Monday, October 9, 2017
The Mathematician's Shiva
Rachela Karnokovitch, survived a rough childhood in Poland and the Soviet Union during World War II. In spite of her beginnings she became a brilliant and world renowned mathematician and professor at the University of Wisconsin. She dies peacefully with her family surrounding her. Her son, Sasha, her husband, and other family members plan a quiet funeral and shiva only to have their plans disrupted by the arrival of masses of mathematician's who revered and/or hated her. All believe she has taken the solution to the million dollar Navier-Stokes Prize problem to her grave. Her son has found no evidence of it. However, there is her memoir about her life during the war, written in Polish that Sasha painstakingly translates. Besides the collection of socially inept mathematician's, the arrival of Sasha's daughter and granddaughter, neither of whom he has met before, adds another wrinkle to the proceeds. There is subtle humor, reluctant romance, and heartwarming moments. The book is well written and so believable that at one point I had to check to make sure this was a fictional story and not a son's true memoir of his mother.