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WigWords: ‘Mathematician’s Shiva’ a wryly funny 1st novel

Stuart Rojstaczer celebrated the publication of his debut novel in the city where he debuted, so to speak.

Rojstaczer, who was born in Milwaukee, returned to Milwaukee on Sept. 10 to talk about The Mathematician’s Shiva, his wryly funny first novel about middle-age, family, genius and the Jewish Eastern European immigrant experience after World War II.

Penguin Books published the paperback on Sept. 2, and Rojstaczer, who resides in Northern California, arrived at Boswell Bookstore in Milwaukee just eight days later, after stops in California, Washington, Oregon and Illinois.

FIRST LINE: “How’s your mother?” Yakov Epshtein asked. Yakov’s goatee was flecked with gray.

BACK COVER BLURB: I loved this smart, funny, bighearted novel. As hilarious and wise as early Philip Roth. The Mathematician’s Shiva will delight and move you. — The Joy of X author Steven Strogatz

NON-SPOILER SYNOPSIS: Andrew “Sasha” Karnokovitch and his family want to mourn the death of his mother with dignity and modesty. But his mother was a famous mathematician at the University of Wisconsin who came to the U.S. from Poland and she’s rumored to have solved the million-dollar Navier-Stokes Millennium Prize problem. She’s also rumored to have spitefully taken the solution to her grave. So, some socially-challenged mathematicians show up in Madison and crash the shiva.

ONE Q & A: How much did you draw from your own experiences in writing this novel? Stuart Rojstaczer: This novel has some autobiographical elements, certainly. The opening is highly autobiographical, for example. There is a scene where Rachela and her family go to a Russian cultural event and she tries, despite the inevitable tumult that will ensue, to get the Russian performers to defect. This is something my mother did at least once a year. But overall about 80 percent of the novel and the characters created come wholly from my imagination.

 

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