cover image Half Life

Half Life

Jillian Cantor. Harper Perennial, $16.95 trade paper (416p) ISBN 978-0-06-296988-0

Cantor (In Another Time) deconstructs the life of Nobel Prize–winning scientist Marie Curie with a fascinating premise: what if Maria Skolodowska had never left Poland in 1891 to go to Paris and reinvent herself as Marie Curie? The novel begins with Marie, 66 and dying, wondering what would have happened if she had married mathematician Kazimierz Zorawski. Alternating narratives explore parallel realities of two fiercely independent women. Marya Zorawski’s world is dominated by domesticity and a Russian culture that denies women the right to an education. In the world of Marie Curie, her failed engagement to Kazimierz propels her to Paris, where she marries Pierre and has a “phosphorescent” public life. Occasional crossovers underscore how both versions of Maria are dedicated to work, love, and family. Cantor’s vivid historic background features the first Tour de France and Marie’s mobile X-ray units on the WWI front, and her fundraising visit to the U.S. adds enriching historical details. Strong secondary characters contribute to the lively story lines. Fans of Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life will want to take a look. Agent: Jessica Regel, Foundry Media, LLC. (Mar.)

Correction: An earlier version of this review misstated the title of Kate Atkinson's novel Life After Life.