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Friday, April 9, 2021

Review: Half Life

Title:
Half Life
Author: Jillian Cantor

Publisher: 7th April 2021 by Simon & Schuster Australia

Pages: 416 pages

How I Read It: ARC book

Genre: historical fiction

My Rating: 4 crowns


Synopsis:


The USA Today bestselling author of In Another Time reimagines the pioneering, passionate life of Marie Curie using a parallel structure to create two alternative timelines, one that mirrors her real life, one that explores the consequences for Marie and for science if she’d made a different choice.


In Poland in 1891, Marie Curie (then Marya Sklodowska) was engaged to a budding mathematician, Kazimierz Zorawski. But when his mother insisted she was too poor and not good enough, he broke off the engagement. A heartbroken Marya left Poland for Paris, where she would attend the Sorbonne to study chemistry and physics. Eventually Marie Curie would go on to change the course of science forever and be the first woman to win a Nobel Prize.


But what if she had made a different choice?


What if she had stayed in Poland, married Kazimierz at the age of twenty-four, and never attended the Sorbonne or discovered radium? What if she had chosen a life of domesticity with a constant hunger for knowledge in Russian Poland where education for women was restricted, instead of studying science in Paris and meeting Pierre Curie?


Entwining Marie Curie’s real story with Marya Zorawska’s fictional one, Half Life explores loves lost and destinies unfulfilled—and probes issues of loyalty and identity, gender and class, motherhood and sisterhood, fame and anonymity, scholarship and knowledge. Through parallel contrasting versions of Marya’s life, Jillian Cantor’s unique historical novel asks what would have happened if a great scientific mind was denied opportunity and access to education. It examines how the lives of one remarkable woman and the people she loved – as well as the world at large and course of science and history—might have been irrevocably changed in ways both great and small.

My Thoughts

‘I wanted to go to Paris, wanted to continue my studies, but I wanted to be with the man I loved, too. And then I made a choice.’


What a fascinating twist on historical fiction: what if Marie Curie had married Kazimierz ┼╗orawski, her first love, rather than going to the Sorbonne in Paris. 


“They are enamored of you,” Pierre says with a chuckle, as if it tickles him. “The first woman to win a Nobel Prize.”


Not really knowing that much about this famous historical figure, it proved to be a very interesting read. With a ‘Sliding Doors’ approach, it is like two books in one with alternating chapters between Marie’s real life and a fictionalised alternative had she not studied in Paris. There is the Marie Curie we know - her life, love, work. Then there is the fictionalised Marya Sklodowska who did not get on the train that day and instead married her first love and stayed in Poland to become a wife and mother. 


“... It is hard for me to understand a life where having children would force a woman to give up on her own work.” “She can’t do both?”


Both stories were well written, with the parallels being cleverly replicated and/or imagined. It was good to learn of the real Marie Curie and the life she led with husband Pierre. The imagined life of Marya was likewise engaging, however, the goal here I imagine was to demonstrate the frustrations this highly intelligent woman faced in Russian controlled Poland with restrictive educational opportunities for women. Written in such a way, it invites the reader to consider how some decisions can be life changing. There are many challenges and sorrows in this read.


‘Could I have accomplished all that Hela had by now? And if I had, would I feel happier, be more fulfilled?’


This tale - both real and imagined - would be for those interested in the status of women at this period of history.


‘There was a choice. There was always a choice. Had I made the wrong one?’







This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The quoted material may have changed in the final release.


3 comments:

Mystica said...

The what if question is of course fascinating for anyone but in this case life changing not just for her - lovely review. Thank you.

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