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Roten av minus én [The Square Root of Minus One] (2006)
Atle Næss

There are three different levels of reality in this novel: On the one hand it is the story of Terje Huus, a Norwegian mathematician undergoing a midlife crisis. That part of the story is presented through diary entries that include an extra-marital affair he has along with his attempts to write a book about the famous mathematician Bernhard Riemann. That is framed at a higher level by the story of his family who has found his diary after his disappearance. And, within all of that, there is the story of Riemann himself, focusing more on his personal life than on his mathematical research.

The three levels are tied together in an interesting way by the titular imaginary number i. Riemann's research into the distribution of primes involves complex numbers, there is a sense in which the woman with whom Huus has an affair is like this number in that they should not exist and yet they do, and finally the family is skeptical of what is written in the diary thinking that it may well be the product of Huus' imagination. Another connection is that both Huus and Riemann suffered from depression. Norwegian Fields Medal winner Atle Selberg also makes an appearance in the novel.

I learned about this book from Peter Hertz who told me about the German translation by Gönther Frauenlob that was published in 2007. (Danke sehr, Peter!) The title for the German version was changed to Die Riemannsche Vermutung ("The Riemann Hypothesis"), presumably to emphasize the connection to the famous German mathematician.

Disclaimer: I have not actually read this book (and since I am not fluent in either Norwegian or German, I wouldn't get much out of it if I did). So, all of the information above was put together from the bits I could learn about it from a thorough internet search along with the information provided by Peter Hertz. I apologize if any of it is mistaken or misleading. If you have actually read this work of mathematical fiction, please write to let me know!

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Works Similar to Roten av minus én [The Square Root of Minus One]
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. Continuums by Robert Carr
  2. The Arnold Proof by Jessica Francis Kane
  3. The Axiom of Choice by David Corbett
  4. Bonita Avenue by Peter Buwalda
  5. Tigor (aka The Snowflake Constant) by Peter Stephan Jungk
  6. The Tenth Muse by Catherine Chung
  7. Too Much Happiness by Alice Munro
  8. The Blue Door by Tanya Barfield
  9. A Study in Seduction by Nina Rowan
  10. A Universe of Sufficient Size by Miriam Sved
Ratings for Roten av minus én [The Square Root of Minus One]:
RatingsHave you seen/read this work of mathematical fiction? Then click here to enter your own votes on its mathematical content and literary quality or send me comments to post on this Webpage.
Mathematical Content:
2.5/5 (2 votes)
Literary Quality:
3/5 (1 votes)

GenreHistorical Fiction, Romance,
MotifInsanity, Real Mathematicians,

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(Maintained by Alex Kasman, College of Charleston)