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Turbulence: A novel (Vintage International) Paperback – August 9, 2011
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Foden emerged as a formidable storyteller with The Last King of Scotland, and now he tackles WWII and the beaches at Normandy from an unforeseen perspective: that of Henry Meadows, a Cambridge-educated meteorologist tasked with befriending the reclusive meteorological genius and conscientious objector Wallace Ryman and learning the secrets of the mysterious Ryman number for the Allies, who hope to use it to forecast the perfect moment to launch the D-Day offensive. Questions of turbulence abound as Meadows carries out his scientific reconnaissance amid fascinatingly sketched characters like prescient scientists Brecher and Pyke, Ryman's scheming wife, and the enigmatic Ryman himself, but it is the meticulous fusion of science and military history that dazzles, coming off like an exhilarating fusion of Richard Powers and John le Carré. As the deadline mounts and Ryman takes matters into his own hands, the quickly accelerating plot threatens to overwhelm both the book's methodical pace and the occasionally glutted cast of characters—but, by then, Foden's point, that certainty and probability are values batted about like balloons in the atmosphere, has pierced its target. (Aug.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
*Starred Review* English writer Foden made a popular and critical splash with his 1998 debut, The Last King of Scotland, a startlingly imaginative interpretation of the “court” of Ugandan dictator Idi Amin. His new novel is just as jaw-dropping in its inventiveness. WWII fiction abounds, but this author’s entry in that crowded field will immediately rise to the top of the stack for its distinctiveness. Generally, the novel is concerned with the Allied invasion of Normandy, where the Allies hoped to gain a foothold in winning continental Europe back from German control. The specific focus is the role played by English and American meteorologists in determining the exact day that weather conditions would best support troop landings by air and sea. Young Englishman Henry Meadows, a math whiz employed in the British Meteorological Office, is sent to Scotland to meet retired meteorologist Wallace Ryman and learn all he can about the so-called Ryman number, a formula that can be employed to measure the turbulence of weather systems. The military’s interest in the Ryman number is its applicability for use over the stretch of French coast where the invasion is scheduled to occur. Challenging in its intellectualism and impressive in its artistry, this is a magnificent achievement that is impossible to resist. --Brad Hooper --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
Top customer reviews
The foremost expert on turbulence and its seemingly "random" effects is Wallace Ryman, a famed mathematician whose "Ryman number" could help with long-range weather forecasting, but Ryman is also a pacifist who does not want his research used for warfare. Henry Meadows hopes to convince him to share the application of his "Ryman number" in the pursuit of a weather equation to aid in meteorological forecasting. Setting up several hundred weather stations on land and sea from Iceland to the French coast, a distance of twelve hundred miles, scientists hope they can gather enough information that, with the application of the Ryman number, they can then predict the weather accurately five days in advance. Over 2.5 million men and three thousand landing craft are depending on the accuracy of this forecast.
Foden uses real people as his models for the characters in the novel. Main character Wallace Ryman is the fictional equivalent of a real man, Henry Fry Richardson, whose real life (and "Richardson number") closely parallels that of Ryman (except in the manner of his death). The other named characters (including Geoffrey Pyke and Sverre Petterssen) are also real. Where the novel may raise some questions for some people is in the subplots. Some "researchers" here believe that the formula for dealing with turbulence in the weather can also be applied to problems in sociological and interpersonal relationships--from the tendency of countries to go to war to the disagreements among lovers. This makes the subplots seem sensational and unrealistic, at times, an attempt to show that the "random" events and coincidences in our personal lives may not be random at all.
The opinions of a cleric with whom Ryman argues about God's will, scientific issues which have not yet been resolved (a solution for the problems of the Rh factor, for example), and the desire to find one formula which will explain the as yet unexplainable future, raise serious metaphysical questions but do not necessarily provide insights or answers. Filled with vibrant descriptions, an assortment of characters whose views of the world differ greatly from that of the twenty-first century, a setting that reflects a critical moment in time, and philosophical/scientific themes and insights very unusual in fiction, Turbulence is a novel which manages to raise questions and explore them in dramatic new ways. Mary Whipple
Ladysmith: A Novel
The Last King of Scotland
There have been a lot of great novels lately, but it has been a long time since I've read something that really exercised my brain. And, I'm not sure I've ever read a book that made me say "I'm glad I took Calculus in college!"
Also interesting: Weather forecasting for WW II and D-Day, from the perspective of the Brits.
Engineers, history buffs, and people who like to sink their teeth into meaty, technical literary novels will love this one.