I really enjoyed this book and it is kind of hard to put my finger on why. In this debut novel – Giordano tells the story of Alice and Mattia, each tragic in their own ways. Using each chapter to tell the story from each of the character’s point of view was genius. Alice and Mattia – children growing up in Italy - have terrible burdens to bear and are each very lonely and isolated people. Giordano is quite good at letting us into their brains to see why it is they do what they do.
The book is a lovely and at times dark coming of age story – starting in 1983 and closing in 2007. Alice is pushed by her dad (quite overbearing) to become a skiing superstar. A tragic skiing accident leaves her scarred and with a limp. Of course she wants to fit in – but children being how children can be – she is taunted and teased and ridiculed.
Mattia is a twin. His sister, Michaela, is developmentally disabled and he is a genius. Strangely (to my American eyes) he and his sister are placed in the same classes at school – as he seems to be the only person that can control her “fits”. His parents insist that he take Michaela with him everywhere that he goes. He is embarrassed and is barely liked and the “burden” of his sister does nothing to improve his standing. While heading to a birthday party, something tragic happens to Michaela and Mattia turns even further into himself.
By chance, they cross paths in high school and an odd friendship grows. Each still withdraws into them self– but they also allow each other to be a part of their lives. They are prime number – numbers only divisible by themselves – but in their solitude they form a bond.
This was a great debut novel and the fact that it was originally written in Italian is even more astounding. 27-year-old author, Paolo Girodano is a physicist by trade – he makes math fascinating and exceedingly readable. The English version is wonderful and loses nothing in translation. Lonely is lonely in any language.