The Solitude of Prime Numbers by Paolo Girodano

Solitude of Prime Numbers by Paolo Girodano

“Choices are made in brief seconds and paid for in the time that remains.”


The Solitude of Prime Numbers (original title: La Solitudine dei Numeri Primi) is a debut novel by the Italian author Paolo Giordano. The novel is about a boy and girl (Mattia and Alice) who had encountered individual traumatic situations in their childhood which followed them into adulthood. The book won the 2008 Strega Prize, the most prestigious Italian literary award. The texts I shared in next slides is one of my most beloved pages from the book.

The 7 years old Alice isn’t much of a sport person but her father forces her to take skiing lesson. One day, she’s isolated from her group and falls off a cliff. She has serious injuries which makes her a cripple.

Mattia is an intelligent child but his twin sister suffers from intellectual disability. Because of his sister’s situation, Mattia doesn’t have time to spend his childhood with his peers. When the siblings are invited to a birthday party, Mattia wants to attend alone so he leaves his sister at the park near the party. When he returns a few hours later, there’s no trace of his sister. She has disappeared and never found again despite a police search.

These two separate but traumatic events scarred both of them for life. Their adolescence isn’t pretty, either. Alice has eating disorder and get bullied at school. Mattia is uninterested interaction and he tends to cut himself. These two form a friendship recognizing the tragedy each carry with them. As they enter into the adulthood, both understand the feeling for each other but never truly admit it. Then circumstances force them to separate. Whenever there’s a chance to reunite, the looming emotional force is obvious yet there’s something blocking them.

The writer compared their relationship to prime pairs: always together, but never touching. Giordano hauntingly told the story with his beautiful and impeccable proses. The engaging narrative affected me with surprise force. It’s somewhat disturbing to read such tragic events in some part of the book. It’s also heart prickling to read the inability to express their emotions while they obviously love each other.

The writer poignantly and subtly tells how two people come to find solitude more comforting than companionship. This book explores the weight of childhood experiences, loneliness, and love. I watched its film adaptation and although it couldn’t portray the essence of the book (in my opinion), it’s still a decent one to watch. The soundtrack was spectacular.

The Solitude of Prime Numbers is still one of the most impactful book I’ve read. My accidental discovery of this book was my incidental habit of picking books by its title. It was back in July 2013 and I was randomly browsing books at a bookstore. When my eyes caught the title, I was intrigued. I picked up and read the synopsis at the back which also sounds fascinating. Though I almost never judge a book by its cover, the two peas in the pod at the front cover matched impeccably with the synopsis at the back sold me instantly. I delved into the book once I reached home and finished reading it overnight yet the book stayed with me for a few months. I love both protagonists and still think about them occasionally. I revisit this book every year since 2013.


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