Yannick Grannec's 'The Goddess of Small Victories' Is a Notable Debut Work, Told From a Woman's Perspective
These days, not many people have heard of Kurt Gödel, a twentieth century mathematician, and the focus of Yannick Grannec's debut novel, The Goddess of Small Victories. And though Gödel is considered one of the most important logicians in history, his wife Adele is undoubtedly even more forgotten. Grannec's novel seeks to change that, by giving this prickly, independent woman a voice of her own in a fascinating narrative spanning most of the 20th century.
The novel begins close to the end of Adele's story, in the 1980s, in a nursing home in Princeton. Adele is refusing to turn over her late husband's papers — papers which the Princeton University considers might be highly valuable — and a young woman named Anna is dispatched to befriend Adele and convince her to cooperate.
Adele and Anna's relationship has a rocky beginning (as well as a rocky middle and end) but as Anna continues to visit, Adele begins to open up. The novel follows Adele from her days working in a Vienna nightclub in the 1930s where she first met Kurt, through her years as his mistress, the rise of the Nazis, Gödel's flight to Princeton, America's McCarthy era, and beyond.
The novel is clearly impeccably researched — and it is also full of cameos by the Gödels' real-life friends, including Albert Einstein. The book provides a fascinating look at historical events and famous figures, but perhaps most interesting and important of all is the fact that the story is told from Adele's perspective. The novel is not just a picture of what the experience of certain major historical events felt like, but of a depiction of one woman's experience over the course of the 20th century.
Adele is not a typical historical heroine; she's lower class; smart, but uneducated. She worked as a dancer, doesn't care what people think of her, and speaks her mind, even when she shouldn't. It's not surprising she never really finds her place among the academic-minded people of Princeton, or anywhere else. Yet it is through her perspective that Grannec chooses to depict the history she and her husband lived through. It is through her voice that we view their love story.
The Goddess of Small Victories occasionally gets lost in trying to explain mathematical principles or in the author's penchant for writing conversations between three or more people without attributing dialogue. The novel is also sometimes is forced to gloss over major events due to the sheer amount of time that the book spans. And unfortunately, it's secondary heroine, the passive and timid Anna, is not nearly so interesting and dynamic a character as Adele.
But in spite of these small flaws, the book still stands out as an engrossing piece of historical fiction that showcases a history and a love story that deserves to be remembered — and written.