I Like Math Now – a review of The Tenth Muse by Catherine Chung

I find it ironic now, looking back on my past and my ever vague connections to this book. I was pushed ahead a year for maths in High School, though my marks weren’t exactly spectacular. I learnt imaginary numbers and calculus when I didn’t need it for my degree, especially when all my others subjects sans one was writing based.

And this book is where those two worlds of mine, in a sense, collided.

Katherine is a half-chinese mathematician looking to pave her way forward in the field and tackle the unsolvable. And her greatest struggle in her career was never the problems she had to solve. In a career field dominated by males, everyone around her has given her nothing but doubt. Even those she trusted had stopped her from becoming known, stolen her credit and gone against her career morals. But that still isn’t her greatest struggle. It is discovering the full truth behind her past, one she previously never doubted to be anything but true.

Going into this novel I expected to be bombarded with math terms I had to quickly adapt to, but I got none of that at all. It wound up being a very different story with more depth and insight than the study of. maths itself. It created a very interesting backdrop, similar to stories like Hidden Figures and The Imitation Game but without the focus on the goals they pursue. It feels organic and ordinary in comparison, just going into the story of someone with a passion.

That someone is the protagonist, Katherine. Katherine’s voice and character made for a very beautiful way to tell the story, through insights, anecdotes and very beautiful imagery. It breaks the stereotype of cold and hard calculations coming from scientific minds on every matter they come across. Katherine is very sensitive and perceptive in the way she sees her world, which is reflected in her voice and Chung’s writing style. This was a style I very much enjoyed, encouraging me to read more of her works in the future.

One thing I really enjoyed about this was a refreshing take on feminism as a theme in this story. I’ll admit that I’m tired of seeing stale feminist stories about overthrowing patriarchies or breaking rules being set by men. The Tenth Muse features a new take, where Katherine being the first female to study in her field is not caring for the fact that she’s a female and doing it. It became a very refreshing perspective, for someone wanting to be recognised for their talent and worth and not their gender in the field. A very equitable look on feminism that I’m inclined to agree with after reading it. While it is good for someone of a minority to make pursuits or huge strides in a field they’re not normally a part of, it is not glorious. Glory is earned, as is Katherine’s pursuits and how she wants to succeed in her goals.

This is a book that opened my mind. This is a book that anyone could love. Even if you’re not female identifying, this overs fantastic perspectives into so much in life. And it’s very easy to read. This will become a go-to recommendation for me.

The Tenth Muse gets a score of 5/5. Books about math can be good guys!

Yours in writing


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