would likely really enjoy the book so I nominated it even though I almost never nominate books I’ve already read. But it was just so enjoyable, fun.
The Mathematician’s Shiva
by Stuart Rojstaczer
2014 / 370 pages
And it was selected so I’m rereading it – to make sure I can contribute to the discusison without having to rely on my memory of 40 – 50 books ago.
Eleven years after the fact, Sasha Karnokovich is remembering his mother’s funeral and shiva.
Rachela Karnokovich, who had been living in Madison Wisconsin for many years, was a world-renowned mathematician and although Sasha would have liked to have kept her funeral and shiva private, the mathematician friends arrived in droves. They came to pay honor to her memory, but also to see if they couldn’t find her work on the Navier-Stokes problem which they had all been working on for years, trying to come up with the solution. These chapters are sometimes heartwarming, sometimes a bit silly, sometimes a bit sad.
But there was so much more to Rachela than her mathematical mind, more than being a sister, a wife and a mother. She was an individual with her own life – that’s what the memoir shows us.
Interspersed with the chapters from 1st person Sasha are chapters comprised of excerpts of Rachela’s memoirs. These chapters mostly take place in Stalinist Russia, in the work camps and later at the university. Some of her work was plagiarized and the culprit won an award for it. Her childhood made an indelible imprint on her whole life. The writing here is of a different tone and gives a depth and texture to the whole novel. I kind of missed that the first time.
I suppose in some ways this second reading wasn’t quite as compelling as the first, but it was still great fun, like visiting old friends. And there were a few new aspects as well as those remembered.