The Solitude of Prime Numbers

The Solitude of Prime Numbers

3.6 67
by Paolo Giordano
     
 

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A stunning debut novel about the intertwined destinies of two friends brought together by childhood tragedy.

A three-million-copy Italian bestseller and winner of that country’s prestigious Premio Strega award.

A prime number is inherently a solitary thing: it can only be divided by itself, or by one: it never truly fits with another. Alice and…  See more details below

Overview

A stunning debut novel about the intertwined destinies of two friends brought together by childhood tragedy.

A three-million-copy Italian bestseller and winner of that country’s prestigious Premio Strega award.

A prime number is inherently a solitary thing: it can only be divided by itself, or by one: it never truly fits with another. Alice and Mattia, too, move on their own axis, alone with their personal tragedies. As a child, Alice’s overbearing father drove her first to a terrible skiing accident, and then to anorexia. When she meets Mattia she recognizes a kindred, tortured spirit, and Mattia reveals to Alice his terrible secret: that as a boy he abandoned his mentally-disabled twin sister in a park to go to a party, and when he returned, she was nowhere to be found.
These two irreversible episodes mark Alice and Mattia’s lives for ever, and as they grow into adulthood their destinies seem intertwined: they are divisible only by themselves and each other. But the shadow of the lost twin haunts their relationship, until a chance sighting by Alice of a woman who could be Mattia’s sister forces a lifetime of secret emotion to the surface.

A meditation on loneliness and love, The Solitude of Prime Numbers asks, can we ever truly be whole when we’re in love with another? And when Mattia is asked to choose between human love and his professional love — of mathematics — which will make him more complete?

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Editorial Reviews

Liesl Schillinger
…a flawlessly smooth Ameri­can English version by Shaun Whiteside…Writers and filmmakers have mined the romance of the "outsider" for decades and longer. But Giordano deromanticizes social alienation. Much of the pathos in these pages comes from the pain his emotionally crippled characters inflict on the people who care about them, people who don't understand that Mattia and Alice are unreachable…The story—the explanation, really—of how two people come to find solitude more comforting than companionship is the subtle work of Giordano's haunting novel, a finely tuned machine powered by the perverse mechanics of need.
—The New York Times Book Review
Richard Eder
Out of a mathematical conceit the Italian writer Paolo Giordano has drawn a mesmerizing portrait of a young man and woman whose injured natures draw them together over the years and inevitably pull them apart…The Solitude of Prime Numbers is neither psychological drama nor plight-driven melodrama. If anything, it is a venture into an undiscovered realm of astonishing shapes and colors…What is even more distinctive, and transforming, is the writing. The author works with piercing subtlety. He manages—to move from math to physics—an exquisite rendering of what one might call feelings at the subatomic level, emotion's muons, gluons and quarks.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
Italian author and mathematician Giordano follows two scarred people whose lives intersect but can't seem to join in his cerebral yet touching debut. Alice and Mattia, both survivors of childhood traumas, are the odd ones out amid the adolescent masses in their high school. Mattia has never recovered from the loss of his sister, while Alice still suffers the effects of a skiing accident that damaged her physically and stunted her ability to trust. Now teenagers, Mattia, also addicted to self-injury, has withdrawn into a world of numbers and math, and Alice gains control through starving herself and photography. When they meet, they recognize something primal in each other, but timing and awkwardness keep their friendship on tenuous ground until, years later, their lives come together one last time. Giordano uses Mattia and Alice's trajectory to ask whether there are some people—the prime numbers among us—who are destined to be alone, or whether two primes can come together. The novel's bleak subject matter is rendered almost beautiful by Giordano's spare, intense focus on his two characters. (Mar.)
Entertainment Weekly
The misleading cover of the American edition features a photograph of two peas in a pod. But in truth, Alice and Mattia are only alike insofar as how strange and singular they are. They're twin primes, if you want to get fancy. Primes, Giordano writes, are "suspicious and solitary numbers," divisible only by one and by themselves. Twin primes "are close to each other, almost neighbors, but between them there is always an even number" that prevents them from truly touching." Trust Giordano on this one — he's a professional physicist. Also, there are 271 pages in this singular novel. You do the math. A–
Deirdre Donahue
Giordano's passionate evocation of being young and in despair will resonate strongly with readers under 30. Alas, overbearing parents, special-needs siblings, cruel classmates, physical and sexual insecurities, guilt, loneliness and grief are universal plagues.
USAToday
Kirkus Reviews
Two traumatized loners who meet as teens spend years grappling with a powerful connection that terrifies them both. It's love, or something like it, for 15-year-old Alice Della Rocca when she first lays eyes on Mattia Balossino in the halls of her school. She recognizes a kindred spirit in the awkward, intelligent boy, who sports a bandage on his hand, the result of a shocking self-harming episode. Anorexic, with a bad leg from a childhood ski accident, Alice insinuates herself into Mattia's life in spite of the wall he has put up around himself, and the two settle into an odd but lasting friendship. Preferring not to be touched and feeling most at home in his math studies, Mattia comes to see both himself and Alice as "twin prime" numbers-similar, but always separated. Eventually, after graduating from college, he reveals to Alice the awful secret behind his cutting habit. At the age of seven he left his retarded twin sister Michela in a local park to attend a birthday party, and she was never seen again. His confession brings the two closer, but soon after Mattia takes a job at a university overseas, in part to escape his feelings for Alice. Once there he flourishes in his career while carefully avoiding personal entanglements. Alice in turn settles down with an outgoing doctor she believes can give her a normal life. But the two never forget each other, and when Alice's life takes a difficult turn she summons Mattia back to Italy. He comes, knowing full well that surrendering to his attraction to her holds equal parts pain and pleasure. A bestseller in Europe, winner of the Premio Strega in the author's native Italy, this compelling debut shows a remarkable sensitivity and maturity inthe depiction of its damaged soulmates. Fragile, unconventional love story by a talent to watch.
Library Journal
Just as a prime number is divisible only by one and itself, so, too, are Mattia and Alice both "primes": social misfits unable to fit others into their lives. Giordano's debut novel, winner of Italy's Premio Strega Award, explores these fascinating characters' inability to overcome the tragedies of their childhoods to form lasting bonds with their families and friends, or with each other. The author's straightforward and concise approach to storytelling is refreshing; actor/narrator Luke Daniels engagingly presents the material. Featuring complex characters worthy of discussion, this short work of literary fiction would make a great book-club pick.—Johannah Genett, Hennepin Cty. Libs., Minneapolis

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781101190029
Publisher:
Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
03/18/2010
Sold by:
Penguin Group
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
288
Sales rank:
138,046
File size:
1 MB
Age Range:
18 Years

What People are saying about this

Mary Pipher
"Paolo 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)
Stefan Merrill Block
"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)
From the Publisher

"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-."
-Entertainment Weekly

"Giordano's passionate evocation of being young and in despair will resonate strongly with readers."
-USA Today

"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."
-Elle

"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."
-Kirkus

"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."
-Booklist

"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

John Boyne
"Surprising, intimate and deeply moving, THE SOLITUDE OF PRIME NUMBERS takes the reader 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)

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Meet 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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