The daughters of Zeus were masters of the arts and would bestow their gifts in any creative person who called upon them. However, author Catherine Chung came up with a 10th muse. Unlike her sisters, when it came time for her to claim an art, the 10th muse refused.
“She did not wish to sing the voices of men, telling only stories they wished to tell,” wrote Chung. “She preferred to sing her songs herself.”
This muse left the heavens, leaving behind her family, gifts and immortality without ever looking back. Instead, she walked among Earth as a mortal woman until her last breath. But, according to Chung, the spirit of the muse lived on inside countless women throughout history who defied societal rules.
This muse became the backdrop to Chung’s sophomore novel “The Tenth Muse.” This coming-of-age novel outlines the life of Katherine, a mathematician on a quest to solve the Riemann hypothesis, the greatest unsolved math problem of her time. Throughout her life, Katherine uses numbers, patterns and history to understand the complexities of the world and make her way through the male-dominated industry.
“[The novel] is about history and the way in which it invisibly affects the ways of our lives in ways that we don’t necessarily understand at the time,” Chung said. “It’s about coming of age and trying to grapple with the world around us. It’s also about love and what it gives you and often what it demands.”
From the moment she was a child, Katherine was taught to subdue her intelligence by outsiders. She was often punished for her intellect or simply not believed. But she pushed her way through these barriers and eventually took on one of the greatest unsolved math problems.
Though Chung insists she is no genius like Katherine, she does have some background with math. Her father was a mathematician, and she even studied math when she was in college. Just like Katherine, Chung was fascinated by the patterns and structure of math.
“I always thought math was beautiful,” she said. “It’s an interesting way to explore other ideas of what it means to try to find a place for yourself.”
“The Tenth Muse,” published June 18, has received praise from a plethora of news outlets and authors. USA Today listed the novel on their “5 books not to miss.” New York Times bestselling author Roxane Gay called the novel “as ambitious and intriguing” as the math problems that the novel’s main character aims to solve.
However, Chung’s favorite reactions have come from the readers she’s encountered on tour.
“In Katherine’s struggles and joys, they feel triumph,” she said. “Knowing that people have felt that deeply about Katherine and have felt like they’re on her team and she is on theirs.”
Chung now is coming to Midtown Scholar Bookstore, her first time here. The author will read from bits of her novel and be in conversation Adrienne Su, a creative writing teacher at Dickinson College.
Chung is offering to buy one lucky audience member a book, as long as they can solve a math problem found in her book.
“I think the audience will learn about the growing complexity of Asian-American writing,” Su said. “And I think Catherine will shed light on the process of writing and revising in a fast-changing literary context.”
See Catherine Chung this Friday, July 12, at 7 p.m. at Midtown Scholar Bookstore, 1302 N. 3rd St., Harrisburg. For more information visit www.midtownscholar.com/featured-events.