Reviewed in: The Historical Novel Society (www.historicalnovelsociety.org).
Review by Viviane Crystal
Ramanujan, an Indian mathematician, travels from India to Cambridge, England, just before the outbreak of WWI. He is a devout Hindu Vaishnavite and worshipper of Namagiri Amman. His life is entirely permeated by his faith. Even many of his mathematical theories come to him in visions and dreams that he believes are from Namagiri. He leaves behind his mother and a 14-year-old wife as he proceeds to a two-year period of collaborative work with a brilliant classical scholar and mathematician, Mr. Hardy.
The novel describes Ramanujan’s experience during those two years, during which he endures prejudice and initially not much contact with other Indians. His strict religious convictions mean he will not eat anything that is not purely vegetarian. Ramanujan is highly insecure about his lack of background education and neglect in providing specific steps for his math discoveries. He has success in his studies and is ultimately accepted as a mathematical Fellow, but he gradually becomes depressed and physically ill, with a diagnosis of possible tuberculosis, and eventually tries to end his troubles. Added to this, WWI takes its toll on many characters.
The characterization of Ramanujan is excellent as readers learn of his every thought, dream, and interaction with both English and Indian friends. His story is about cultural separation and adaptation, all dependent on personality and political issues prevalent at the time. Math is the language of equals bonding all together and promising satisfaction. This is nicely crafted historical fiction.
Reviewed by: Entrada Publishing
The Language of Equals is a historical fiction novel that is both moving and enlightening. Set in Cambridge, England during the turn of the century, it is told from the perspective of Srinivasa Ramanujan and follows his personal journey. His is not an easy path and readers will quickly find themselves drawn in.
Ramanujan is a native of India, which is under British rule. As a devout Brahim, he finds Cambridge to be a cold and impersonal place where Christianity frowns upon his religion. It is a difficult transition for Ramanujan, a mathematics savant. He is separated from his family, home, and plagued with illness. It is even difficult to eat. He is a strict vegetarian, as per his religion, something that is almost unheard of at that time.
Adding to his difficulties, is the threat of WWI, which will draw England and by association India, into the horrors of war. He finds solace in the few friends he has in Cambridge, along with his unique understanding of mathematics. It is with math that Ramanujan can speak as an equal among his peers.
David Ackley has recreated England at the turn of the century when it is facing one of its’ greatest challenges. The details are historically accurate and help to bring that period in history alive to readers. The Language of Equals also delves into the discrimination that was prevalent during the time.
This a story with a message that resonates today. Inequality still exists. For many, it is a daily hurdle they have to overcome. Srinivasa Ramanujan, inspired by his patron goddess, Namagiri Amman, found acceptance and respect in Cambridge elusive except for his mentor and the North family. This is also a story about loneliness and following your passion no matter the cost.
It is the story’s ending that gives hope to the reader. It serves to remind us that every ending is the start of a new beginning. “Mr. Reimann paused and waited until they both continued up the path, and Ramanujan sensed that his next life might lie just up ahead.”
The Language of Equals is a novel that reminds us that differences are to be embraced. There is one language that everyone can understand. Math is universal, it knows no boundaries and if you can “speak” it, you can “talk” to the universe. Whether math is truly the language of the gods is something that readers will have to decide for themselves.
Reviewed by: K.C. Finn for Readers’ Favorite – 5 Star Review
The Language of Equals is a work of fiction in the historical, dramatic and cross-cultural fiction sub-genres, and was penned by author David Ackley. Set during the outbreak of the First World War in the United Kingdom, this incredible tale of retaining cultural identity but striving for success packs a deep emotional punch. Our protagonist is Srinivasa Ramanujan, a mathematical genius brought to Cambridge University with the hopes of a new life and success, but his religious beliefs, race, and deteriorating health offer yet more struggles in an already war-torn climate. What results is an incredible tale of hardship and fortitude against increasingly difficult odds.
Author David Ackley has taken a leap of empathy into the mind of a fictional historical figure and truly dedicated himself to understanding the culture clash and struggle of coming to an entirely new world and trying to survive it, let alone with World War 1 beginning. Ramanujan is a highly relatable character for, despite his many differences with western culture, we can relate to the passion of his commitment to his faith, aspire to his raw genius, and feel his hurt when he is overlooked and isolated by his snobbish peers. The work takes a fascinating alternative look at WW1 by placing us at home with the great thinkers of the time, and I loved the literary style of the prose as it weaves us in and out of the world of mathematics. Overall, I would highly recommend The Language of Equals for readers seeking deep historical drama with true emotional resonance.