The Goddess of Small Victories by Yannick Grannec (4 out of 5)
This one comes courtesy of Jeff at Other Press. Jeff, thank you for sending me the gorgeous copy and the wonderful note, and giving me the chance to read this book. I really, really enjoyed it. Oddly enough, it’s the third book in three weeks that has mathematics as a core part of the plot. Maybe math is the new cool? Ha ha, wouldn’t that be awesome? Anyhow, this book is awesome, and yes, another debut novel. I love discovering new authors. I can’t wait for her next book.
Princeton University in 1980 finds Anna Roth, a young librarian who’s sent to retrieve the papers and records of world renowned mathematician Kurt Godel. Kurt, as written by Grannec, is a reclusive, extremely private, stylish, and somewhat shy man who lives to apply logic and math to everyday life. The only part where his true self shines through is in his courtship and marriage to Adele, the vibrant, polar opposite who ends up being his soul mate, confidante, and wife for the remainder of his life. First, before Anna can get the papers (and hopefully some answers to long asked questions and mysteries, among other things), she has to get past Adele. This may take some doing. Adele’s in a home, not in the greatest health, and in her waning years, has her memories to keep her warm many nights. Relinquishing her beloved’s papers to a young lady who knows nothing of Kurt and his life, passion for math, and passion in general? Unacceptable! Anna finds out that Adele may the toughest nut she has to crack in her young career. Adele’s also hellbent on revenge against the establishment, who she believes just wants the papers so they can steal Kurt’s glory. Anna ends up visiting Adele almost every day, and the women build a cautious, eventually gratifying friendship that brings Adele some relief after her pent-up emotions have gone in check, while also enabling her to relive her glorious memories of her beloved husband. There’s a lot of history covered in this book, too, in Adele’s descriptions of Austria after the occupation by the Nazis, in the birth of nuclear weaponry, and McCarthyism at its best (or worst, depending on your viewpoint). It’s quite a story, not just Kurt’s, but Adele’s before and after Godel enters her life and shakes her foundations. It’s quite a story, told by quite the heroine, an aging, somewhat bitter and cynical old lady who’s really still more than a little in love with her deceased husband and facing the end of her own, incredible life. I didn’t bond as much with Anna’s character. I felt she was a little immature in her approach to Adele and in hearing the incredible history laid out to her. By the end of the book, when you see that she truly grew to love Adele in her own way, well, then I didn’t want to beat her so much, and I actually learned to like her character a bit more.
What’s not to like about this? Well, not much. I felt that as much as Kurt Godel is a huge part of the plot, I felt like he continued to remain a bit of a mystery, despite Adele’s lucid and all-encompassing story. Adele is so vividly painted, perhaps the quiet mathematician gets shadowed a bit behind her. But really, that’s all the complaining I have, right there. I loved this book. It was incredibly easy to get into, it keeps your attention all the way through, and as Adele’s memories grow stronger as her life begins to fade, your heart breaks for her. Yet it can’t! For she has found the most unlikely friendship of all- with the young librarian sent to get Kurt’s papers for the university. And that friendship bands the strongest part of the book, along with Adele’s reliving of her glorious past, for Anna’s benefit. It’s easy to read, you love Adele, you learn to love Anna, there’s no way in hell you aren’t going to love this book.