Saturday, January 3, 2009

The Indian Clerk

Disorder. David Leavitt takes historical figures and facts of the early 20th century in England, and weaves a complicated story of personal relationships and mathematical genius on the pages of his novel, The Indian Clerk. The title refers to Srinivasa Ramanujan, who in 1913 from his accounts clerk desk in Madras, India, sent a nine-page letter about prime numbers to Cambridge mathematician G.H. Hardy. Hardy and his colleague J.E. Littlewood recognize Ramanujan’s talent and agree that he should come to Cambridge. Once there, he and Hardy work hard on math proofs. The orderliness of math contrasts well with the disorderliness of the relationships in this book. Genius can always be difficult in their personal relationships, and the many geniuses in The Indian Clerk make for lively and complicated relationships. Lovers of math will find the formulas in the book and their discussions to be intriguing. For the rest of us, there’s sadness about all the personal aspects of unfulfillment in the emotional lives of all the key characters. Husbands and wives are estranged; lovers are separated; homosexuality is closeted and Ramanujan dies an early death for a reason that could have been avoided if the selfish Hardy had paid more attention. For those readers who reach the end of the book with questions about what was fact and what was fiction, Leavitt provides a final section of the book that sorts much of that out.

Rating: Three-star (Recommended)

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