Symmetry and the Expatriate

Symmetry and the Expatriate - CoverThis is the story of an expatriate from Asia Minor, obsessed with symmetry, forced to leave his fatherland during the ethnic cleansing directed by the Turks in 1920 – 1922. He finds himself in Siena, Italy, where he meets with M.C. Escher, with whom he shares the interest in symmetry. In 1936 he is forced to flee again, due to his opposition to the fascist regime.

His next destination is Spain, where he becomes a member of the International Brigades defending the Spanish Republic. There he meets Rachel, a Jewish girl from Thessaloniki, the love of his life. He also meets Simone Weil, as well as the parents of Alexander Grothendieck, the most eminent and unconventional mathematician of the 20th century.

After the victory of Franco he flees once more, this time to France, where he is involved in the underground resistance against the Nazis and meets with the famous mathematicians of the Bourbaki group.

It is the story of a fictional hero as well as a chronicle of the 20th century.

Table of Contents

1. The Expatriate

2. Ex oriente lux

3. An exile’s paradise

4. The beetle

5. Al Andalus

6. No pasaran

7. Paris, ville ouverte

8. Interdit d’ interdire

9. … and the symmetry


The important thing is that the author dissolves the main aspect of positivism, that is, the mentality of strict sense and enriches it with many elements of sensibility. Of course, I am not referring to cheap melodrama but living, breathing setting of the scene that evokes emotion in moderation. This emotion stems from the tragic elements of the story and the harsh fate reserved for humans, seemingly so unfair when juxtaposed to the symmetrical justice of geometric shapes. (George Perantonakis, Efimerida Sintakton, 16 – 17 /2)

Tefcros Michaelides is back to mathematics literature. In his “Symmetry and the Expatriate” fiction mixes admirably with history. Places and eras mix equally well: Asia Minor, Italy between the two wars, Spain during the Civil War and France during the resistance. At the center of the story, the Bourbaki movement which used mathematical rationalism to understand everyday events. (Antaios Chrisostomides, Avgi, 23/12/2012)

Is symmetry understood in the same way by everybody, or at least by those who study mathematics. The graphic artist Escher and the mathematician Alexandre Grothendieck who share the interest for symmetry with the central hero of the novel understand it differently. The best way to understand it is of course to consider it as a game. Then following the ways to leave footprins on the sand you discover seven different ways to proceed: Hop, step, sidle, spinning hop, spinning sidle, jump, spinning jump. However, mathematical rationalism is not used in general at play but for much more serious reasons. One of these is to analyze the historical facts that determined the events of the 20th century. (Ilias Kanelis, The Books’ Journal, #26, December 2012).

He manages to keep the reader’s interest as the process of simultaneous examination of so different items as are mathematics, history and art as well as the viewpoint of each one of these separately create a peculiar suspense. The research for freedom at all levels in correlation with the purity of science open new paths in understanding things. Delicious and deprived of difficulties even to those with a bad relation with mathematics – including myself. (Titika Dimitroulia, Kathimerini, 10/02/2013).

The “Expatriate” of mathematician Michaelides is first of all a hymn to humanity and secondly only a “mathematics fiction”. It contains so many real facts that nobody will consider it as fiction. An the narrative recipe of the author is so ancient and so successful that no one will consider it as a “boring biography”. Michaelides immediately introduces us to the mood of the Socratic dialog teacher – student, reminding us of the valuable role of a mentor, so much neglected in our days. And then he uses another forgotten valuable ingredient, the dialog of friendship. He bases his story on a mathematical background that floods it. A background that would remain unnoticed to the reader but which, according to the author is strictly linked to the evolution of history. It is the eternal fight between symmetry and disorder, beauty and ugliness, goodness and violence, love and height rid. The book is not only extremely well written and cleverly structured but moreover it is a mirror to the generations that built the 20th century. ”. (Tasos Kafantaris, TO VIMA, 05/01/2013). The author manages to combine the square mathematical way of thinking to a tragic mood developing emotion and humanity (George Perantonakis, Book Press, 16/12/2012).


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