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An exhilarating, moving novel about a trailblazing mathematician whose research unearths her own extraordinary family story and its roots in World War II
From the days of her childhood in the 1950s Midwest, Katherine knows she is different, and that her parents are not who they seem. As she matures from a girl of rare intelligence into an exceptional mathematician, traveling to Europe to further her studies, she must face the most human of problems—who is she? What is the cost of love, and what is the cost of ambition? These questions grow ever more entangled as Katherine strives to take her place in the world of higher mathematics and becomes involved with a brilliant and charismatic professor.
When she embarks on a quest to conquer the Riemann hypothesis, the greatest unsolved mathematical problem of her time, she turns to a theorem with a mysterious history that may hold both the lock and the key to her identity, and to secrets long buried during World War II. Forced to confront some of the most consequential events of the twentieth century and rethink everything she knows of herself, she finds kinship in the stories of the women who came before her, and discovers how seemingly distant stories, lives, and ideas are inextricably linked to her own.
The Tenth Muse is a gorgeous, sweeping tale about legacy, identity, and the beautiful ways the mind can make us free.
Chung's impressive, poignant second novel (after Forgotten Country) explores the intersections of intellectual and familial legacies. Nearing the end of her life but still on the verge of solving the elusive Riemann hypothesis, Katherine is a noted mathematician who did her graduate work in the mid-20th century, at a time when women scholars were still a rarity. As Katherine recounts the highs and lows of her academic and romantic pursuits, she reflects on the various discoveries she's pursued both in her field of study and into her family history inquiries that became inextricable while Katherine was pursuing her doctorate at MIT and learning revelations about her parentage following her father's heart attack. Having grown up believing herself the daughter of a white father and a Chinese mother, Katherine is stunned to learn the truth of her family history. The stories of betrayal and sacrifice also end up informing her professional work in surprising ways through a storyline involving stolen math proofs. Chung persuasively interweaves myths and legends with the real-world stories of lesser-known women mathematicians and of WWII on both the European and Asian fronts. The legacy that Katherine inherits may defy the kinds of elegant proofs to which mathematicians aspire, but Chung's novel boldly illustrates that truth and beauty can reside even amid the messiest solutions.