Book review: The Tenth Muse

The Tenth MuseThis is a review of The Tenth Muse by Catherine Chung,
that I posted on Goodreads.

The notion of the tenth muse, who is reborn in every generation as a mortal gifted woman drew me to read this book. The protagonist, Katherine, was a brilliant child. Growing up as a biracial girl in the fifties, her childhood was complicated by prejudice and discouragement at school. Fascinated by math, she excelled in it at college and made remarkable progress as a graduate student at MIT. Although Katherine is a fictional character, her struggle seemed real.
The first half of the novel was a quick and interesting read. Invested in the progress of Katherine’s academic career, I expected to find out how she triumphed over hardships and obstacles until she became a prominent mathematician, one who many years later was invited to MIT to respond to Lawrence Summers’ “infamous speech on the natural abilities (or lack thereof) of women in the sciences.”
The novel ended without answering this question. This, by itself wouldn’t be a problem, if the story did not lose cohesion around the middle, when Katherine began to search for her roots. As I hate spoilers, I’ll only say that the second half of the novel was a quick succession of scenes that stretched all over the world (more precisely US, Europe and Asia), went back and forth in time, and too often required a complete suspension of disbelief. Some incidents might have made more sense if they were given enough space and context. As it was, I read the novel to the end, but I wish I didn’t, because it only confused me what the story was about.

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