The Mathematician's Shiva by Stuart Rojstaczer

The Mathematician's Shiva

Stuart Rojstaczer

A comic, warm-hearted story about family love and loss, and the Eastern European-American immigrant experience.

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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.


Advance Galley Reviews

I tried on several occasions to get into this book, but I just couldn't. It's rare that I am unable to read a book, but this one was just not for me.

The Mathematician’s Shiva wasn’t quite what I was expecting but it was still a wonderfully written, amusing, touching and relatable book. Although I’m not a Mathematician I have spent many years working at Universities and could picture many of the eccentric academics I know in the quirky nature of the story’s characters as well as in first and second generation immigrants. Once I got past a couple of the denser mentions of the mathematics toward the beginning of the book, I found the characters themselves began to come to life and I was unable to put the book down. I enjoyed the intertwining of themes around family, immigration, and intellectual pursuits with the narrative told from both the perspective of Alexander Karnokovitch (Sasha) and his mother, Rachela through excerpts from a memoir written before her death. While I thought the switching of point of view was clear, how Rachela’s narrative related to the overall story was not always clear until reaching the end of the book when the mysteries of her personality and actions finally made sense to me. There was such a great cast of characters that my only minor disappointment was that I was not able to see more of some of the quirky secondary characters antics happening outside of Sasha’s view (which is not really possible with the first person narration). While the book didn’t have a big emotional impact on me that stories about a family death or the immigrant experience can sometime pull on me, it was well worth reading and I look forward to another novel by Stuart Rojstaczer.

I enjoyed this story about a family of mathameticians. It starts with the death of the smartest mathametician in the family. This all involves the funeral(shiva). It goes back between the present , future and the past. All of the characters were fun. I received this ebook from first to read for a fair and honest opinion.

I wanted to love this book, and I thought I would be the ideal reader. I liked it for the first forty or so pages, but I am not the ideal reader. I got through one long digression about mathematics, but when the second major discussion of math happened at about page fifty I was lost. I signed up for a warm and funny family story and I felt I was getting one, but with too many pages of a math textbook included. It may have given context but it took away from the characters and the plot. I wasn't interested in getting much further and didn't. The mathematics section were too much of a digression and I was lost.

Overall, I found that I really enjoyed this book. I found the characters to be extremely quirky, which is something that I find to be enjoyable in fiction. However, I did think that the narrator meanders back into the past a lot and then brings readers back into the present quite abruptly, which sometimes gets confusing. In some ways, this makes sense since the story takes place during a time when someone reminisces about lost loved ones, but it sometimes took away from the reading experience as I tired to figure out what happened. I also found some of the math discussions to be very dense, but that should be expected as I am not a math person at all. On a technical note, I found the text on the digital galley very difficult to read because it was so small.

This book wanders too much. Although basically well written, the author simply tries to tell too many stories. There is humor here, but it does not always work. Sometimes the characters simply come off as completely self-absorbed. One thing the author did very well was to paint the life of an intellectual family, writing about the centrality of reading, thought, theories and testing hypotheses, where social skills were not a priority. Using his mother as the centerpiece, he shows the incredible adversity that many geniuses have to overcome in pursuing their vocation. She does end up with the "last laugh" so to speak. The ending is quite satisfying.

I read The Mathematician's Shiva in one day, utterly absorbed in the depiction of Rachela Karnokovitch and her life as a brilliant mathematician, Soviet defector, mother and wife. The core of the story lies in the strength of women who are able to overcome incredible adversity, and how it is to be a child of such a powerful mother. The novel has humor as well as sorrow. It has insight into America and Russia. And it has a family who becomes as real as one's own upon turning each page. I loved every nuance of this powerful book.

love these book, im really happy that i chose these one,

This was an engrossing story about the life of a mathematician from the point of view of her son. It showed what mathematicians are like and how they pursue problems. It also showed how disconnected from the world they can be socially. The novel succeeded in delineating the influences on mathematicians and their insular world.

Rachela Karnokovich is dying, and as her family gathers around her deathbed, this once-in-two-centuries brilliant mathematician passes her last day. But her legacy - family, friends, enemies and work - reveal themselves to the reader through remembrances, through her own words and, most importantly, through the revelations, personal and professional, which come to light as the family and a group of the world's foremost mathematical minds sit shiva for her. Over those seven days, history is recalled and history is made. In writing which is never emotionally fraught yet which conveys great emotion, Rojstaczer has created a world few have experienced, but which we come to know and love. The Mathematician's Shiva is rich, nuanced, complex and delightful.

I loved this book! It was a funny, heartwarming, informative, and inspirational story of a woman who was a survivor and a gifted mathematician. Even though we enter the story at the time of Rachela's death, we come to know her through flashbacks and through her son's remembrances of his mother and the impact she had on his life. The unique cast of characters, through descriptions and dialogue, leave you feelng as though you could recognize them in a crowded room. Rojstaczar has given us a story rich in diverse cultures through an immigrant's perspective and the sadness at the loss of a parent and the process of change it brings was heartfelt.

I really enjoyed this book start to finish and I found myself laughing out loud. It is not just a comedic novel story of sitting Shiva but also about a son's grief and how the decisions of parents affect following generations. May the author write many more stories for me to enjoy!

Unfortunately, I was unable to get the book to be readable on my Sony e-reader. I had looked forward to reading the book, and I requested it on Netgalley, hoping that would come through since the First to Read version didn't work for me. I haven't been approved (or denied) on Netgalley, but since it's been several weeks, I'm assuming it will not be approved. I'm sorry that I was unable to read the book.

The narrative was hard to get into. I didn't connect with any of the characters. I felt like the plot and story line were quite bland and slow to ease into. I would have thought that with such high ratings, this book would have been amazing. No real feelings about this story because I'm not sure how I feel about it just yet. I know it had good premise, but it just wasn't for me.

Though this novel was not a great fit for me, I can certainly see its appeal. It is certainly a compelling piece in the emerging canon of eastern European centered literature, and it holds its own there. I think this book would especially appeal to readers who like a) immigrant narratives and/or b) slice-of-life novels. For me, the material wasn't particularly compelling, though I was decidedly charmed by Rojstaczer's humor. I think the most interesting part of the narrative was Rachela's own mystery; I think the author does an admirable job depicting how oftentimes the hardest part of personal loss is struggling with the things your loved one leaves behind. In that case, Rachela's mystery becomes a powerful metaphor for both the depth of an individual *and* our ability for coping with deep and moving loss.

The Mathematician's Shiva was a humorously told story of the life of an amazing woman and mother. Rojstaczer writes with wit and thoughtfulness. I found myself lost in the beautiful language a few times and toward the end I did need to dab my eyes a little. Sasha's loss was palpable. What a beautiful story with believable characters and a complex plot.

I found this novel intriguing. Did Rachela solve the proof or did she not? The characters were unique and compelling, each on their own sort of quest. Seeing the whole thing through Rachela's son's eyes was delightful. I particularly enjoyed it when he would speak directly to the reader. It made me feel like I was an intimate part of the story. This tale is not only for those who are mathematically inclined but a tale of overcoming and becoming.

First of all, the book cover designer did an outstanding job! I know that I would have picked this book up just because of the cover. Kudos! Beautifully written, the story of the Karnokovitch and related families was fascinating. When a world famous female mathematician passes away, her family and friends must host a week long Shiva which attracts mathematicians from all over the world. Dozens of characters move in and out of the story, each with their own back story. But the focus remains on the son, Alexander "Sasha" and the loss he must endure. I would strongly recommend this book and found it captured the "intellectual" life particularly well. Thanks for the advance copy!

In The Mathematician’s Shiva, Stuart Rojstaczer writes a novel filled with quirky mathematicians who have come to pay their respect to their colleague, Rachela Czerneski Karnokovitch, and hoping to solve the Navier Stokes problem. They even go far as to consider opening up floor boards to see if Rachela has hidden the solution there. You will find yourself feeling sad one moment and laughing the next. My favorite character was Uncle Shlomo. He reminded me of an uncle I know. Even Pascha the African grey parrot becomes a part of the story that brings us humor. The story is told in the first person through the eyes of both Sasha, Rachela’s son, and Rachela, so everything seems more compelling. I could see this book discussed in a college literature class. His metaphor of the relationship between a tornadoes and bad things happening in our lives, still has me pondering that and discussing it among friends. Another topic for classroom conversations is one special character that inhabits this story, which takes place in Madison, Wisconsin, the character is Mathematics itself, and most particularly Navier Stokes. This also makes for a good discussion. The author made the subject of mathematics a character that becomes a big part of the story. Don’t be intimidated by that, because the author explains things so well, that after a while, you think you can understand the subject too. For me there were only two drawbacks to the story. They may seem minor to most people, but they became for me annoying. The author’s use of one particular trite phrase, “as per usual” got on my nerves. The other annoyance may not bother anyone else, but it was the overuse of the f word. I know that in today’s society that word is used as each one of the eight parts of speech, but I don’t like hearing this word, and I found I liked reading it I liked even less. I found myself saying, “You are mathematicians who solve the greatest problems of all time; you are geniuses, so why can’t you improve your vocabulary? We have a million words in the dictionary surely they could find better expletives.” I know no one else will be bothered by that, but I wanted to give an honest review. Stuart Rojstaczer has given us a glimpse into the world of Russian and Polish mathematicians that the reader can relate to. All in all, the mathematician’s son has told a good story.

This is one of the best books I've read in a long time. It has everything in it: Soviet prison camps, World War II atrocities, Holocaust survival, immigrant experiences growing up in the US, Soviet defection of artists to the U.S., mathematical geniuses and child prodigies, Jewish and Christian religious activities, Yiddish, Polish and Russian spoken by a parrot, hidden treasures and secret solutions to grand mysteries. And that's barely scratching the surface of a book filled with so much life even as it depicts the weeklong mourning for a celebrated mathematician. It is impossible to put this book down. Highly recommend!

I thoroughly enjoyed reading The Mathematician’s Shiva, but who could not when you have a family of academics with family ties to Russia and Poland? Though the intellect of the characters is far above me, I enjoyed their ready wit, which added season to already perfect dish. When the cold winter months come my way, I will be bringing this book out to read again! The Mathematician’s Shiva is hilarious and upbeat despite Sasha’s mother. Thank you Penguin Group for the opportunity for review.

This is an exceptional book about a family of mathematicians but the mother, Rachela Karnokovitch (Czerneski) is the most brilliant of the group and she is dying. The primary point of view is from her son with many poignant and some quite hilarious scenes. You don't need to be a mathematician or obsessed proofs to enjoy this book but if you are then you too will enjoy. It has scenes which any reader can appreciate and while he sometimes dives into 'mathematics' the explanations and characters are always entertaining and not dry. In all this book was a pleasure to read with some of the symbolism still echoing in my mind.

The Mathematician's Shiva is an original, heart-warming read of a brilliant immigrant family. Rachela Karnokovitch survives the Holocaust and then the Soviet Union by being a child prodigy in mathematics. She defects to the United States and is later joined by her husband and son, the primary narrator of this novel. The novel is the family's story as well as how Rachela cheats those who have cheated her of recognition. Primarily set on her deathbed and during the seven days of shiva following her death, it is full of a cast of mathematician characters that the reader can imagine are real. There are intricate descriptions of mathematics, cross-country skiing, Russia and Poland that enrich this loving tribute of a son to his larger than life mother. This is a wonderful book.

This is a story about family, loss, and genius. It was also hilarious! The characters are written beautifully and are all very colorful. I'm so glad I got a chance to read an advance copy of this book. I will definitely be buying my own copy.

 


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