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The Mathematician's Shiva

3.76  ·  Rating details ·  2,320 ratings  ·  415 reviews
A comic, bittersweet tale of family evocative of The Yiddish Policemen’s Union and Everything Is Illuminated

Alexander "Sasha" Karnokovitch and his family would like to mourn the passing of his mother, Rachela, with modesty and dignity. But Rachela, a famous Polish émigré mathematician and professor at the University of Wisconsin, is rumored to have solved the
Paperback, 370 pages
Published September 2nd 2014 by Penguin Books
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Average rating 3.76  · 
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 ·  2,320 ratings  ·  415 reviews

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Elyse (semi hiatus) Walters
Aug 18, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Update: $1.99 Kindle special today! This is a seriously great deal. A very intelligent -funny as hell- sparkling novel.

REALLY really fantastic!!! One of the best books of 2014

I know Stuart has a new novel out soon --- If you have been considering reading this 'award' winning novel -- now might be a good time to grab it. The price will go back up. You can be certain.

pDv/Dt = Vp + V . T + f
"Yes, OK, reader, I know you are probably sweating almost instantly at the site of such a thing.
You are
Jan Rice
Nov 26, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Sometimes I'll walk past my old house with my stepsons or my grandchildren when we're on our way to Vilas Park and I'll just stop, look up, and reminisce, and try to think how I could possibly explain all that happened inside to these people who are so utterly American. I can't do it. Maybe when they'll read this book they'll understand just a bit of what it was about.

Yes, they will understand better. Even though this is fiction, it feels so real. It's we who'll understand more.

The book has a
May 16, 2015 rated it it was amazing
What a sparkling novel- it jumps with life. And it is unique too, IMHO. Beautiful World tells us about a Mathematician. This is different than just the biography of an intellect. It details not only the world of Academia in Mathematics (seated in Midwest America), but also the story of an immigrant Russian Jewish through Poland family. Our narrator is the single son telling of his Mother's death and shiva. There are at least 10 characters of excellent reveal in this novel. The writing is ...more
May 14, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: award-winners
This book has received substantial critical acclaim, and the 2014 National Jewish Book Award for best debut novel. It's a shame that it is not more widely read. It's well written, funny, heart-wrenching, and intellectual. A wonderful book club choice. Rachela Karnokovitch is one of the greatest math geniuses in history. Born in the USSR, her life is shaped by the harsh life in a Soviet gulag in Siberia, where her mother dies and she and her father starve. Rachela is convinced that hardship and ...more
"…smart people do stupid things far more often than most people realize."

This beautifully conceived novel revolves around the death of a world-class mathematician and the resolution of a proof about turbulence, or the chaotic movement of air and water in the atmosphere during a hurricane.
"Actually, it is more than this. The big D in the Navier-Stokes equation is called the material derivative, and it refers to watching velocities of fluids change not from a fixed reference frame but from one in
Nov 17, 2017 rated it really liked it
Although the word Shiva conjures a Hindu deity, it is also a term used for the seven days of mourning following the death of a loved one, a Jewish coda for they who practice the faith.

'Shiva' is also a word that New Yorkers use to describe the intense cold they feel. At least it sounds that way. But I digress. Apologies.

The Mathematician in the title is a literary device to demonstrate the reactions to a death by people who are personally unfamiliar with the newly deceased family member. The
May 06, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
Math was certainly never one of my subjects. While I scored well on some qualifying exams years later in adulthood, I could barely pull a C in high school without a lot of interference run by friends. Perhaps it was a strong instinct in spacial relations. My brother on the other hand has a master’s in applied mathematics and I’m guessing used all kinds of acoustic related equations in his development of a software program that predicts weather underwater - current direction and speed. His ...more
Jul 22, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: jewish
4 stars. This was different, but totally captivating. I first spotted this book on Goodreads somewhere, and later saw it had been a Book of the Month pick for the Jewish Book Club awhile back. I don't know if anyone reviewed it, but I will add my review to the list. I also picked it as one of my four choices for my personal prosperity challenge. This was a good solid read. Its just interesting to note. When my prosperity books were ordered by rating, highest to lowest, this ended up almost at ...more
Maggie Anton
Dec 22, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: jewish, funny
Those who regularly read my Goodreads updates know I rarely give 5 star reviews. But I not only greatly enjoyed reading this book [a debut novel, no less], I found no flaws worth mentioning. Funny, poignant, clever, delightful, and exciting, with an amazing array of fascinating and fabulous characters. Nice to read a book with a heroic Jewish mother who's a genius and feminist for a change. Most authors are lucky to manage one flashback well, but Stuart Rojstaczer succeeded at taking me back and ...more
Sep 21, 2014 rated it liked it
This story is narrated by Alexander (“Sasha”) Karnokovitch, whose famous mathematics-prodigy mother died when Sasha was 51. It is now ten years later, and he is recalling the circus created by her death. Rachela Karnokovitch was a Polish Russian Jew who had studied under the great Russian mathematician Kolmogorov. [Kolmogorov is famous for many advances in mathematical theory, including some related to random processes and the effects of turbulence.]

It had been rumored that Sasha’s mother,
Sep 24, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction, 2014, giveaways
I am not a numbers person at all. So, when I received my Goodreads Giveaway copy of Stuart Rojstaczer’s The Mathematician’s Shiva, I was a little skeptical. Luckily, I found this novel thoroughly entertaining.

Told with self-deprecating humor and warmth, this is the story of Sasha’s mother Rachaela, her defection from the Soviet Union to the United States, and her struggle as a Jewish female in the field of mathematics. Though she dies early in the book, we get to know her through her journal
Aug 04, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: first-reads
This is one of the best books I've read in a long time. It has everything in it: Soviet prison camps, World War II sagas, Holocaust survival, immigrant experiences growing up in the US, Soviet defection of artists to the U.S., mathematical geniuses and child prodigies, Jewish and Christian religious activities, Yiddish, Polish and Russian spoken by a parrot, hidden treasures and secret solutions to grand mysteries. And that's barely scratching the surface of a book filled with so much life even ...more
Mar 31, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This book is very original as others have noted. I loved it. It's a big story, or rather several stories layered or woven together. I wish I had paid more attention to it when it came out as I would have gone out of my way to attend a book event with Stuart R (check out his website/blog where he acknowledges few people can spell his last name, let alone pronounce it). I wish Stuart R would finish that second novel he keeps promising but he is a busy guy. I am "following" him now on GR and see ...more
Suanne Laqueur
Aug 07, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Loved it. So much fun. I confess, one look at the cover and I knew I was in. This is a smart, smart book that doesn't make you feel dumb, even in the real mathematical sections. Maybe I didn't understand every technical word, but the narrator never lost me on emotion. Great writing (remember I'm not a fan of first-person POV, but I can't see this written any other way). Great characters, a story that shouldn't have interested me but totally did. Fascinating look at the Jewish culture and the ...more
Apr 23, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction, math
I've recently had an interesting experience reading three semi-related books,The Infinite Tides, The Mathematician's Shiva, and The Martian. I didn't choose to purposefully read them this way, but I have enjoyed reading them in succession and thinking about how they are related. The Infinite Tides has themes of both math and space; The Martian is clearly space-themed, while The Mathematician's Shiva is clearly math-themed. Reading them in this serendipitous order has led me to think about each ...more
Aug 02, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: giveaway-wins
I won this in a GR Giveaway for an honest review.

This is a warm, forgiving family story of loyalties, misunderstandings, togetherness. Woven in between is an immigration story of change, acceptance and fitting into one's world.
The humour is low key and wonderful. I loved the side comments and sarcastic remarks sprinkled throughout. I like that the characters accepted each other and realized that perfection is not a human trait and that this is okay.
Circling over everything is the math. There
Dan Downing
Sep 23, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I spent part of today, the day I finished this book, putting in some time at a local hospital. One of the staff I worked with was Katie D., from Wisconsin. How often do I meet someone from that far cold flat state? Not at all.
But here I was, reading "The Mathematician's Shiva", set mostly in Wisconsin, full of Russians, Jews, mathematicians and people who know the difference between mathematics and arithmetic. Full also of warmth, humor, ethnicity and observations on the American character which
Oct 31, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: general-fiction
Rachela Karnokovitch, the world's greatest female mathematician (and why just female? she wants to know) is dying in Madison, Wisconsin, where she taught for so many years. Her only child, her son Sasha, is at her bedside. She has a small family, which wants to mourn her quietly, but half the mathematicians in the world descend on her funeral and decide to stay for the Jewish ritual seven day mourning period, the shiva. Oh, they're grieving, too, Sasha knows--but they also think that Rachela may ...more
Feb 13, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: must-read
This book was not what I was expecting. That said, the more I read the more I was pulled into the story ~ the more it moved up in stars. Getting to know the characters, especially Rachels Karnokovitch, through the eyes of other built a relationship with the reader that takes time. I felt as if I have known these people much longer that the time spent reading the book. The world of mathematicians can be a bit crazy at times, but there is a bond that keeps them together ~ a bit of a love-hate ...more
 Nyarlathotep Twelfth Month The Haunted Reading Room

When I was a young child reading (elementary-age), I suddenly determined I detested literary fiction, and would never again try to read any. I am ashamed to say this unwarranted conclusion was based on a single book, John Steinbeck' s THE WINTER OF OUR DISCONTENT, which I found unbearably depressing. So I missed out on such authors as Thomas Pynchon, John Updike, Mr. Steinbeck, Norman Mailer, John Irving. In 2013I bought Mr. Pynchon' s long-awaited comeback,
Jan 26, 2018 rated it really liked it
I kept thinking about all the possible worlds we might inhabit while I was reading this warm and engaging novel - an overarching world described by mathematics, an academic community, a family, a midwestern town, and most poignant, the lost world of Eastern European Jews. I wasn't always sure where the book was going, but I enjoyed the characters and the mixture of intellect and emotion.

Robert Intriago
May 25, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, 2015
At times a very funny book and at others a very reflective book about life in Russia during WW II and while Stalin ruled. There are two stories within the book. One is the present: the death of Rachela, a brilliant Jewish/Russian mathematician at the University of Wisconsin. As a result her son has to deal with all her co-mathematicians and family wanting to attend the Jewish ceremony of Shiva. This part of the book is hilarious as the mathematicians are there to solely honor Rachela but to ...more
Apr 24, 2017 rated it it was ok
I was so excited about this book because I found it in the CS Theory Lab, so I assume one of my colleagues in grad school read it. Sadly, I couldn't enjoy it at all.

The set-up is tantalizing - a world famous mathematician dies, leaving behind the mystery of whether or not she proved a famous problem, and if so, where she left the proof, leaving her family to cope with the grief of her loss while trying to deal with the madness of enthusiastic mathematicians who fly down to their house from all
Oct 03, 2014 rated it really liked it
I really loved this book…probably the best new novel since Lahiri's "The Lowland," and the best debut novel I've read since…I don't even know. It's ballsy, asking literary-minded people to read about mathematicians, but if you can get past that bias (tough, for me), then there's so much to like about this book, not the least of which is exactly that issue: the creative vs. the analytical mind, and the idea that there's not nearly as much mutual exclusivity as we sometimes think. I'll admit, I ...more
Nov 06, 2014 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: My dad. Who is getting a copy from me as a birthday present.
This is a book about people, about families (blood and found) and family rituals, about the ties that bind and the wedges that separate. It's steeped in eastern-European Jewish culture, and math and physical science as metaphor, but I think it would be enjoyable by anyone - but especially enjoyable to those, like me, with links to both the culture and the science.

There are a lot of partial parallels with my own life and family, but none precise; for example, my father is a (retired, now)
May 17, 2015 rated it it was ok
Man Oh Manishewitz.... It was a relief to finish this book in which the most interesting character was the dead one, but whose story was relayed by such a stilted narrator that it made the seven days a real trial. Too many minor characters crowd what could have been a very interesting generational story with a complicated heroine at the core. Even Pascha the Parrot deserved more attention, and it was one of the two reasons I continued to read this book hoping the Parrot conceit would evolve more ...more
Jan 06, 2015 rated it really liked it
This is not my typical style of reading but every once in a while I do like to branch out and try no books and I love checking out new authors.

So glad that I did take a chance on this book. It is a gem. Like finding a friend. Instantly I formed a bond with Sasha, his mother, and the other mathematicians. Each of the mathematicians were different in their own way but this uniqueness brought dimension to the story as a whole. As the story progressed I felt like a close member of the circle of
Oct 05, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I'm going to keep this review short so I'm not tempted to give away parts that you need to read for yourself. I loved this book, plain and simple.

This is a book that will make you laugh out loud, make you smile and keep turning pages long into the night. It is the kind of book you want to talk about with the neighbour you've never spoken to or the guy on the bus next to you, because it is so good you just want people to know.

Read it.

The characters are so vibrant and alive and the family
Dec 18, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2014
Really a 3 1/2 for me. I liked this book, the writing is good, there were some brilliant passages and the subject matter is certainly unique. For me there were just to many times when it dragged and I found myself skimming. I also found the romance that developed late in the novel to be unbelievable, and indicative of some of the other relationships in the book - abrupt, undeveloped, and hard to believe.
Mar 10, 2017 marked it as abandoned
Unfortunately i did not find the humour that others did reading this book. I gave it 80 pages & then decided to move on.
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Stuart Rojstaczer is an American writer, scientist and musician. Raised in Milwaukee, he received degrees from the University of Wisconsin, University of Illinois and Stanford University. He is a former Duke University geophysics professor, and has lived in Israel, Italy and throughout the United States. His parents were Polish-Jewish, post-WWII immigrants. He has written about education for the ...more
“Her craziness was happily wed to her intellect. There are no reasonable geniuses in this world, I am convinced.” 16 likes
“We expect and demand people to maintain bonds with family. It doesn’t matter whether you love or hate your relatives, even ones you’ve legally divorced. As long as there are children involved, you stick together.” 10 likes
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