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Booker International Longlist 2021 – When We Cease to Understand the World by Benjamin Labatut

45. Benjamín Labatut - When We Cease to Understand the World new


Booker International Longlist Book 9 rated by panellist Tracy

When We Cease to Understand the World
Translated by Adrian Nathan West from Spanish
Published by Pushkin Press

Details from the official Booker Site: Using extraordinary, epoch-defining moments from the history of science, When We Cease to Understand the World exists in the territory between fact and fiction, progress and destruction, genius and madness.

Albert Einstein opens a letter sent to him from the Eastern Front during the First World War. Inside, he finds the first exact solution to the equations of general relativity, unaware that it contains a monster that could destroy his life’s work. The great mathematician Alexander Grothendieck tunnels so deeply into abstraction that he tries to cut all ties with the world, terrified of the horror his discoveries might cause. Erwin Schrödinger and Werner Heisenberg battle over the soul of physics after creating two equivalent yet opposed versions of quantum mechanics. Their fight will tear the very fabric of reality, revealing a world stranger than they could have ever imagined.

About the Author

Benjamín Labatut was born in Rotterdam in 1980 and grew up in The Hague, Buenos Aires and Lima. He has published two award-winning works of fiction prior to When We Cease to Understand the World, which is his first book to be translated into English. Labatut lives with his family in Santiago, Chile.

Tracy’s Thoughts: This year’s long list has more than one book that is fiction strongly based on fact. This book is one of those. The first section is essentially an essay describing various poisons and their origins, but there is one paragraph that is pure fiction. (I have to go back and find it- I wasn’t aware of this until after I’d read it) The rest of the book is fiction mixed with facts, with a lot of information about physics and the scientists that developed the theories and principles described.

I know it sounds boring, but it was actually captivating. It’s very hard to describe- but I will say that though my understanding of physics may not have been improved (my own fault- the science was real in this book) my image of the blurring lines between fact and fiction has changed. The morals of some of the scientists spotlighted were certainly blurry at times- and this added more dimension to the book.

Writing quality: 5/5
Originality: 5/5
Character development: 4/4
Plot development: 3/4
Overall enjoyment: 2/2
Total: 19/20

When We Cease to Understand the World 19/20
At Night all Blood is Black 18/20
The Dangers of Smoking in Bed 18/20
Summer Brother 17.5/20
The Pear Field 17/20
The Employees 16/20
The Perfect Nine 16/20
Wretchedness 13.5/20
The War of the Poor 11.25/20

Have you read this one? What did you think?

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