Yannick Grannec translated from the French by Willard Wood

The Goddess of Small Victories

Publication Date: Oct 14, 2014

464 pp


List Price US $26.95
Trim Size (H x W): 5.5 x 8.25
ISBN: 9781590516362


List Price US $26.95
ISBN: 9781590516379

An internationally best-selling debut novel about the life, marriage, and legacy of one of the greatest mathematicians of the last century 

Princeton University 1980. Kurt Gödel, the most fascinating, though hermetic, mathematician of the twentieth century, has just died of anorexia. His widow, Adele, a fierce woman shunned by her husband’s colleagues because she had been a cabaret dancer, is now consigned to a nursing home. To the great annoyance of the Institute of Advanced Studies, she refuses to hand over Gödel’s precious records. Anna Roth, the timid daughter of two mathematicians who are part of the Princeton clique, is given the difficult task of befriending Adele and retrieving the documents from her. As Adele begins to notice Anna’s own estrangement from her milieu and starts to trust her, she opens the gates of her memory and together they travel back to Vienna during the Nazi era, Princeton right after the war, the pressures of McCarthyism, the end of the positivist ideal, and the advent of nuclear weapons. It is this epic story of a genius who could never quite find his place in the world, and the determination of the woman who loved him, that will eventually give Anna the courage to change her own life.

Excerpt from The Goddess of Small Victories

I was so happy to be receiving company—the exalted Albert Einstein, no less! With Herr Einstein, I wasn’t afraid of my poor English: he spoke with an atrocious accent. I even suspected him of exaggerating it. I didn’t know him well at the time, but I felt at ease in his presence—he didn’t rank the people he was talking to. He listened with the same good nature, the same amused indifference, to everyone from the geniuses of this world to the cleaning ladies at the university. Kurt and he had become close when we first arrived in Princeton. More than one passerby turned to stare at the odd couple they formed, and not only because of the physicist’s enormous popularity. They were Buster Keaton and Groucho Marx, lunar man and solar man, one close-mouthed and the other charismatic. My man, his hair brilliantined, stayed faithful to his impeccable suits, while Albert always looked as though he’d just tumbled out of bed in his wrinkly clothes. He hadn’t darkened the door of a barbershop since the Anschluss. Their long, ambulatory conversations were punctuated by the physicist’s explosive laugh and my husband’s circumspect squeak. Einstein turned an almost paternal attention on him. He admired his work and was unquestionably happy to have found a comrade largely unimpressed by his demigod’s aura. To Kurt, Albert was a scientist like any other, not a headliner. And Albert, whose vital force was considerable, was sensitive to my man’s frailness. He perhaps saw in him something of his youngest son, Eduard, who at twenty had fallen into the black hole of schizophrenia. I didn’t belong to his close circle, of course, but knowing that Kurt was on good terms with such a huge celebrity reassured me about his chances in exile.

“[A] fascinating portrait of a marriage…tracing the Gödels’ tumultuous past and the sad decline of a brilliant mind.” —The New York Times

“[An] impressive first novel…Painstakingly researched, seamlessly translated, this is historical fiction of exceptional daring.” —Booklist (starred review)

“An intellectually challenging…deconstruction of the notion of  ‘the great man.'” —Kirkus

“Impeccably researched…an engrossing piece of historical fiction.” —Bustle

“An important meditation on those forgotten by history.” —The Huffington Post

“A well-written novel, deep, troubling, and powerful.” —Historical Novel Society

The Goddess of Small Victories is a pitch perfect comedy of manners set on an intellectual Mt. Olympus in mid-20th century New Jersey. Albert, Oskar, Oppie, Johnny and Kurt are the reigning deities. Mathematical gossip and conspiracy theories are served up with birdbath-sized martinis and three inch steaks. Domestic relations appear to be governed by Godel’s Incompleteness Theorem. Yannick Grannec’s portrait of the marriage-of-opposites at the heart of the novel is pure genius.” —Sylvia Nasar, author of A Beautiful Mind

“By focusing on the woman who kept Gödel’s demons at bay, The Goddess of Small Victories succeeds in portraying the human side of his life in a way that sympathetically captures its mix of triumph, tragedy and eccentricity, without sacrificing historical or mathematical accuracy. No wonder it has already won prestigious literary awards.” —John W. Dawson, Jr, author of Logical Dilemmas: The Life and Work of Kurt Gödel 

“I loved this book. It takes us back to one of the most important periods in our scientific history, when The Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton served as an ingathering place for some of the most brilliant, and tortured, minds of their day. And it brings one of the forgotten geniuses of that day vividly to life.” —Douglas Starr, author of The Killer of Little Shepherds: A True Crime Story and The Birth of Forensic Science

“A model of novelistic efficiency which intelligently combines history, theorems, passion, and flamingos.” —Lire 

“Suffice it to say that The Goddess of Small Victories is an astonishing novel.” —Le Point 

“A first novel as ambitious as it is accessible.” —Le Soir

“Breathtaking.” —Livres Hebdo

“There is a thin line between genius and madness, one that is easily erased. If that is a cliché, there is nothing cliché about this book. This is the story of Kurt Gödel, one of the most brilliant mathematicians and philosophers of the twentieth century. More to the point, this is the story of his wife Adele, a cabaret dancer/hatcheck girl when they met in Roaring Twenties Vienna, who loved and cared for him for fifty years, until he died in 1980, consumed by paranoia and anorexia. Along the way we meet some of the greatest minds of that century (not least, Gödel’s good friend Albert Einstein). We also bear witness to some of the greatest atrocities to ever afflict humankind: the rise of the Nazis, the Anschluss and the McCarthy witch hunts of the fifties, all of which fed Gödel’s paranoia and led, inexorably to his death.” —Conrad Silverberg, Boswell Book Company (Milwaukee, WI)

“I set out thinking this novel would appeal to certain aficionados: lovers of historical fiction, mathematics, psychology, romance and family dramas. But really, The Goddess of Small Victories is for any reader who enjoys a riveting story, clear-eyed exploration of human relationships, and razor-sharp language (even in translation!). This is a thoroughly enjoyable read.” —Kirsten Jennings, Bookbug (Kalamazoo, MI)

The Goddess of Small Victories is one of the most delightful books I’ve read this year. One part a cultural exploration, one part humanist critique, and one part love story, this novel has enough intellect, humour, and quirks to keep readers engaged with and invested in these unusual characters long after they’ve finished the story.” —Justus Joseph, Elliott Bay Book Company (Seattle, WA)

“Yannick Grannec finds a compelling example of love in all its bittersweet complexity in the improbable marriage of Adele Porkert, a Viennese cabaret dancer, and Kurt Gödel, a mathematician who today is widely regarded as the most important logician of the twentieth century. Although Adele and Kurt’s lives coincide with the great events in Europe during the last century—the tumultuous years between the two world wars, the Anschluss, emigration, and ultimately exile—the real interest of this novel lies in its unsentimental examination of the way two individuals from markedly different backgrounds grow to love one another.” —Graham Shutt, Elliott Bay Book Company (Seattle, WA)

1. Why do you think Yannick Grannec chose to write about Kurt Gödel’s life from the perspective of his wife? How does this choice change what we see of Gödel? How is it different from what we might have read had this been a biography of the mathematician?

2. Anna often reflects on the sense of purposelessness she feels in her life. (See “The sum of little bits of wasted time and the lateness of others added up to a lost life,” p 27; “What worries me is that I’m not doing anything with my life,” p 183.) How does this relate to her professional ambition and her relationships with Adele, her parents, and Leo? How does it compare to Kurt Gödel’s passion for his work?

3. How are Adele’s devotion to Kurt and Kurt’s devotion to his work similar?

4. How does Adele and Anna’s relationship change over the course of the novel? Why does Adele open up to her and not to any of the other people sent to retrieve the Nachlass? What light does Adele’s story of her life with Kurt shed on Anna’s own life?

5. On page 29 Adele says, “Humor is requisite for survival, young lady. Especially here.” What purpose does humor serve in the novel?

6. What is the effect of viewing significant historical events and individuals, such as the Anschluss, J. Robert Oppenheimer, and Albert Einstein’s death, through the lens of Adele and Kurt’s marriage?

7. Adele, Anna, and Kurt all feel outcast from their environments. Why is Adele able to communicate her lonesomeness to Anna but not to Kurt? In what ways do Anna and Adele’s outcast status differ from Kurt’s?

8. Adele and Kurt both are more concerned with their personal lives than with the political situations around them. How is this reflected in Anna’s initial preoccupation with getting Kurt’s papers from Adele?

9. What is the difference between the story Adele tells herself and the account Elizabeth Glinka gives about the Gödels’ home life? Does it alter Anna’s or your understanding of Adele and her life with Kurt?

10. On page 233 Adele tells Albert Einstein, “A good excuse to share nothing and keep everything among yourselves, among the elect. I thought you were more democratic, Herr Einstein.” What do you think about Adele’s assertion that the intelligentsia purposefully limit access to their work? Can her observation apply to her relationship with Kurt Gödel?

11. Adele believes that she was created “to keep a certain genius from slipping away before his time,” that she “had been compost for the sublime.” In contrast, Anna concludes that “No one has a mission. Adele had loved Kurt; nothing was more important.” With whom do you agree and why?