Equilateral: Book summary and reviews of Equilateral by Ken Kalfus

Equilateral

By Ken Kalfus

Equilateral

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Book Summary

Equilateral is an intellectual comedy set just before the turn of the century in Egypt. A British astronomer, Thayer, high on Darwin and other progressive scientists of the age, has come to believe that beings more highly evolved than us are alive on Mars (he has evidence) and that there will be a perfect moment in which we can signal to them that we are here too. He gets the support and funding for a massive project to build the Equilateral, a triangle with sides hundreds of miles long, in the desert of Egypt in time for that perfect window. But as work progresses, the Egyptian workers, less evolved than the British, are also less than cooperative, and a bout of malaria that seems to activate at the worst moments makes it all much more confusing and complex than Thayer ever imagined. We see Thayer also through the eyes of two women - a triangle of another sort - a romantic one that involves a secretary who looks after Thayer but doesn't suffer fools, and Binta, a houseservant he covets but can't communicate with - and through them we catch sight of the depth of self-delusion and the folly of the enterprise.

Equilateral is written with a subtle, sly humor, but it's also a model of reserve and historical accuracy; it's about many things, including Empire and colonization and exploration; it's about "the other" and who that other might be. We would like to talk to the stars, and yet we can barely talk to each other.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"Kalfus wittily skewers the Europeans' cosmic fantasies before reaching the ambiguous ending, which somewhat strains credibility but befits the story's equal attention to the wonder of prospective first contact and absurdity of human self-delusion." - Publishers Weekly

"Kalfus's previous novel, A Disorder Peculiar to the Country, won raves…and garnered a National Book Award nomination…. [Equilateral] takes a big step forward with stylistic elegance and deeper insights into human nature." - Booklist

"Starred Review. Kalfus maps the boundary between science and mysticism while simultaneously muddying, in a way the 20th century soon would, the previously bright line between scientific certainty and arrogant, self-deluded error." - Kirkus

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Ken Kalfus is the author of two novels, The Commissariat of Enlightenment and A Disorder Peculiar to the Country, which was a finalist for the 2006 National Book Award. He's also published two collections of stories, Thirst and Pu-239 and Other Russian Fantasies, a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award. His books have been translated into more than ten foreign languages. He lives in Philadelphia.

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