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Paolo Giordano: The Solitude of Prime Numbers (2008)


This was my Christmas holiday reward read. While Christmassing and dissertating at the same time, I needed to read something that wouldn’t hold me down with the weight of a classic. So my mum lent me The Solitude of Prime Numbers (in its German edition, Die Einsamkeit der Primzahlen). I read it in two days.

Well, it didn’t hold me down with the weight of a classic, but it is pretty harrowing in some aspects. The novel tells the stories of Mattia and Alice. Mattia feels responsible for the disappearance of his mentally handicapped twin sister, whom he left alone for an afternoon to go to a classmate’s birthday party as a small boy. Alice had a ski accident as a small girl and has a stiff leg as a consequence. Both are outsiders, ‘prime numbers’, so to speak. Mattia hurts himself in all possible ways. Alice becomes anorexic.

While Mattia shuts everyone out and seems to be the most content on his own – he is completely unable to form a social relationship – Alice continues to compete for other people’s love and admiration. It is only when the two of them are together that they seem as close to being happy as they could possibly be, given their burdens and traumas.  Still, these burdens prevent them from making a life together.

The Solitude of Prime Numbers follows them as they become adults; Mattia is a brilliant mathematician investigating prime numbers, and Alice becomes a photographer. Both are lonely in their own ways. Only at the very end did I get the impression that they are headed towards healing their wounds, although they will never heal completely.

Those who know me also know that I’m really not into Young Adult literature. The first part of The Solitude of Prime Numbers, however, is almost a YA novel, dealing with all the issues that can make the life of a teenager miserable (or enjoyable, but not in this novel) – bullying, in and outgroup dynamics, first sexual experiences and rejection, and so forth. Even so I enjoyed it, although I enjoyed the second part, the story of their adulthood, more. The profound sadness of the story gripped me completely, and it was only at the hopeful end that I took a relieved breath. Perfect for a holiday read.

Evaluation: 7/10

German title: Die Einsamkeit der Primzahlen
Spanish title: La soledad de los números primos


Author: bettinathenomad

Nomad. International Relations geek. Reader. Feminist. Swimmer. Boulderer. Runner. Hiker. Not necessarily in that order.

2 thoughts on “Paolo Giordano: The Solitude of Prime Numbers (2008)

  1. You’re the first person I recall mentioning a YA-like feel to part of this novel, Bettina, so I’m relieved to hear you liked it despite that. Really wanted to read this a few years ago but am increasingly kind of indifferent to it the more I learn about it. Anyway, one of these days, maybe…

    • To be honest, I never would’ve read it had my Mother not given it to me. I have to say I was actually pleasantly surprised, but I still think overall it’s… dispensable. A good read, but not a “must read”. 😉

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