Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Solitude of Prime Numbers

Sometimes I want to dislike a book.  I'm not particularly proud of that, because it's never for a noble reason.  Take The Solitude of Prime NumbersThe title immediately and completely drew me in.  I knew that I absolutely needed to read the book.  Then I read several reviews that mentioned its excellence.  I saw that it had won the Premio Strega, Italy's premier literary award.  These only made me want to read it more.  But then... then I read the author bio, and decided that I had to hate the book.  The author is a 27-year-old particle physicist.  And the book has nothing to do with particle physics.  What's next, curing cancer while running a marathon?   

Still, I overcame my blinding insecurities about my inability to either a) understand the Hadron Collider beyond the basic idea that if you steal anti-matter, it makes the Illuminati angry or b) tell a compelling story that doesn't begin with "Once upon a time..." and I read the book.   I have to tell you, I couldn't hate the book. It was beautiful. 

Giordino crafted (and he didn't just write, he crafted) a book about two characters who were together in their solitude, and whose solitary natures kept them from being together.  As the New York Times review of the book said, "For once a title is more than a suggestion; here it conveys not only the novel’s gist but also its style and heart. "  Mattia, one of the main characters, becomes a mathemetician who studies prime numbers, specifically twin prime numbers, the phenomenon when two prime numbers are remarkably close, but never quite connect (11 and 13, 17 and 19, and so on, but increasingly rarely as the numbers get bigger).  Mattia and Alice, like the twin primes they are, are two deeply wounded people who recognize their separation from the rest of the world, but don't really understand how to move beyond it.

A great deal of credit should also go to Shaun Whiteside, who took the beautiful elegance and imagery of Giordino's words and brought them to those of us who, in addition to not being able to write evocative, painfully beautiful novels or understand particle physics, also don't speak Italian.

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