THE MIND-BODY PROBLEM
Book review by Anthony Campbell. The review is licensed under a Creative Commons License.
This book is probably best described as a tragicomedy. It is very funny quite a lot of the time but the tone at the end is somewhat melancholy.
The first-person narrator, Renee, is a young Jewish girl (almost all the characters are Jewish) who has married Noam, a mathematical genius. It is primarily his intellect that has attracted her to him, and she enjoys basking in his reflected glory. She herself is a philosopher and her main field of interest is the mind-body problem, hence the title. There is of course a double meaning in this: Renee is beautiful and highly sexed, and the marriage quickly begins to show signs of strain when she realizes that Noam is less interested in sex than she is.
Renee has abandoned belief in Judaism and is an atheist, but she is still liable to find herself taken unawares by the prejudices that were instilled into her in her Orthodox upbringing. There is a delightful scene in which she and a friend go to a hamburger bar with the intention of breaking all the kosher rules about diet, only to find, when they have ordered the offending dish, that they are unable to eat it.
The funniest episode in the book for me is the couple's visit to Vienna where Noam is to attend a mathematical symposium, His fame is such that he is treated by the other participants as a near-deity. but Renee is flabbergasted to find that in the intervals between meetings he is walking about the city trying to identify places he had known in a previous life. Noam, she discovers, is a believer in reincarnation and is convinced that he has lived in Vienna previously. and he wants to discover who he was.
The book would no doubt mean most to Jewish readers, but even those who lack that background would find it enjoyable thanks to the author's pleasant sense of irony. The characters are well-rounded and the narrative moves well.
15 January 2010
%T The Mind-Body Problem
%S A Novel
%A Rebecca Goldstein
%I Andreacute; Deutsch
%G ISBN 0-233-97727-9
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