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Belonging to Karovsky (2002)
Kathryn Schwille

This short story, published in the literary magazine Crazyhorse concerns the boring and lonely Mr. Digby who was the downstairs neighbor of Karovsky, the brilliant (but of course, seriously insane) mathematician whose funeral is the venue. Digby looks through Karovsky's things, taking pages of equations and photos of Karovsky and his beautiful girlfriend Ariel, and winds up being responsible for Karovsky's ex-girlfriend from Romania who speaks to him in French. The point of the story has to do with life and how it can be lived heroically. The story is well written and this point comes across well. However, my interest here is only in the subtext: once again we learn from literature that mathematicians are schizophrenic and suicidal. I believe the implication of the story is that Karovsky committed suicide after Wiles' proof of FLT out of disappointment that he did not prove it himself. (Just for the record, I feel that the stereotype relating mathematics and insanity is unjustified. It is perpetuated by a few well known examples of mathematicians who also happened to have mental disorders, and tons and tons of fictional mathematicians who do as well. Please do keep in mind that the vast majority of mathematicians are as sane as anyone else. Moreover, I am not aware of any suicides inspired by the 1994 proof of Fermat's Last Theorem!)

Contributed by Kathryn Schwille

Dear Dr. Kasman:

I'm honored that you found my story, "Belonging to Karovsky" interesting enough to include on your website. What a lot of mathematical fiction there is in the world.

I had no idea, when I wrote the story in 1997, that there were so many insane fictional mathematicians - perhaps because I haven't made a study of mathematical fiction, as you have. I don't blame you for being annoyed. My husband is a mathematician and wasn't troubled over it, but he hasn't read all that stereotyping fiction, either.

I disagree with you, though, that the story implies Karovsky committed suicide over Fermat's Last Theorem. He was estranged from a woman he loved, he'd lost his job and his family would have nothing to do with him. There was a lot more on his mind than theorems.

Cordially yours,

Kathryn Schwille

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Works Similar to Belonging to Karovsky
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. Brazzaville Beach by William Boyd
  2. The Queen's Gambit by Scott Frank (writer&director) / Allan Scott (writer) / Walter Tevis (writer)
  3. Rough Strife by Lynne Sharon Schwartz
  4. Domaine [Domain] by Patric Chiha (screenplay and director)
  5. A Mathematician's Galatea by Andrew Magrath
  6. The Arnold Proof by Jessica Francis Kane
  7. Morte di un matematico napoletano by Mario Martone (director)
  8. Zilkowski's Theorem by Karl Iagnemma
  9. Orpheus Lost: A Novel by Janette Turner Hospital
  10. Kavita Through Glass by Emily Ishem Raboteau
Ratings for Belonging to Karovsky:
RatingsHave you seen/read this work of mathematical fiction? Then click here to enter your own votes on its mathematical content and literary quality or send me comments to post on this Webpage.
Mathematical Content:
1/5 (1 votes)
Literary Quality:
4/5 (1 votes)

MotifMental Illness, Romance,
TopicAlgebra/Arithmetic/Number Theory,
MediumShort Stories,

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Exciting News: The 1,600th entry was recently added to this database of mathematical fiction! Also, for those of you interested in non-fictional math books let me (shamelessly) plug the recent release of the second edition of my soliton theory textbook.

(Maintained by Alex Kasman, College of Charleston)