Saturday, September 15, 2007


Bloomsbury NZ$38

I have been felling guilty at the length of time this title has been in the pile beside my bed waiting to be read.

As this review has appeared overnight in the New York Times, from where the author pic by Tanya Trebitt also came, I am going to post it now for your interest raher than wait for my own review.

Here it is:

In the most common type of historical novel, invented characters inhabit a real place at a particular point in time. They may fight in the Civil War, or watch the Kennedy assassination on a black-and-white TV, but they live in an essentially separate space, and the author may decide which real events (if any) should touch their lives.

The second type, rarer in so-called literary fiction, is a novel about people who really existed, recreated by an author who plays with the facts, and especially the intriguing lacunae, of their lives. “The Indian Clerk,” David Leavitt’s richly imagined seventh novel, is such a book, and for several reasons Leavitt is brave to attempt it.

The Indian Clerk” is loosely structured around a lecture given by the brilliant English mathematician and Cambridge don G. H. Hardy. In 1913, as Hardy is engaged in trying to prove the Riemann hypothesis — a mathematical problem involving prime numbers that Leavitt (the author of a brief biography of the mathematician Alan Turing) seems to understand deeply and that I won’t embarrass myself by attempting to summarize — he receives a letter from one S. Ramanujan, a poor clerk working in a colonial accounts office in Madras.

Without the benefit of any formal training, Ramanujan claims to have come close to a solution to the famous problem. What little Hardy knows about India is derived from a grammar school drama pageant — a “paste and colored-paper facsimile of the exotic East, in which brave Englishmen battled natives for the cause of empire” — but on the basis of the letter, he and his collaborator, J. E. Littlewood, invite Ramanujan to come to Cambridge. While Ramanujan is living in England, war breaks out, and the young mathematician is not able to return to India for another five years.

Use this link to the full review.

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