The Goddess of Small Victories by Yannink Grannec

goddess-of-small-victoriesLike many book bloggers and avid readers I am always on a quest to read more. Whether it is more books, more diversely, in more detail, life long readers want more. In reading more diversely one of my goals was to read more in translation. I think English readers are hesitant to read in translation because we have so much great literature to choose from already, but we may be missing out on something. So of late, I’ve been picking up books that should appeal to me and that are translations. Things have not been going well.

The Goddess of Small Victories by Yannick Grannec is one of two books in translation that I’ve read in the past weeks, and is the book I preferred. Oringially written in french, it is a novel about the mathematician Kurt Godel told largely from his wife’s point of view. He was famously ill of temper and of health, but also very good friends with Albert Einstein. All of this appeals to me on a number of levels.

But ultimately the novel fell short. Interspersed with sections I really enjoyed were long philosophical, metaphysical, and mathematical debates that were far too convoluted and long for me to really get into. In fact, by halfway through the novel I was skimming these passages, which is something I rarely do.

So like many of the other novels in translation I have attempted this year, I found The Goddess of Small Victories to be just too something for my tastes. This has lead me to consider  the role of the novel, the intellectual culture from which it has sprung and how the personality of its country in my enjoyment of the novel. Given that my french friends tend to be rather argumentative, at times pedantic and get hung up on minor points of difference, it does not surprise me that The Goddess of Small Victories read as it did.

Who would like this book? The Goddess of Small Victories is a pretty good novel. If you are interested in physics and math, I mean really interested, then this book has a lot to offer. The intricacies of quantum mechanics, relativity and Fermat’s Theorem are a little beyond me even when they are simplified as Grannec has done. But the story of Godel’s escape from the rise of Nazism in Austria, his struggles with mental health and his interactions with the likes of Einstein really is fascinating.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley for review consideration.

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14 Comments

  1. I bought it (in French) for really cheap and I’ve heard nothing but good things about it when it came out. Your point of view is really interesting and I’m curious to know if I feel the same towards the novel as you do (me being French and all) :).

  2. I’m interested in physics and math, but I’m not sure I’m really interested in them, especially when I’m reading fiction! I’m also trying to read more translated fiction, but I’m not sure this is a book I’ll be picking up.

  3. Novel sounds like it might be for me – would depend though on just how simplified the simplified mathematics is!! Am intrigued by your reference to French characteristics – in an ‘exchange of views’ with my partner at the weekend she suggested I was among other things ‘argumentative’ and ‘pedantic’. I will now phone my mother and ask if she may have made a mistake and might I be a Parisian rather than a Glaswegian?!!!

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