Book Quote:

“Prime numbers are divisible only by 1 and by themselves. They hold their place in the infinite series of natural numbers, squashed, like all numbers, between two others, but one step further than the rest. They are suspicious, solitary numbers, which is why Mattia thought they were wonderful.”

Book Review:

Review by Bonnie Brody (MAR 18, 2010)

The Solitude of Prime Numbers is written by Paolo Giordano, an Italian physicist who is also the youngest winner of the Premio Strega, a prestigious literary award. Currently he is working on a doctorate in particle physics and resides in Italy. It is not every day that a physicist writes a beautiful and stirring novel such as this one.

Mattia and Alice, the protagonists of this novel, are both injured spirits. When Mattia was seven years old, he left his little sister, Michela, on a bench near a river and asked her to wait for him while he attended a party. He was embarrassed by her and he didn’t want to take her along. She was never seen or heard from again and was assumed dead, drowned in the river.

Alice always had a conflicted relationship with her father. He forced her to pursue downhill skiing which she did not enjoy. She felt like an outcast and began to act out in very unusual ways. One day, after accidentally soiling her ski outfit, she skis away from the group, falls down a cliff, and is not found for almost 24 hours. She has a broken fibula and becomes permanently “crippled” after the accident.

Mattia and Alice meet in high school and are drawn to each other. Mattia is a genius in mathematics and sees his world in numbers and physical particles, drawing deeply inside himself and away from his emotions. Because his emotions are so difficult for him to process, he resorts to cutting himself.  “Cutters” like to feel the immediate pain of their injury, which is easier for them to deal with than the pain of their emotions.

Alice is anorexic and is starving herself. At dinner, she pretends to eat but secretly stuffs her food into a napkin to dispose of later. Food is one of the few things in her life that she feels she has control of. “She thought that this body was hers alone, that if she felt like it she could even destroy it, lay waste to it with indelible marks, or let it dry out like a flower picked on a whim by a child and then left to die on the ground.”

Mattia and Alice spend a lot of time together.  High school is a horrible experience for both of them and “they had formed a defective and asymmetrical friendship, made up of long absences and much silence, a clean and empty space where both of them could come back to breathe when the walls of their school became too close for them to ignore the feeling of suffocation.”

Alice often holds Mattia’s scarred hands tenderly in hers, protecting him from himself. Mattia loves Alice from a distance but can find no way to approach her. His world is viewed as ribbons of DNA or RNA or sequences of numbers. The human element of intimacy is beyond him. These two souls try to meet but seem to be stopped at every possibility.

Mathematicians don’t know how many prime numbers exist but some mathematicians think that twin primes (two prime numbers separated by one number) can be found however far you count. “Mattia thought that he and Alice were like that, twin primes, alone and lost, close but not close enough to really touch each other.”

This book is a poignant story of two lost souls, one injuring his body to protect himself from feeling his emotional pain and the other starving herself to feel some control over a life she finds in free spin. Both are gentle spirits but ultimately, living lives that have gotten away from them, that are out of their control.

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-4-5from 15 readers
PUBLISHER: Pamela Dorman Books (March 18, 2010)
REVIEWER: Bonnie Brody
AMAZON PAGE: The Solitude of Prime Numbers
AUTHOR WEBSITE: Wikipedia page on Paolo Giordano
EXTRAS: Reading Guide and Excerpt

Complete Review on The Solitude of Prime Numbers

MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION: More novels integrated with Math & Science:

Natural Elements by Richard Mason

Sum by David Eagleman

Generosity by Richard Powers


March 18, 2010 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: ,  · Posted in: Contemporary, Debut Novel, italy, y Award Winning Author

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