The Tenth Muse

The Tenth Muse

by Catherine Chung


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An exhilarating, moving novel about a trailblazing mathematician whose research unearths her own extraordinary family story and its roots in World War II

From the days of her childhood in the 1950s Midwest, Katherine knows she is different, and that her parents are not who they seem. As she matures from a girl of rare intelligence into an exceptional mathematician, traveling to Europe to further her studies, she must face the most human of problems—who is she? What is the cost of love, and what is the cost of ambition? These questions grow ever more entangled as Katherine strives to take her place in the world of higher mathematics and becomes involved with a brilliant and charismatic professor.

When she embarks on a quest to conquer the Riemann hypothesis, the greatest unsolved mathematical problem of her time, she turns to a theorem with a mysterious history that may hold both the lock and the key to her identity, and to secrets long buried during World War II. Forced to confront some of the most consequential events of the twentieth century and rethink everything she knows of herself, she finds kinship in the stories of the women who came before her, and discovers how seemingly distant stories, lives, and ideas are inextricably linked to her own.

The Tenth Muse is a gorgeous, sweeping tale about legacy, identity, and the beautiful ways the mind can make us free. 


Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780062574060
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 06/18/2019
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 82,891
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

Catherine Chung won an Honorable Mention for the PEN/Hemingway Award with her first novel, Forgotten Country, and has been a National Endowment for the Arts Fellow, a Granta New Voice, and a Director's Visitor at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. She has a degree in mathematics from the University of Chicago, and worked at a think tank in Santa Monica before receiving her MFA from Cornell University. She has published work in The New York Times and Granta, and is a fiction editor at Guernica Magazine. She lives in New York City.

Customer Reviews

The Tenth Muse: A Novel 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
Peter Donnelly More than 1 year ago
My left brain aches, my right brain aches, my heart aches. The Tenth Muse is an extraordinary story that takes the logic of mathematics, personal ambition and the highly emotional turmoil of family secrets and love, and overlays them to create an outstanding novel. A story that paints the most challenging decisions we would ever have to make – a choice between the things we love most. Katherine has a gifted mathematical mind and from her childhood through to University she has always been disparaged and mistreated as she sought to compete in a male-dominated environment. Determined to never suppress her mind, her resolute drive to open doors into new mathematical revelations placed her personal ambition above all of life’s other fulfilments. Kat grew up with a Chinese mother and American father but early in her life, her mother left unable to live the lie that she was Katherine’s mother and her parents were married. Later also finding out that her father wasn’t her natural father, set in motion an anxious exploration into solving the mystery who her parents were. This led Kat to Germany and secrets that stemmed back to the Second World War, a Jewish family line, an escape to safety, two mathematicians as parents and a notebook that she had instinctively held precious her whole life which was full of equations and mathematical notation. What I found fascinating in the story was how well delivered the emotional and mental struggle in confronting unattainable resolution was portrayed. Kat’s life is often defined in choices between her very individual pursuit of ground-breaking achievements in solving mathematical theorems, such as the Riemann hypothesis, and the human relationship costs. “All my life I’ve been told to let go as gracefully as possible. What’s worse, after all, than a hungry woman, greedy for all that isn’t meant to be hers? Still, I resist. In the end, we relinquish everything: I think I’ll hold on, while I can.” Kat’s integrity is admirable and what she really wants from those close to her is to be respected in her ability to achieve her goals, without favours. She also wanted to be recognised as a fashionable woman without camouflaging her femininity. As someone with a mathematical background and lover of literature, this double pleasure truly hit the mark with me. While the language is the utility of literature, mathematics is the language in which God has written the universe – Galileo Galilei. This is a novel that examines the determination of achieving personal recognition in mathematical accomplishment and the determination to uncover the truth of her background and family history. Kat’s character and principles are wonderfully observed and challenged, knowing that the right choice will likely be the most difficult path but she will have to live with the consequences. This is an inspiring story for those fighting prejudices and those seeking encouragement to pursue their own dreams as a priority. The Tenth Muse is an enthralling story that I would highly recommend. I’d like to thank Little Brown Book Group and NetGalley for providing me with an ARC version in return for an honest review.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
“What terrible things we do in the name of love.” Katherine grows up a very special girl. Her father introduces her to natural sciences and she is fascinated by numbers from her childhood. When her mother leaves them unexpectedly, the bond between father and daughter becomes even closer. Stubborn as she is, she wants to study mathematics knowing that the time hasn’t yet come for women to enter university and compete with men in the 1950s. But which other way could she possibly choose? She is obsessed with the Riemann hypothesis and determined to solved the greatest riddle of her time. Her stubbornness does not prevent her from being hurt, from learning the hard way that only because you are talented and eager, you do not necessarily get what you want. Even though Catherine Chung’s novel is set in the 1950s, there is so much also today intelligent young women experience when it comes to the intellectual ivory tower. Men are still considered made in god’s image and thus by nature more capable, cleverer and more talented that any woman could ever be. Well, that’s their interpretation. I found it easy to bond with the striving protagonist and, unfortunately, only could commiserate too easily with what she feels when being deceived and her intellect ignored over and over again. One should not shy away from the book because of the mathematics, the logical problems they are occupied with are well explained and remain quite on the surface so that the average reader can easily follow their thoughts. Apart from that, what I appreciated most is how Katherine sticks to her ideals and goals, even though this at times means that she hurts herself and gives up a lot for her professional integrity – without being rewarded for it. The second line of the plot about Katherine’s family is also quite intriguing since it is well embedded in the German history and the dangers even intellectuals ran when they had the wrong religion. A beautifully written book about a strong woman that captivated me immediately.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Don't miss this one. I'm not a mathematician but thoroughly enjoyed this book. We'll written, painstakingly researched and lovingly edited. A pure pleasure to read.
LHill2110 More than 1 year ago
Writing; 4/5 Plot: 4/5 Characters: 3.4/5 Special Credit for beautiful math concepts: 5/5 A thoughtful and unusual memoir-style novel describing the personal journey of a female mathematician as she simultaneously navigates a male dominated field and slowly uncovers the truth of her family history. Katherine is a young, bi-racial Asian American growing up in New Umbria, Michigan in the early 1950s where her prodigious mathematical talent housed in a female body is not encouraged by early academic institutions (like 3rd grade!) The novel merges her love affair with mathematics with the difficulties of pursuing an academic career in a male-dominated field and her personal quest for the roots of her family whose tangled branches reach into both Nazi Germany and the Japanese invasion of China. Told from the perspective of our first-person narrator speaking from the end of her career, the book is a combination of articulate description and mature reflection that adds great insight to every step without detracting from the innocence of the experience. My favorite parts of the book are the descriptions of math from her perspective. They are beautifully written accounts of both the concepts themselves and the personal process of discovery, determination, and excitement that Katherine feels. I’ve included some of my favorite lines below. The author manages to take complex mathematical subjects and both reduces them to simple concepts and makes them beautiful, even to a non-mathematician. This is spectacularly done (IMHO). Little biographical vignettes of female mathematicians throughout history are sprinkled liberally through the text. These include Hypatia (~350 - 415), Emily Noether (1882 - 1935), Maria Meyer (she of “San Diego Housewife Wins Nobel Prize” fame), Sofia Kovalevskaya (1850 - 1891), and Sophie Germain (1776 - 1831) in a kind of “sister companion” to Bell’s Men of Mathematics. I loved the way the author discussed both the historical and present (late 60s) barriers to entry women faced without ranting or complaining —simply noting the contributions and the kinds of determination the women had to have. The themes of guilt, culpability, and oppression are explored throughout the book. What is the culpability of the German mathematicians in Goettingen (formerly the “Mecca of Mathematics”) who thrived during the war years by keeping their heads down as their more distinguished colleagues were conscripted, deported to camps, or escaped the country? What guilt should adhere to a man who allowed misattributed credit for an achievement to stand because those who knew better were gone? What fault attaches to the oblivious man who genuinely wants to “support” a young, female, protege by a means which ends up completely undermining her main claim to esteem? With no heavy-handed agenda or obvious answers, these thoughtful questions percolate throughout the book. I loved the mathematics and personal process portions of this book. Katherine is an older, professionally successful mathematician as she recounts her experiences making it full of reflection and insight. While she professes no regrets, she freely admits that she could have handled things differently — rather than put all the blame on the barriers and mistakes of others, she understands that she bears responsibility for the outcome as well. I personally didn’t enjoy the parts of the book devoted to her family discovery — they were more in a Joy Luck Club style