In Husain’s debut novel, a scientist and a journalist explore the history of physics in a series of fictional vignettes.
The author uses a story-within-a-story structure to place the often complex history of theoretical physics in a human context. Graduate student Sara and journalist Leo connect as they both wait for news of the discovery of the Higgs boson. As they discuss their work, Sara suggests that Leo write a novel, and she agrees to review the text. His resulting fiction, punctuated by emails between himself and Sara, makes up the body of this book. Each chapter depicts a different phase in the development of physics: for example, a young man in Georgian England reflects on how his life has changed since he discovered the works of Isaac Newton; a star-struck enthusiast awaits Albert Einstein’s arrival in New York; and a former academic attends a Nobel Prize lecture and learns to reconcile her love of theoretical science with his less-intellectual day job. Each chapter’s theme and structure are shaped by the physics concept it illustrates, and each narrator shows a passion for the subject. Much of the flowery prose in Leo’s novel is clearly deliberate on Husain’s part (“How must Sir Isaac Newton have felt when he first beheld the adamantine gates of the Empyrean and the exalted abode of the gods lay in shimmering splendor before him?”), though readers may still find some of it excessive (“How potent they are, these scribbled symbols, these dim one-dimensional projections of a multifaceted reality!”). That said, the author demonstrates her own solid understanding of physics as she translates it for nonscientists, and she makes clever use of analogy to illustrate scientific concepts. Readers will easily pick up on the parallels between Leo and Sara’s relationship and the search for an elusive theoretical particle in lines such as, “In case she quantum-tunnels out of my life, disappearing as unexpectedly as she materialized, I want to be able to find her again.”
A fictional approach to physics that captures both the substance of the theory and the passion of its practitioners.