Prime numbers are divisible only by 1 and by themselves. They hold their place in the infinite series of natural numbers, squashed, like all numbers, between two others, but one step further than the rest. They are suspicious, solitary numbers, which is why Matttia thought they were wonderful. Sometimes he though that they had ended up in that sequence by mistake, that they’d been trapped, like pearls strung on a necklace. Other times he suspected that they too would have preferred to be like all the others, just ordinary numbers, but for some reason they couldn’t do it.
In his first year at Uni, Mattia had learned that, among prime numbers, there are some that are even more special. Mathematicians call them twin primes: pairs of prime numbers that are close to each other, almost neighbors, but between them there is always an even number that prevents them from truly touching. Numbers like 11 and 13, like 17 and 19, 451 and 453. If you have the patience to go on counting, you discover these pairs gradually become rarer. You encounter increasingly isolated pairs, lost in that silent, measured space made only of ciphers, and you develop a distressing presentiment that the pairs encounterd up untill that point were accidental, that solitude is the true destiny. Then, just when you’re about to surrender, when you no longer have the desire to go on counting, you come across another pair of twins, clutching each other tightly.
The above quote is the essence of this beautiful, heart-wrenching, poignant debut novel by Italian Paolo Giordano about two lonely people rejected by the world around them – Alice Della Rocca and Mattia Balossino – whose lives intertwine in a “defective and asymmetrical friendship”.
I had gone from terminal to terminal scouring bookstores on a recent trip with a long layover when the title of this novel beckoned me over. I was impressed that the author was a young physicist working on his doctorate in particle physics; and further impressed that he had won Italy’s premier literary award, the Premio Strega, with this his first novel. The youngest winner, at age 27! For what is a hobby to him! It also helped that he appeared attractive on the cover. What?
I loved this book. Most of us have had embarrassing experiences at one point or another in our childhood that continue to affect our worldview later on in life. But this novel with its damaged characters shows how a traumatic childhood can scar and cripple a person for life, emotionally as well as physically. I’m not going to give a synopsis. Suffice it to say that the novel caught my attention from page one and didn’t let go until way after I was done. Bravo Signore Giordano!