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The Solitude of Prime Numbers: A Novel Paperback – March 29, 2011
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"A mesmerizing portrait of a young man and woman whose injured natures draw them together over the years and inevitably pull them apart. Mr. Giordano remarkably and movingly portrays the hesitant groping toward warmth that works beneath the pair's emotional disabilities. The author works with piercing subtlety. An exquisite rendering of what one might call feelings at the subatomic level."
-Richard Eder for The New York Times
"The melancholy that hangs over The Solitude of Prime Numbers is seductive and unnerving. A-."
"Giordano's passionate evocation of being young and in despair will resonate strongly with readers."
"The elegant and fiercely intelligent debut novel by 27-year-old physicist Paolo Giordano, The Solitude of Prime Numbers revolves around Mattia and Alice, friends since high school-'twin primes, alone and lost, close but not close enough to really touch each other,' wherein resides the seductive enchantment of this singular love story."
"This compelling debut shows a remarkable sensitivity and maturity in the depiction of its damaged soulmates. A fragile, unconventional love story by a talent to watch."
"A deeply touching debut. Beautiful and affecting...it reads easily, due in party to the almost seamless translation. An intimate psychological portrait of two 'prime numbers'-together alone and alone together."
"Surprising, intimate and deeply moving, The Solitude of Prime Numbers takes the readers on a hypnotic journey through an unexpected love affair. Paolo Giordano writes with grace and elegance of gentle but damaged characters, using inventive language to create a story unlike anything in recent fiction. This is everything a debut novel should be and leaves one longing for the books that will follow."
-John Boyne, author of The Boy in the Striped Pajamas
"Paul Giordano is an expert on loss and sorrow. He understands and reveals the hidden hollows of the heart. His story is a quiet one, but his strong writing and unforgettable characters make his book a page turner. The Solitude of Prime Numbers is sad, dark and perfect."
-Mary Pipher, author of Seeking Peace: Chronicles of the Worst Buddhist in the World
"What a shock to open a novel written by a young physicist in Italy and find myself there, on every page. No wonder Giordano's readers can be counted in the millions; this astute, aching contemplation of solitude has a power to make us all feel a little less alone. A love story told with astonishing perceptiveness and remarkable subtlety, The Solitude of Prime Numbers is an extraordinary affirmation of the reasons we read."
-Stefan Merrill Block, author of The Story of Forgetting
About the Author
Paolo Giordano was born in Turin in 1982. He is working on a doctorate in particle physics. The Solitude of Prime Numbers is his first novel.
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But when their adolescence has finally ended, neither one appears to offer much resistance to the forces which come to separate them, both personally and geographically. And when they are briefly reunited, it is clear that what they had had was a loving alliance, not a great love.
The book has an interesting and rather appropriate title. The Solitude of Primes. The boy and girl are, indeed, somewhat like a ‘pair’ of primes. Two prime numbers are the closest possible neighbors (for primes) in the number hierarchy, but without a common factor with any other numbers or with each other. Alice and Mattia have no common passion, scarcely even a common interest. They understand each other’s loneliness, but there doesn’t seem to be much else going on between them. They listen to music together, but they scarcely seem to talk to each other.
The writing is very good, clear and unpretentious but interesting. This is a good book. It feels very real. The reader believes in the characters. If it really was about a powerful love, it would be more compelling to read, but a book about great love is almost impossible to write without losing the sense of reality and individual personalities. I think that is because that sort of emotion and the commonalities which give rise to it are unique in any two individuals. It cannot be recreated in the reader by even the most brilliant writer. At best, it can be suggested by its manifestations, as it is in Wuthering Heights.
This story follows the lives of Alice Della Rocca and Mattia Balossino, introducing them as children in 1985, closing the story in their adulthood in 2007. Early on in their lives, both suffer traumatic experiences that affect and form them for the rest of their lives. Young Alice is pushed by her father to pursue an athletic career in skiing, but she can't find a way to get him to see that she has no inclination or natural talent for the sport, and all he can see is future Olympics. Her inexperience leads her into a skiing accident which ends up leaving her permanently crippled, though the weaker leg gets somewhat easier to hide as she gets older. What she doesn't hide is her emotional pain from the disconnect she and her parents can't seem to overcome. Her mother seems to be terminally ill with something, her father always focused on either work or his wife. Alice seems to be constantly pressed with this home atmosphere of "You could be better". At school, Alice yearns for the acceptance of popular girl / school bully Viola Bai, who requires a "test of loyalty" from all who want to be in her circle. The test she offers Alice proves to be permanently emotionally scarring to Alice. So between the teasing and looks at school about her leg and the loneliness she continues to feel at home, Alice develops anorexia... something else that follows her well into adulthood.
Then there's Mattia's story. Mattia is one half of a set of twins. While Mattia quickly proves to be highly intelligent and gifted in math and sciences, his sister Michela is severely mentally handicapped, not even able to form full sentences even by grade-school age. Mattia and Michela stick close together, but part of Mattia resents how much attention Michela requires from everyone. At times he feels "held back" by her condition, socially stifled by being associated with her. When an opportunity comes up for Mattia to attend a classmate's party, both Mattia and Michela are invited but while walking to the classmate's house, Mattia makes the spur decision to leave Michela in a nearby park while he attends the party, instructing her to stay put on a bench until he comes back. Mattia loses track of time at the party and when he comes back Michela is nowhere to be found. A search party is quickly put together, but Michela is never found. It's assumed that she fell into the nearby river and her body drifted off, never to be discovered. Mattia carries the guilt of his sister's disappearance for the rest of his life, causing him to become a "cutter" (compulsively making cuts in his skin whenever the pain gets overwhelming). As Mattia grows into his teen years, his parents seem to find him increasingly weird and creepy ... the way he is super smart but never wants to talk and seems to have no friends. So, like Alice, even his home life is isolating.
Alice and Mattia end up at the same school, both finding themselves being taunted, bullied, and / or whispered about for their traumas. Alice is instantly intrigued by Mattia, but Viola deems him a "psychopath". Alice and Mattia develop a friendship through their shared ostracism, though many aspects of the friendship prove difficult for both. They struggle to easily speak to each other and at times Alice's brusque way of speaking to Mattia comes off as borderline bullying, but there seems to be an unspoken deep bond. There lies the natural understanding, free of judgement, between them that makes the friendship so true and necessary. Whatever is said (or not said that needs to be..), they have a way of being each other's anchor in a world where no one else seems to understand them. At least until graduation day hits and life takes its natural course, which sometimes means people have to part. Mattia is offered a spot at a university in Spain and when he goes to tell Alice, she lashes out at him, saying horrible, hurtful things. We always hurt the ones we love the most, eh? Well, Mattia swallows the hurt, burying himself in work. The argument causes a silence between him and Alice for years, but then the moment she calls for him, like the true friend he comes running.
It's during these later adult years that a moment comes up which forces Alice to face her past demons. What she decides to do ... I didn't 100% agree with. I was with her through a lot of it, but that last little decision I felt went too far. Karma doesn't need to be that big a bitch. Sometimes you just gotta be the better person and let it go.
Along with Alice and Mattia, there's also the side stories of Denis and Soledad. Denis is perhaps the one other friend Mattia has through most of his school days, but their friendship is strained as well because Denis is in love with Mattia, Mattia is aware of it but doesn't want to encourage Denis. The story then sheds light on Denis' struggles with becoming comfortable in his homosexuality, eventually getting to a place where he and Mattia can honestly be just friends. Soledad is the housekeeper in Alice's home as well as Alice's unofficial nanny-figure. Alice is sometimes seen bullying Soledad into giving her what she wants, even if it might cost Soledad her job. Soledad also has a backstory of a husband who walked out on her, but to hide / avoid the shame of it all, she creates a story which makes her a grieving widow for a beloved husband, allowing her to have social respectability rather than shaming.
While this story doesn't solely focus on easily identifiable bullies, I liked how it brought to light all the subtle ways people, children and adults alike, can be bullied, and how it can affect them for the rest of their lives. It doesn't always have to be physical. In fact, I'd say emotional abuse tends to last a hell of a lot longer than the temporary pain of being physically slammed into or up against something. This novel also addresses the crime of parents who never really get to know their children as individuals, embracing their uniqueness or allowing them to just be who they are suppose to be, instead forcing agendas and the unlived dreams of the parents onto them. It's just tragic.
This book is so beautifully written, it'll be on my suggestions list from now on!