Tag Archives: tesla

Review ~ Lightning

Cover via Goodreads

Lightning by Jean Echenoz, Linda Coverdale (translator)

Drawn from the life of Nikola Tesla, one of the greatest inventors of his time, Lightning is a captivating tale of one man’s curious fascination with the marvels of science.

Hailed by the Washington Post as “the most distinctive voice of his generation,” Echenoz traces the notable career of Gregor, a precocious young engineer from Eastern Europe, who travels across the Atlantic at the age of twenty-eight to work alongside Thomas Edison, with whom he later holds a long-lasting rivalry. After his discovery of alternating current, Gregor quickly begins to astound the world with his other brilliant inventions, including everything from radio, radar, and wireless communication to cellular technology, remote control, and the electron microscope.

Echenoz gradually reveals the eccentric inner world of a solitary man who holds a rare gift for imagining devices well before they come into existence. Gregor is a recluse—an odd and enigmatic intellect who avoids women and instead prefers spending hours a day courting pigeons in Central Park.

Winner of the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, Echenoz once again demonstrates his astonishing abilities as a prose stylist as he vividly captures the life of an isolated genius. A beautifully crafted portrait of a man who prefers the company of lightning in the Colorado desert to that of other human beings, Lightning is a dazzling new work from one of the world’s leading contemporary authors.(via Goodreads)

I purchased this volume from Our Book Store, small bookstore with an eclectic inventory in Omaha’s Old Market. I was drawn to it because it was small and  slim and promised a story of a genius, “inspired” by the life of Nikola Tesla.

While this book is about a character named Gregor, it’s obvious that the story is about Tesla. Not to judge a book by its cover, but there are many other images one might have used if one wanted to invoke Tesla without using his portrait. Echenoz has written two other fictionalized biographies Ravel, about composer Maurice Ravel, and Running, about Czech runner Emil Zátopek. In these other cases, he didn’t bother trying to distance himself or the reader from the historical characters. Is this fictionalized biography more fictionalized than the others? The story does seem to exist pretty firmly in the eccentricities and myths of Tesla.

The writing and translation are lovely. The prose is light and funny, but often bittersweet and heartbreaking. The actions of Gregor aren’t too thoroughly explored. He is a master innovator who envisions his inventions fully formed. Sometimes he is great; more often he is impenetrable, not only to those around him but even to himself. Taken as novel, it’s fairly depressing. The genius of Gregor’s inventions are not given scope in light of his inauspicious end.

I’m a little dismayed that many reviewers seem to count this novel as an educational introduction to Tesla. The characterization of Gregor is less psychologically unbalanced than The Invention of Everything Else‘s Tesla, but the details are still cheery-picked for sensation. This narrative is by no means the complete story of Nikola Tesla, beautifully written as it is.

Publisher: The New Press
Publication date: 2010
Genre: Fictional biography, literary

Last review from a book read in 2013. Huzzah!

2016olympicsreadingchallenge

Review ~ The Invention of Everything Else

The Invention of Everything Else by Samantha Hunt

Cover via Goodreads

It is 1943, and the renowned inventor Nikola Tesla occupies a forbidden room on the 33rd floor of the Hotel New Yorker, stealing electricity. Louisa, a young maid at the hotel determined to befriend him, wins his attention through a shared love of pigeons; with her we hear his tragic and tremendous life story unfold. Meanwhile, Louisa discovers that her father—and her handsome, enigmatic love interest, Arthur Vaughan—are on an unlikely mission to travel back in time and find his beloved late wife. A masterful hybrid of history, biography, and science fiction, The Invention of Everything Else is an absorbing story about love and death and a wonderfully imagined homage to one of history’s most visionary scientists. (via Goodreads)

I.

There are occasions when I read a book and it and life exist a little too close together. When I read Jane Smiley’s A Thousand Acres in college, it was while my family was going through upheaval. That very much affected my experience of that book. Last week, as I was reading The Invention of Everything Else, I was juggling NaNoWriMo aspirations, a high work-load for VOTS, and the development of web pages for Eric’s and my science fiction books. The last on that list was particularly kicking my butt. I know very, very little about JavaScript and JQuery. I was no help to Eric, who knew slightly less than me about JavaScript and JQuery before last week. I’m not a fan of feeling incompetent and ineffective. And the entire project is a gamble–a lot of work for nothing certain.  Enter a Nikola Tesla at the end of his life, destitute and imagining talking pigeons. It wasn’t a comfortable read.

II.

Back in September, before I read The Invention of Everything Else, but after I had marked it TBR and purchased Lightning by Jean Echenoz, I took particular notice of an entry at Paleofuture: Making Nikola Tesla a Saint Makes Us All Dumber. The gist, if you don’t click through, is that it’s better to have a realistic notion of a person rather than a mythologized one because it makes them, well, a person. Does working with a character that’s a person (rather than a “character”) make for better fiction? More satisfying fiction?

To the outside observer, Nikola Telsa had a few eccentricities. I have a tendency to view eccentricities in their least exaggerated forms. To me, Tesla sounds like an introvert and probably on the autistic spectrum (as are many of the engineers I know). He was very intelligent, very outspoken in his views, and maybe not the world’s best communicator (…as are many of the engineers I know…). It’s easy to latch on to eccentricities and blow them out of proportion into pure crazy. I found Samantha Hunt’s version of Tesla verging on mentally ill and that seemed extreme to me.

III.

It’s been a while since I’ve read anything-goes literary fiction. I found it tiring. (And again, this might be because last week was one of the most stressful weeks I’ve had in a while.) There were dual narrators (mostly), with Telsa in the first person and Louisa (mostly) in third person. It’s set somewhat in the last days of Tesla’s life as the past and present start, for him, colliding in his mind. For Louisa, the juxtaposition of past and present takes the form of a time machine built by Azor, the balmy friend of her father. Obviously, there are some parallels. Is Azor any crazier than Tesla who claimed to have received transmissions from Mars? To the everyman, should a time machine be any more ridiculous than AC current? The story does veer into the land of speculative fiction when it seems that perhaps Azor’s time machine might have worked. And I don’t know if that magical realism aspect was really needed to give Louisa hope. Maybe I just take too much comfort in science to appreciate magic.

Genre: Historical speculative fiction.
Why did I choose to read this book? I think I came upon someone’s page 99 challenge and thought it sounded interesting.
Did I finish this book? (If not, why?) Yes.
Format: Hardback
Procurement: Tempe Public Library
Bookmark: Checkout receipt.