Literary Fiction Mystery

The Tenth Muse – Catherine Chung

23 October 2019
The Tenth Muse Book Cover The Tenth Muse
Catherine Chung
June 18, 2019

A RECOMMENDED BOOK OF 2019 FROM: Buzzfeed * The Rumpus * Entertainment Weekly

The first thing I remember being said of me with any consistency was that I was intelligent—and I recognized even then that it was a comment leveled at me with as much disapproval as admiration. Still, I never tried to hide or suppress my mind as some girls do, and thank God, because that would have been the beginning of the end. From childhood, Katherine knows she is different, and that her parents are not who they seem to be. But in becoming a mathematician, she must face the most human of problems—who is she? What is the cost of love, and what is the cost of ambition? On her quest to conquer the Riemann Hypothesis, the greatest unsolved mathematical problem of her time, she turns to a theorem with a mysterious history that holds both the lock and key to her identity, and to secrets long buried during World War II in Germany. Forced to confront some of the most consequential events of the twentieth century and rethink everything she knows of herself, she strives to take her place in the world of higher mathematics and finds kinship in the stories of the women who came before her—their love of the language of numbers connecting them across generations. In The Tenth Muse, Catherine Chung offers a gorgeous, sweeping tale about legacy, identity, and the beautiful ways the mind can make us free.


My left brain aches, my right brain aches, my heart aches. The Tenth Muse is an extraordinary story that takes the logic of mathematics, personal ambition and the highly emotional turmoil of family secrets and love, and overlays them to create an outstanding novel. A story that paints the most challenging decisions we would ever have to make – a choice between the things we love most.

Katherine has a gifted mathematical mind and from her childhood through to University she has always been disparaged and mistreated as she sought to compete in a male-dominated environment. Determined to never suppress her mind, her resolute drive to open doors into new mathematical revelations placed her personal ambition above all of life’s other fulfilments.

Kat grew up with a Chinese mother and American father but early in her life, her mother left unable to live the lie that she was Katherine’s mother and her parents were married. Later also finding out that her father wasn’t her natural father, set in motion an anxious exploration into solving the mystery who her parents were. This led Kat to Germany and secrets that stemmed back to the Second World War, a Jewish family line, an escape to safety, two mathematicians as parents and a notebook that she had instinctively held precious her whole life which was full of equations and mathematical notation.

What I found fascinating in the story was how well delivered the emotional and mental struggle in confronting unattainable resolution was portrayed. Kat’s life is often defined in choices between her very individual pursuit of ground-breaking achievements in solving mathematical theorems, such as the Riemann hypothesis, and the human relationship costs.

“All my life I’ve been told to let go as gracefully as possible. What’s worse, after all, than a hungry woman, greedy for all that isn’t meant to be hers? Still, I resist. In the end, we relinquish everything: I think I’ll hold on, while I can.”

Kat’s integrity is admirable and what she really wants from those close to her is to be respected in her ability to achieve her goals, without favours. She also wanted to be recognised as a fashionable woman without camouflaging her femininity.

As someone with a mathematical background and lover of literature, this double pleasure truly hit the mark with me. While the language is the utility of literature, mathematics is the language in which God has written the universe – Galileo Galilei. This is a novel that examines the determination of achieving personal recognition in mathematical accomplishment and the determination to uncover the truth of her background and family history. Kat’s character and principles are wonderfully observed and challenged, knowing that the right choice will likely be the most difficult path but she will have to live with the consequences.

This is an inspiring story for those fighting prejudices and those seeking encouragement to pursue their own dreams as a priority. The Tenth Muse is an enthralling story that I would highly recommend. I’d like to thank Little Brown Book Group and NetGalley for providing me with an ARC version in return for an honest review.

Peter Donnelly

Founder of The Reading Desk, supporting readers, authors, publishers and book industry. Top Reviewer on Amazon, Goodreads, and NetGalley

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