Thursday, July 05, 2012


The Solitude of Prime Numbers by Paolo Giordano
4 Stars

Physicist Paolo Giordano weaves a hard to put down, binding tale that is intricate, and yet simple. It transcends beautifully into English, having been written originally in Italian. The story covers a number of years, but is very fluid and smooth. Alice Della Rocca suffers a skiing accident because of her overbearing father, at age 10, and is left with a permanent limp. Her struggle to fit in with her classmates and be like them is a daily battle, and anorexia is her escape from her reality. 

Mattia also suffered a traumatic experience in his childhood. Born a twin, he was the brilliant one, whilst his sister was born with a mental disability. Being forced to have her around him all the time makes him an easy victim for bullying in school, until one day his decision leaves greater consequences, and the guilt and responsibility he feels mark him for life.

Mattia moves to Alice's school in high school. She finds herself attracted to him, and a friendship blossoms. Mattia the mathematician likens their friendship to prime numbers (numbers that are only divisible by the number 1 and themselves), and twin primes: a set of close prime numbers that are separated by one even number (like 3 & 5). Things change after high school. Both leave things unsaid, simply because they are twin primes and can not cross that space between them. And yet, they still make appearances in each others' lives, now and then.

There's an air of melancholy throughout the book, but it is also a very contemplative book. It's serene, in a way. The experiences both Alice & Mattia went through for example, could have not been so self destructive had they had different environments. An experience could be nudged to take a different path by many other variables and factors, i.e, different school/parents/etc.

I picked this book at the Emirates Literature Festival  earlier this year - I think the author was present - but unfortunately didn't hear him talk. I am always on the look out, however, for literary mathematicians. I love the blend of math/science & literature, and after reading this book, I couldn't help but imagine that Mr. Giordano has made up several stories about all things physics.