Following the death of his eccentric mother, the famous mathematician Rachela Karnokovitch, a meteorologist must deal with a flock of her colleagues desperate to lay their hands on her rumored masterpiece.
As we learn in excerpts from her unpublished memoir, Rachela was a Polish native who discovered the wonders of math as a child living in the Soviet work camp where her father served time. Schooled in Moscow, she defected to the U.S., where her star quickly rose at the University of Wisconsin. Her middle-aged son, Sasha, has made his own mark, albeit in a quieter way, as head of a research program at the University of Alabama. A low-key sort who has never quite overcome his mistake of a marriage, Sasha is unprepared for the onslaught of his mother's old friends—and enemies—at her home in Madison. While ostensibly paying their respects by sitting shiva, the Jewish mourning ritual, they go through drawers, rip up floorboards and even listen intently to the family's aged parrot for clues to where Rachela has hidden her solution to the Navier-Stokes equation. Though Rojstaczer doesn't have the spikey wit of Gary Shteyngart or the inventiveness of Michael Chabon, his steadiness and empathy are appealing in their own ways. A geophysicist, he brings an added dimension to the book's discussions of scientific matters. He's very good at exploring the apparent divide between genius and happiness as well as the intersection of cultures.
An enjoyable debut, the book is distinguished by a fluid, lyrical style that is equally at home with serious and comic matters.