Summary and book reviews of The Tenth Muse by Catherine Chung

The Tenth Muse

A Novel

by Catherine Chung

The Tenth Muse by Catherine Chung X
The Tenth Muse by Catherine Chung
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    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Jun 2019, 304 pages
    Paperback:
    Apr 2020, 304 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Michael Kaler
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About this Book

Book Summary

In The Tenth Muse, Catherine Chung offers a gorgeous, sweeping tale about legacy, identity, and the beautiful ways the mind can make us free.

The first thing I remember being said of me with any consistency was that I was intelligent—and I recognized even then that it was a comment leveled at me with as much disapproval as admiration. Still, I never tried to hide or suppress my mind as some girls do, and thank God, because that would have been the beginning of the end.

From childhood, Katherine knows she is different, and that her parents are not who they seem to be. But in becoming a mathematician, she must face the most human of problems—who is she? What is the cost of love, and what is the cost of ambition? 

On her quest to conquer the Riemann Hypothesis, the greatest unsolved mathematical problem of her time, she turns to a theorem with a mysterious history that holds both the lock and key to her identity, and to secrets long buried during World War II in Germany. Forced to confront some of the most consequential events of the twentieth century and rethink everything she knows of herself, she strives to take her place in the world of higher mathematics and finds kinship in the stories of the women who came before her—their love of the language of numbers connecting them across generations.

Chapter 1

THERE IS NOTHING AS INTRIGUING AS A LOCKED door. Which is why in 1900 when David Hilbert presented the first of his twenty-three unsolved mathematical problems in his address to the Second International Congress of Mathematicians in Paris, he changed the course of scientific inquiry, and thereby the course of the world. Twenty-three locked doors to beguile the foremost minds of his time: twenty-three locked doors to stand in front of and circle throughout the century. To this day, twelve of these problems remain unsolved. In my youth, I dreamed of scaling the heights myself and drawing forth a solution—as gleaming and perfect as Excalibur. One day, I told myself, I would open one of Hilbert's fabled doors—join the honors class of mathematicians who have conquered one of those twenty-three problems, whose names will be known throughout time.

I've lived long enough to know now that no matter what one's contributions, one falls in and out of favor. Even Hilbert, ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Introspective and affecting, Catherine Chung's The Tenth Muse charts one Chinese-American woman's fraught attempt to succeed in a field dominated by sexism and racism. An absorbing life story of pain, perseverance and triumph that establishes Chung as an accomplished writer of historical fiction...continued

Full Review (802 words).

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(Reviewed by Michael Kaler).

Media Reviews

New York Times
Historical details animate the story, from Katherine’s childhood fixation with Laika, the Soviet space dog, to her admiration for women like Emmy Noether, the mathematician who made major contributions to physics and fled Nazi Germany in the 1930s. Number games and logic puzzles are embedded throughout, offering something distinctive in an absorbing summer read.

New York Journal of Books
The Tenth Muse is not a smooth, easy-going, light novel. It brings the reader on the bumpy hard path of truth and sacrifice, blood ties and betrayal, human injustice and forgiveness....[it] reminds us of the great injustices done to women in a male-dominated world. Yet the truth is never just black or white, there are shades of gray, and Katherine reflects these shades as she realizes she perhaps had other choices to make.

Booklist
Mathematics and its history, the legacy of WWII, and the struggles women face in pursuing academic success, especially in fields dominated by men, are woven into this novel that Chung renders in polished prose.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
A powerful and virtuosically researched story about the mysteries of the head and the heart.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
[P]oignant... Chung’s novel boldly illustrates that truth and beauty can reside even amid the messiest solutions.

Author Blurb Helen Oyeyemi, author of Boy, Snow, Bird and What is Not Yours Is Not Yours
Arresting in scope and its treatment of time, its prose at turns crystalline and richly balletic, this story pulls puzzle from puzzle--human, historical, and all too contemporary.

Author Blurb Téa Obreht, author of The Tiger's Wife
Catherine Chung has written a deft, spellbinding emotional puzzle-box of a book, rich and intricately layered. The Tenth Muse slowly, carefully builds to turn your every expectation on its head, and reading it feels like a glimpse of what mathematics might be in the eyes of its ablest practitioners--both secret and sublime.

Author Blurb Manuel Gonzales, author of The Regional Office Is Under Attack!
Catherine Chung's gorgeous novel, The Tenth Muse, about mathematics and identity, and the cost of being a talented and ambitious woman in a world preoccupied with male success, rushed over me like a wave and carried me out to sea where, pleasantly, I drowned.

Author Blurb J. Courtney Sullivan, author of Saints for All Occasions
The Tenth Muse is a must-read. This beautiful, captivating novel has it all: A riveting family secret; a heroine ahead of her time; and a brilliant historical narrative that sheds light on the way we live now.

Reader Reviews

Hareem

Best book to cheer up
Well, I have found that this book gives a positive vibe and you stand up enthusiastic after reading it. It gives you ways to bravery and courage.

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Beyond the Book

Literary Explorations of Women in STEM

Cover of Hidden Figures by Margot Lee ShetterlyThrough a compelling fictional storyline, The Tenth Muse draws attention to the sexism that pervades high-paying STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) careers, and charts an expansive global tradition of underappreciated female trailblazers. In this, novelist Catherine Chung joins a chorus of other American women writers, spanning fiction and nonfiction, engaged in recognizing the overlooked contributions made by women in the STEM fields.

Two of the most memorable of these titles are Margot Lee Shetterly's Hidden Figures (2016) and Liza Mundy's Code Girls (2017). These works of science journalism bring to the surface repressed tales of exceptional women who aided America's scientific research. Hidden Figures narrates ...

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