WINNER OF THE NATIONAL JEWISH BOOK AWARD FOR OUTSTANDING DEBUT FICTION
For readers of This Is Where I Leave You and Everything Is Illuminated, “a brilliant and compelling family saga full of warmth, pathos, history and humor” (Jonathan Evison, author of West of Here)
When the greatest female mathematician in history passes away, her son, Alexander “Sasha” Karnokovitch, just wants to mourn his mother in peace. But rumor has it the notoriously eccentric Polish émigré has solved one of the most difficult problems in all of mathematics, and has spitefully taken the solution to her grave. As a ragtag group of mathematicians from around the world descends upon Rachela’s shiva, determined to find the proof or solve it for themselves—even if it means prying up the floorboards for notes or desperately scrutinizing the mutterings of her African Grey parrot—Sasha must come to terms with his mother’s outsized influence on his life.
Spanning decades and continents, from a crowded living room in Madison, Wisconsin, to the windswept beach on the Barents Sea where a young Rachela had her first mathematical breakthrough, The Mathematician’s Shiva is an unexpectedly moving and uproariously funny novel that captures humanity’s drive not just to survive, but to achieve the impossible.
High math, Eastern European history, and American culture converge in this hugely entertaining debut from geophysicist Rojstaczer. After Rachela Karnokovitch, a Polish migr and University of Wisconsin professor regarded as her generation's leading mathematician, dies from cancer in 2001, her middle-aged son, Alexander, a meteorologist also known as Sasha, is tasked with organizing the shiva for her. Though his family is challenging enough, Sasha's real difficulties begin when dozens of his mother's colleagues descend on Madison to pay their respects. Brilliant, awkward, lovable, and selfish, these superstar mathematicians prove to be less interested in mourning Rachela than in uncovering her secrets particularly her rumored solution to one of math's most famous enigmas, the Navier-Stokes problem. The ostensible mourners rip up floorboards, hold s ances, and even read meaning into a 40-year-old parrot's squawks, all the while discussing the charms and pitfalls of Eastern European identity and the perpetual shock of life in America. Counterbalancing their antics are flashbacks to Rachela's childhood flight from Poland during WWII. These passages, presented as excerpts from her memoir, add depth to an already multilayered story of family, genius, and loss.