The Parrot's Theorem: A Novel Review

The Parrot's Theorem: A Novel
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The Parrot's Theorem: A Novel ReviewI was immediately drawn in by the first few lines of The Parrot's Theorem, where Max, a deaf boy living in Paris comes to the aid of a parrot being beaten by two men. From there, I was lead into a journey where Max, his twin siblings, and his friend Mr. Ruche wade through nearly the entire history of mathematics to unravel the circumstances behind the suspiscious demise of Mr. Ruche's friend, Elgar Grosovure.
Max brings home the wounded, and now silent, parrot just as Mr. Ruche has received a cryptic letter from his old friend in Brazil. Grosovure writes that he will be sending Mr. Ruche - an antique bookseller - his entire reference library of mathematical texts and histories because Mr. Ruche will care for them, or at least sell them to "the right kiind of person." Yet, as the letter goes on, it emerges that Grosovure is sending the library because he is expecting to be killed by some people who would like to extract information from him, regarding a proof of a mathematical theorem that Grosovure has been working on in private, hidden away in the rainforest.
At this point, the library arrives, and the unraveling of the mystery begins. As the story progress, the various threads begin to intermingle and converge: of Mr. Ruche's past friendship with Grosovure, their differences and love for philosophy and mathematics; a single mother with adopted children, and their discovery of that fact; a rare breed of talking parrot who speaks in mysterious portions of theorems and history - all these weave together in a truly original way to create a story that is both suspenseful and truly enlightening.
Or tries to, anyway. After the first third of the book, I began to tire of Guedj's poor and idealized delineation of Jon and Lea - the twins, who do most of the expository dialog - as reluctant and nascent geniuses, capable of absorbing mathematical proofs within minutes, and contiually burning the midnight oil to supply their own, more elegant versions of these proofs. Max who initially drew me into the book, is capable of speech (owing to the fact that his deafness was slow onset) which calls into question the reason for the device at all. Further observations regarding Guedj's writing are a variation on this theme: poor characterization, and dialog which is simply a slave to the intellectual agenda of the book.
Yet, it is this agenda that kept me reading The Parrot's Theorem all the way to the end: Guedj not only has a profound respect for the history and evolution of mathematics, but a terrific sense of the human drama and poetry involved in thousands of years of human intellectual development. The historical facts are interesting, the biographical material is fascinating - the proofs of the theorems are well outlined and comprehensible even to a straight C student who flunked Calculus.
The cover of The Parrot's Theorem makes many promises about this being a renaissance-style novel, a "European" novel, and so on, but this is not a book suited for average kids or even many adults. Yet, simply on the material covered, it is much more palatable that sitting down with Euclid's Elements or Newton's works. If you are interested in the history of mathematics, and are patient with a writer who hasn't yet mastered believable plot and dialog, you may really enjoy The Parrot's Theorem, a truly unique book.The Parrot's Theorem: A Novel Overview

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