“The Indian Clerk”–David Leavitt, once more and better

Leavitt, David. “The Indian Clerk”, Bloomsbury, 2007.

David Leavitt, Once More and Better

Amos Lassen

David Leavitt has worked hard to earn his reputation as “one of our most respected writers” and he wears that title proudly with the publication of his brilliant new novel, “The Indian Clerk”. He is the author of eleven works of fiction (including “The Lost Language of Cranes”, “While England Sleeps”, and “The Body of Jonah Boyd’) and two works of non fiction. When I see the name David Leavitt on the cover of a book I know before I open the pages that I am in for quite a read and have never been disappointed. I marvel as his ability to transform his thoughts into beautiful language as well his way of developing new plot ideas. There is always a surprise with Leavitt and he always manages to make me feel like I have really read a book that matters to me. (I would love for him to come to the Arkansas Literary Festival and I am doing my best to that end).

“The Indian Clerk” is an ambitious contribution to literature and the sharp and elegant use of the English language is absolutely wonderful.

The book explores the relationship between two mathematicians, G.H. Hardy and Srinivasa

Ramanujan. It all began in 1913 on a morning in January when Hardy at 37 years old and considered by many to be the greatest British mathematician of his age, received a letter from India. The letter was from a self-professed mathematical genius who claimed that he was on the brink of being able to solve the most important unsolved mathematical problem of all time. Even though some of Hardy’s colleagues at Cambridge dismissed the idea as a hoax, Hardy was convinced that the writer, the Indian clerk, Ramanujan, should be considered with serious thought. Hardy enlists the aid of two men, his collaborator, Littlewood and a young instructor, Neville, who is preparing a trip to India with his wife, and is determined to find out more about Ramanujan and possibly use Neville to persuade him to come to Cambridge. Hardy’s decision will not only affect his life deeply but it will also have an affect on all future mathematicians and the history of mathematics. Hardy was a reclusive scholar and a closeted homosexual and brings a second storyline into the novel which is presented as a series of lectures some of which he imagined. Ramanujan gains fame as the Indian and Hindu calculator and as the novel moves, we get a look at the academic culture of Cambridge which is at times quite risqué.

The novel is fiction but it based upon a true story and contains shreds of authenticity throughout and we also read about D.H. Lawrence’s 1915 visit to Cambridge as well of Ludwig Wittgenstein and Bertand Russell. Leavitt manages to take one little look at history and explodes it into an emotional story that will have you engrossed. It is a tale of the “fragility of the human connection and the need to find order in the world”. The book questions colonialism, sexual identity and the nature of genius in a way that it has never been done before.

Watch this book carefully and I feel we shall see David Leavitt once again take the place he so rightfully deserves among the authors of today who not only know how to tell a story and as one who knows how to do with beauty, grace and integrity.

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