cover image One Hundred Twenty-One Days

One Hundred Twenty-One Days

Michele Audin, trans. from the French by Christiana Hills. Deep Vellum (Consortium, dist.), $14.95 trade paper (162p) ISBN 978-1-941920-32-9

In this remarkable first novel from Oulipo member Audin, the lives of French and German mathematicians serve as vectors, but the enduring tragedy of the two world wars remains unsolvable: a "zone of ambiguity, the grey zone." Pieced together from journal entries, letters, newspaper clippings, notes, and interview transcripts, the stories of Robert Gorenstein and Christian M. begin similarly: both are young, talented French mathematicians who are wounded in action during WWI, and both fall in love with the same young nurse, Marguerite. Deeply Catholic, Marguerite refuses to marry the Jewish Gorenstein, despite her feelings for him, and chooses a life with Christian, who is prone to rage and increasingly sympathetic to Nazism. In a fit of madness, Gorenstein commits an unspeakable crime, but even lifelong confinement in an asylum doesn't prevent him from continuing to amass professional achievements; his academic correspondents come to include Andr%C3%A9 Silberberg, another French-Jewish mathematician whose life is imperiled by the Occupation. Audin's smart, deeply empathetic text is enriched by recurrences, coincidences, and invocations of European poetry, including Dante's Inferno and Faust, since numbers alone cannot make sense of the war's aftermath: the lives senselessly ended, spared, or quietly destroyed, like Silberberg's erstwhile girlfriend, Gorenstein's niece, who after the war's end "always lived alone." Audin's focus is on "the private events... do they not form a sort of chain that holds the threads together%E2%80%94the very fabric of history?" (May)