What Jostein Gaarder did for philosophy, Tefkros Michailidis seems to be doing for mathematics, bringing the history of math to the mainstream in novel form. A high school teacher by trade, a translator of math-inspired fiction and non-fiction by night, and now a debut novelist, Michailidis, with Pythagorean Crimes (POLIS), continues a trend in Greece and abroad in which math plays a prime role in plot development or as a protagonist itself. Paving the way for the Greek math trend were bestselling novels Uncle Petros and Goldbach’s Conjecture: A Novel of Mathematical Obsession (Bloomsbury USA, 2001) by Apostolos Doxiadis and Turing: A Novel about Computation (MIT Press, 2003) by Christos H. Papadimitriou.
Pythagorean Crimes, set in turn-of-the-century Paris, mid-twenties Athens, and ancient Greece, explains complex mathematical principles through parallel murder mysteries which have at their root scientific jealousy and the search for truth. Stefanos and Michael are lifelong friends who meet in Paris in 1900. At a mathematics conference, a leading scholar announces one of the challenges of the 20th century: finding a method to prove a mathematical theory completely consistent. After years of work (and parties with the likes of Picasso and other math-obsessed Parisian artists), Stefanos discovers the answer, but before he can announce it to the world, he is murdered. Interspersed throughout the more contemporary story are the travails of Hippasus, another thinker who rocked the mathematical boat a little too much in his day. After discovering irrational numbers, the Pythagoreans allegedly murdered him. As one Greek critic says, “the mixing of imaginary and historical heroes in Tefkro’s book is one of his most delightful games.” All foreign rights available. For more information, contact Despina Verykokkou at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Another Greek high school teacher and author of a dozen novels, Argyris Pavliotis, explores mathematics through mystery in The Equation (Patakis). When a brilliant math student, Lucas Athanassiou, vanishes from Aristotle University, a top investigator is called in to work on the case. He soon discovers that at the time of his disappearance, the student was working on the famously complicated Navier-Stokes equation whose solution carries a one million dollar reward. Pavliotis uses a cast of characters including terrorists, real estate tycoons, math professors, and criminologists not only to solve the crime, but to shed light on the mathematical enigma. All rights available. Contact George Pantsios (email@example.com).
Ancient mathematical intrigue surfaces in Spain as well in a novel to be published this month that’s already generating advance buzz among European publishers. Written by astrophysicist Enrique Joven, Castle of the Stars (Roca) has at its center the mysterious Voynich Manuscript, an actual book written in an indecipherable language that could possibly hold the scientific and mathematical secrets of Tycho Brahe, Johannes Kepler, Copernicus, and Galileo. Héctor, a Spanish Jesuit high school science teacher and the novel’s narrator, belongs to an online group of Voynich enthusiasts who try to uncover the truth behind the document. Their investigation is impacted by the publication of a popular science book, Heavenly Intrigue (Doubleday, 2004) by Joshua and Anne-Lee Guilder, which suggests Kepler murdered Brahe to take credit for his master’s mathematical discoveries. Héctor then finds out that the solution to the Voynich Manuscript mystery may lie closer to home than he ever imagined. When his Jesuit superior tells him that a foreign real estate speculator has been scheming to close the prep school, Héctor learns the speculator is interested because the Voynich Manuscript may have been hidden in the catacombs beneath the church next door to the school. As the plot thickens, more and more Voynich enthusiasts come to light, many of whom have connections to religious, quasi-religious, and political organizations based around the world, including in the U.S. For more information, contact Bernat Fiol at Antonia Kerrigan Literary Agency (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Though his latest novel veers toward the enigma of love rather than the mysteries of math, Aleksandr Ilichevsky, a young mathematician and physicist, came to the attention of Russian critics with the publication in 2005 of a short novel called Butylka-Bottle (Nauka) that follows a mathematician through Cyprus after the collapse of the USSR. The protagonist must abandon his profession to make ends meet in any way he can, but his integrity and conscientious nature get in the way at a time when corruption invades all industries. In his latest novel, Ai-Petri (published electronically and to be published shortly in book form by Vremya), Ilichevsky writes of another young Muscovite, lovelorn and depressed, who begins an aimless journey through the Crimea. As he sets off on his wanderings, he intends to commit suicide, but the beauty of the natural world lightens his spirits and causes him to ruminate on his past rather than his death. While he contemplates his life, the memory of when he witnessed his best friend’s killing by a white sheepdog surfaces again and again, triggered by unusual reminders in the world around him. He thinks he hears his dead friend’s voice somewhere near him, and soon notices a girl of unusual beauty accompanied by a white sheepdog. After the young man befriends the girl, the dog attacks him, but the girl saves his life in a strange reversal of what had happened to his friend years before. The novel ends as the young girl inexplicably throws herself from the cabin of a funicular and falls to her death in the Ai-Petri mountains. A critic says “Ai-Petri is seething with primary forces previously unknown in our literary works.” For information on either of Ilichevsky’s novels, contact Thomas Wiedling (email@example.com).
And away from math, topping the Swedish list once again is The Pigsties, the debut novel of Finnish-born author Susanna Alakoski and winner of the 2006 August Prize for best novel of the year. Though set in Ystad, the town in southern Sweden where many of Henning Mankell’s Kurt Wallander detective stories take place, The Pigsties focuses on the town’s social issues rather than its criminal ones. The story is told from the perspective of a little girl named Leena whose Finnish parents have recently moved them into an apartment in a new housing project on the edge of town. To them, their new home with three rooms, a balcony, and parquet floors is a palace compared to the poverty to which they had become accustomed. But to the rest of the citizens, the projects are “the pigsties,” filthy dwellings filled with poor immigrants. In Leena’s voice, the author brings out the subtle contrasts between how a young girl sees the world and how the rest of the world sees her. When they awarded her the August Prize, the jury said Alakoski’s “modern depiction of class society is an infernal, yet humorous journey through an adult world, where drunkenness and a disadvantageous position rule everyday life.” Rights have been licensed in Danish (Gyldendal), Finnish (Schildts), & German (Suhrkamp). Contact Susanne Widén (firstname.lastname@example.org).