The Tenth Muse or Not

Book: The Tenth Muse

Author: Catherine Chung

Pages: 282

Genre: Historical fiction

Rating: 9/10

Who should read this book: Math Lovers, people who like a strong female main character, people who are against patriarchal bull shit.

First of all, thank you to Harper Collins Canada for sending me this advanced copy in exchange for an honest review. The Tenth Muse releases June 18th. The story is about the life of a female mathematician, who while studying a specific problem, (the Riemann hypothesis) learns that the mother she grew up with, that left her and her dad when she was 10, wasn’t her real mother. Katherine goes on a quest to discover the truth of her past all while studying math and working on one of maths toughest problems of the day. Also while being told there was no way she would be able to solve it. Her story is powerful and inspiring, and well worth reading.

Writing – 2/2 points: Chung did a really nice job with the writing for this one. I read the whole book in a weekend. The writing was not too descriptive, just enough to be intriguing. I wasn’t bogged down by unnecessary details of the setting which was good because there was a bunch of difficult to understand math. The book is written like a memoir which I thoroughly enjoyed. The past few books I’ve read have been written with two converging timelines. So the fact that this was a linear timeline was really nice.

Hook – 2/2 points: We meet Katherine later in life, and she tells us about her life as a women growing up in the 1950’s trying to become a mathematician in a world where women were not taken seriously as academics. Her early life is interesting because she is half Chinese, and at that time, people were extremely racist toward Asians. So her mother received a lot of negativity, as did her father for marrying a Chinese woman. She eventually learns that her mother was not her real mother and begins to dig deeper into her past and try to figure out who she really is. The reason I got so hooked on this one is because I love memoirs. I love hearing the story of someone else’s life.

Historical Accuracy – 2/2 points: As far as I could tell this book was very historically accurate and well researched.

Plot – 1/2 points: The plot of this book was great except for the predictability. There were a few too many clues about what was going to happen. The story was good but there was also an unfinished part with the title. The Tenth Muse is a greek myth about the nine muses and their tenth sister that protested her intended role as a muse for someone else. She wanted to be her own muse and she wanted to help women not men. So it’s obvious that Katherine is supposed to be the embodiment of this muse, and that all the female mathematicians she idolizes are the tenth muse as well. But this point is never made. It is hinted at in the beginning of the book and then forgotten. Katherine tells her friend the story, a perfect opportunity for her friend to say “why that’s you!”, but she doesn’t. It isn’t rounded out. Maybe I missed it, I will say that, I read the book very quickly because I was very interested in the story, but I didn’t see the point of telling that story in the beginning.  This was my only problem with the book.

Feel – 2/2 points: This was a feel good, girl power, women’s lib, down with the patriarchy kind of book and I loved it. Katherine dealt with the pressure of being one of the very few women in her field with grace and strength. I was inspired by her story and also frustrated by how much of the patriarchal bullshit she dealt with in the 50’s and 60’s is still true for women today. I was cheering for her the whole time, and I rode the emotional, stressful roller coaster with her, and loved it.

Overall, I loved this book. A quick read, with an interesting story, and a beautiful way of writing. Except for that one weird Tenth Muse story…

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