When I spied Stuart Rojstaczer 2014 novel The Mathematician’s Shiva first the title caught my eye. After that, it was its cool cover art. In the end however, it was it the premise that sold me. It’s horrible enough Alexander “Sasha” Karnokovitch has to deal with the recent death of his mother Rachela, a famous Polish émigré mathematician and professor at the University of Wisconsin. But when word gets out she’s possibly solved the million-dollar, Navier-Stokes Millennium Prize problem (imagine the Nobel Prize for mathematics) mathematicians from around the world descend upon the late Rachela’s home, hoping against hope she left notes proving she solved it as opposed to taking its secrets to the grave. So much for a quiet, dignified, private Shiva with family in frigid Madison, Wisconsin.
The Mathematician’s Shiva is another of 2018’s pleasant surprises. It’s funny in a dark, train wreck kind of way. Just because a family might be highly educated and accomplished, it doesn’t automatically mean it’s happy. If Tolstoy taught us taught anything, it’s that every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. And the Karnokovitchs are no exception.
I gotta hand it to Rojstaczer, he’s written a heck of a debut novel. No wonder it won a half-dozen or so awards including National Jewish Book Award for Outstanding Debut Fiction. There’s a strong likelihood you’ll see it included in my year-end Best Fiction List in a couple of weeks.