An alternative-history of Benoit Mandelbrot, a famed Jewish mathematician who survived the Nazi occupation of France during WW2. This is a story woven with religion, coming of age, and magical calculations.
Mandelbrot’s family is pushed west by the advancing German army, from Warsaw to Paris to Tulle. His once-mentor uncle is able to escape with his family to a professorship in America, but Benoit’s family must stay and see if they can weather the persecution. The family survives on the money from his mother’s hidden dental practice and his father’s tailoring. But Benoit feels the best way to help the family is through his gift. One that he knows will in some way be nurtured and help the new France after the war.
At just 125 pages, I flew through this novella over the course of a short afternoon. The small dose of magical realism and high-level mathematics provides a special uniqueness in this story of survival. Benoit’s inner thoughts and feelings are true to that of a young man trying to figure out his place in the world. He’s selfish at times, as are all teens, but finds the will to see past himself and help others. This transition is beautifully described in Ziemska’s writing.
I will be telling many people about this one, especially my math teacher colleagues.