Review: The Solitude of Prime Numbers

I’ve never had the aptitude for languages. I’ve never regretted it. Except when I pick up books that are the translated versions. I wish I could read the original versions. I have nothing against the translators, oh no, in fact I think they should be appreciated a lot more for preserving the integrity and beauty of the work while making it accessible to a wider audience. It’s just that when I read them and get entranced and enchanted, I feel the need to read them as is, to find out more nuances in the writing, the words that lend more meaning to the story, the private jokes that are endemic to the language.

The Solitude of Prime Numbers- Paolo Giordano
The Solitude of Prime Numbers- Paolo Giordano

When I picked up The Solitude of Prime Numbers, I knew I was going to visit the same old feeling again. Even before I’d read the book, I was intrigued by it. One, writer Paolo Giordano is a physicist who was working on his doctorate in particle physics when he started writing the book.  Second, the title. It is a difficult feat to resist such a title. So, after waiting for a long time, I finally got my hands on it.

The Solitude of Prime Numbers tells us the story of Mattia and Alice, two injured and scarred souls who seem to be destined for each other. Mattia, as a young kid, left his mentally-disabled twin sister in a park to go to a party and returned to find that he has lost her. With an overbearing father Alice leads herself to a terrible skiing accident and then towards anorexia. With their own personal tragedies heavy on their young feeble shoulders, they create an odd alliance.

As a teenager,  Mattia, a math prodigy, studies prime numbers, numbers so soliatry that they can be divided only by themselves or unity. While studying these, he comes across twin primes– two numbers, who are odd and yet similar, separated by an even number between them. He thinks of Alice when he sees twin primes, close yet never completely together.

As they move through the torturous years of teenage to adulthood, fate seems to play with their lives and years. After many years when Alice sights someone she thinks could be Mattia’s lost sister, emotions that they had buried deep inside come resurfacing.

The Solitude of Prime Numbers, is a love story without the need or wherewithal for an ending. It is not a love story in the usual sense of lovers, romantic scenes and gestures, grand trials and passionate return to togetherness. It is a very restrained and precariously balanced tale of two people who are meant for each other but are helpless within their trappings of past burdens and own doubts and uncertainties.

I cannot say I could identify with the characters because it is difficult to identify with a girl who cannot eat and a math genius who cuts himself. You can relate to them, try to understand their pain. Giordano keeps the reader at a safe, slightly uncomfortable distance where you can feel for the characters without pity and feel a certain helplessness on their behalf. You will not even be in a position to blame cruel fate in their case.He has couple of strong secondary characters, but keeps them from overshadowing and usurping. I think Giordano does an excellent job here with character development.

When it comes to plot, the story kind of falters in the middle. The writing reeks a bit of amateurish attempts at something meant to be much more exquisite. In the later parts, it picks up with the deft handling of narrative. His writing reminded me a bit of Milan Kundera’s works and maybe he will do very very well with short stories. But all said and done, Paolo Giordano should write more, many more of his stories.

The book can be called, as it has been many times, elegant and melancholic. But for me it will be a read that left me very very sad and yet gladder for the experience. We are often advised not to judge the book by its cover. But if you are someone who judges the book by its title, and if you felt something when you heard the title, I’d say go pick it up. It’s not like you will miss out on one of the best books ever, but you will regret it if you don’t.


You can also read the review here.


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