The Solitude of Prime Numbers
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The Solitude of Prime Numbers

3.6 67
by Paolo Giordano

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A prime number is a lonely thing. It can be divided only by itself or by one; it never truly fits with another. Alice and Mattia are both “primes” — misfits who seem destined to be alone. They are haunted by the childhood tragedies that mark their lives and find themselves unable to reach out to anyone else. When the two meet as teenagers, they


A prime number is a lonely thing. It can be divided only by itself or by one; it never truly fits with another. Alice and Mattia are both “primes” — misfits who seem destined to be alone. They are haunted by the childhood tragedies that mark their lives and find themselves unable to reach out to anyone else. When the two meet as teenagers, they recognize in each other a kindred, damaged spirit.

As they grow into adulthood, their destinies seem irrevocably intertwined. But when the mathematically gifted Mattia accepts a research position that takes him thousands of miles away, the two are forced to separate with many things left unsaid. A chance encounter will reunite them and force a lifetime of concealed emotion to the surface, but the question remains: Can two prime numbers ever find a way to be together?

The Solitude of Prime Numbers is a stunning meditation on loneliness, love, and the weight of childhood experience. A sensation in its native Italy, where it has sold more than a million copies, it is a remarkable debut, a moving novel that lays bare the soul and captures what it means to be human.

Editorial Reviews

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
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
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.
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

Product Details

Brilliance Audio
Publication date:
Edition description:
Unabridged, 6 CDs, 7 hrs. 4 min.
Product dimensions:
5.10(w) x 7.10(h) x 1.50(d)

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)
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)

Meet the Author

Paolo Giordano is the youngest winner of Italy’s prestigious literary award the Premio Strega, for The Solitude of Prime Numbers, his debut novel. Just twenty-seven years old, he is a professional physicist and is currently working on a doctorate in particle physics. He lives in Italy.

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The Solitude of Prime Numbers 3.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 67 reviews.
PAprincess More than 1 year ago
A pair of social outcasts (one an anorexic, the other a cutter) befriend each other in school, and the friendship continues through the rest of their broken lives. Loneliness permeates the book and leaves the reader with a sense of defeat akin to the characters'. A quick read and an interesting first novel, more of a character study than a story with a plot.
LorraineB More than 1 year ago
So, how does a 27-year old man working on a doctorate in particle physics write an achingly lovely book about loneliness, family, and alienation? By being a close observer of the human condition, and by writing prose that pulls you further into the book. (I've lost sleep over this book--the "only one more chapter" turned into several on more than one night.) Shaun Whiteside, Giordano's translator, deserves credit for the kind of translation that did not make me feel I was missing anything by not reading it in the original Italian. In some ways, I wish this was not a first novel, and I wish Giordano was older. Why? Because as his characters get older, and surpass Giordano's current age, something feels lost. The tremendous empathy with which he writes about his characters' adolescence made me, his reader, nod with recognition. But as his characters move further into their adulthood, part of the suspension of disbelief was broken for me--not all writers are able to write about a time of life that they have not experienced, and toward the end of the book, I felt the distance between Giordano and his characters widening. Okay. That's the major criticism. Let me tell you about the things that Giordano does well. This is character-driven literary fiction, which means that the plot is secondary to the development of the people of whom he writes. (Those of you looking for a "rippin' good yarn" would be best to skip this book.) Instead, it's the moments of subtle beauty--an emotion described in visceral terms, a scene painted in water-color language--that would catch the breath in my chest. Mattia is a twin brother to Michele, a little girl with mental disabilities. Mattia, shy and hyper-intelligent, is lonely. It's not that he's exactly "shunned" by his classmates, as much as he is avoided because he and Michele are seen as a package deal, (meaning that if you invite one to an event, you must invite the other. Thus, at the opening of the novel, Mattia has been in school for several years and has never been invited to a friend's birthday party. One day, one of his classmates finally breaks the taboo, and both children are invited to the party. But Mattia is torn. He knows that if Michele comes to the party, she will ruin Mattia's chances for ever being invited to another party, and so, Mattia makes a decision that forever changes his family's life. Left to live with the guilt of Michele's exit from the world, and, as if to make amends, Mattia finds ways to torment himself physically almost every day. Alice is the daughter of a pushy father who wants his girl to be a champion skiier. Unable to say no to her father, in an attempt to get out of competing one day, she wanders off the trail, shatters her leg, and the surgical attempts to rebuild her broken body leave her covered with scars. Having lost control of a hip and leg that don't perform correctly, Alice attempts to discipline her body through other means. Alice and Mattia, of course, become friends--or as close to friendship as each is capable of. For Alice and Mattia, the high school years were an open wound that had seemed so deep that it could never heal. They had passed through them without breathing, he rejecting the world and she feeling rejected by it, and eventually they had noticed that it didn't make all that much diffference. They had formed a defective and asymmetrical friendship, made up of long absences and much si
thewanderingjew More than 1 year ago
This wonderful book follows the lives of two uniquely different characters, Mattia and Alice, she’s anorexic, he’s a cutter. Tragic accidents, resulting from foolish decisions, Mattia’s own when he leaves his twin alone in a park and Alice’s own when she decides to ski down a mountain alone, in the fog, after being forced by her domineering father to participate in the sport, shape their lives. Both characters continued to help create their own unhappiness and isolation, as they matured, further paving the dysfunctional path of their futures. Neither one fit comfortably into the world, in the space they occupied, and their own impetuous decisions, as they grew older, were just as foolish as those that originally caused their lives to veer into the unusual, rather than the ordinary. Alice and Mattia are indeed prime numbers, divisible only by one, because they can’t abide close relationships with others. As they matured, they both continued to help shape their own unhappiness and life of solitude, a life they seemed, eventually, to grow to prefer. Their own idiosyncratic behavior discouraged healthy interactions as much as the way others treated them created that unhealthy behavior, that very behavior which turned them away from personal contact. The book explored the consequences of decisions and the interaction of the characters with others, as they developed. They were needy and they met needy people. They were lonely and lonely people gravitated toward them. Dysfunction followed them, and often it was the key to their survival, as others, in spite of their shortcomings and their oddness, were drawn to them, precisely because of their deficiencies. The book is uncomfortable to read because it is a sad commentary on the lives of the characters that never seemed to move on and grow. The book examines characters that are so called, “normal” characters who preyed on those that were not, who bullied them mercilessly, and yet, those characters managed to have more successful lives than those they bullied, and left to wither. All of the characters seemed flawed in some way, all seemed to have trouble communicating with each other, but the two main characters were uniquely flawed. It was another audio book for me and I am becoming quite fond of this format. If the reader is good, the experience is exhilarating because I think it helps you become a part of the narrative with the narrator, feeling the excitement, fear, tension of the voice and suffering the whole range of emotions of the characters, as they do. Although I found it to be a sad little book, I also found it to be quite credible and recognized some of the characters in other people I have known through my lifetime. Reactions were plausible. I never had to suspend disbelief. It examined the ordinary and extraordinary reactions our experiences and environment sometimes unwittingly, precipitate.
ddd611 More than 1 year ago
After reading so many positive reviews I had high hopes for this book, and for me I found it sadly lacking. We follow the two main characters but I feel sometimes they exclude even us the audience from what they are going through.
LitChick90 More than 1 year ago
I thought this was a good book. It was fairly easy to read, and there were some beautiful lines. I just don't think it's as groundbreaking as its title claims it to be. It seemed a little slow-paced and boring at times, but there was a beautiful meaning embedded within the pages. I would recommend it to a friend.
SheilaDeeth More than 1 year ago
Did you ever stand on the edge of the crowd, unbelonging and unable to turn away? If you did, you’ll see something of yourself hidden in Alice or Mattia, both wounded by their childhood attempts to escape. Calming the mind with numbers, soothing the body with pain, starving their thoughts and their feelings, they suddenly find themselves thrown together, with each’s dark unbalance harmonizing the other, and childhood ends. Of course, childhood’s end is messy, inconvenient, and fraught with conflicting purpose. But Paulo Giordano tells the tale of his misfits with beautifully well-fitted words, complex turns of phrase that fly from the page and soar, and fragile emotions aching to be seen instead of ignored. As plans fail and lives flail, growing apart replaces growing together for these two stranded characters. A chance encounter might restore what’s lost, but there’s a core of genuine, unpredictable feeling underneath the mathematical precisions of separation. The novel slowly opens to reveal a view wider than mountainscapes, deeper than rivers, and more honest than fiction is usually allowed to be. If you want glib and easy, this isn’t the book for you. If you want gritty, broken, and quietly healed, it is. Disclosure: A friend loaned me her copy, correctly guessing I would really enjoy it.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The writing is excellent, the story unusual, the perspectives and characters unique. The ending was abrupt and ... disappointing.
MelH21 More than 1 year ago
It was exceptional! I couldn't put it down and read it within a day. Would highly recommend to anyone! 
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Elemillia More than 1 year ago
This is the tale of a pull and push that inevitably happens with those of an alike nature. A young man and woman drawn together for their similar natures only to realize that it's that same quality that pushes them apart. Frankly, hasn't that theme run a little too redundant? Haven't we yet learned that opposites attract, and alike repel? Well, I guess you can already guess I wasn't too impressed by this book. I came to own this book by way of a GoodReads recommendation. I actually stumbled on it at first by viewing someone's profile who was already 'currently-reading' it. Afterwards, that same person recommended that I read it. I liked most of their book selections, I loved the summary of the book, and finally by way of it being chosen in my Global Reading Book Club, I gave it a go. The big dissapointment came when I was quickly unimpressed by it. I didn't like it much at all. The writing is more than stale, in my opinion. I grew to boredom often than not. I wasn't pulled into the plot at all, if maybe one time. I guess it just maybe isn't my type of book, maybe a little too 'mathematical?' Which ironically shouldn't have been a problem fom me since I come from a science background, yet it was. Go figure! I will leave it at that since it is all I actually want to say about this book that left me dry for the most part.
Krissy82 More than 1 year ago
Strange book! If you're looking for something a bit different, this may be the book for you. I couldn't stop reading it, but I wouldn't call it a favorite.
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colorsplash7 More than 1 year ago
I am sure in some circles this is considered a well written book and it ceertainly got good review. But I found it dark and depressing and the characters....all of them too emotionally stunted and disturbed for my taste. I am not even sure why I finished it. Just not my cuppa tea.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The two main characters in this novel will break your heart. Both are damaged in different ways. They struggle to fit in and survive in the world, coping in ways that are harmful and distancing...
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