Princeton University 1980. Kurt Gödel, the most fascinating, though hermetic, mathematician of the twentieth century, has just died of anorexia. His widow, Adele, a fierce woman shunned by her husband’s colleagues because she had been a cabaret dancer, is now consigned to a nursing home. To the great annoyance of the Institute of Advanced Studies, she refuses to hand over Gödel’s precious records. Anna Roth, the timid daughter of two mathematicians who are part of the Princeton clique, is given the difficult task of befriending Adele and retrieving the documents from her. As Adele begins to notice Anna’s own estrangement from her milieu and starts to trust her, she opens the gates of her memory and together they travel back to Vienna during the Nazi era, Princeton right after the war, the pressures of McCarthyism, the end of the positivist ideal, and the advent of nuclear weapons. It is this epic story of a genius who could never quite find his place in the world, and the determination of the woman who loved him, that will eventually give Anna the courage to change her own life.
This book was put into my hands by one of the lovely people from Other Press at BEA 2014. I read it months ago but the whole house buying thing messed up my usual blogging schedule. So I’m getting caught up on reviews! I am so happy I stopped by Other Press’s booth because I left with a few books and they have all been fantastic! This was my favorite though.
The writing was elegant but not overdone. I found myself underlining whole passages because they were just so pretty. I remember when I first picked it up I meant to only read a few pages and then get dinner started. Those few minutes turned into a couple hours and the boyfriend ended up cooking that night.
The story also captured my attention from the start. It’s funny because when I was in school I could not stand anything relating to math or science. Now I read/watch a lot of things on both subjects and find it really interesting. So while this book doesn’t go into technical things or anything like that, it does focus a lot on Kurt Godel’s life as an academic and his friendship with Einstein and other really smart people. In high school I don’t think I would have been able to appreciate just how wonderful this book was.
I loved the way this story was told too. Anna is visiting an elderly, sick Adele, at first just to get some important papers that had belonged to Kurt. But she ends up really needing Adele’s friendship. Adele at times reminded me of one of my grandmas-never afraid to speak her mind even if it isn’t what you’d expect an elderly woman to say.
And in the end this really was a love story. A true life love story with ups and downs, good times and bad times, especially as both people get older and sicker and there isn’t a lot more to look forward to. This is a work of fiction, but it does use real facts from Adele and Kurt’s life together.
I highly recommend this book. I need to buy myself a published version since I only have the ARC version.
Title: The Goddess of Small Victories
Author: Yannick Grannec
Date of Publication: 2014
Source: BEA 2014