A Universe of Sufficient Size

Written by Miriam Sved
Review by Georgia Rose Phillips

It is Brooklyn, 1950, and the appearance of a mysterious parcel containing mathematical workings arrives in the afternoon mail. Its contents, however, are from a period where the bulk of the narrative is set, in Budapest of 1938, where five prodigiously talented adolescent mathematicians, Eszter, Ildiko, Tibor, Levi, and Pali, meet below the Statue of Anonymous. They are united by an unbreakable bond of friendship, their growing concern for the increasingly dire political climate, and dreams of escape after being expelled from university under antisemitic laws. Meanwhile, in Sydney in 2007, Illy has just laid her estranged and bitter father to rest, only to be gifted a notebook from her grandmother which contains a web of enthralling secrets connecting the two narratives.

The novel draws on the story of Sved’s grandmother, mathematician Marta Sved (née Wachsberger) and is inspired by the eccentric mathematical genius, Paul Erdős. This is Sved’s second novel, albeit her first ‘historical novel’, making the way she deftly and poetically weaves three generations across three periods even more impressive. The intertwining of the plots amounts to a psychologically taut and politically complex narrative that meditates on the nature of friendship, family and survival amidst the austere backdrop, which Sved renders with vivid acuity. It is not a novel you can read whilst juggling other books; however, if you give it your undivided attention, it is an all-consuming page turner with Sved’s knack for unexpected plot twists imbuing the story with a delightful degree of intensity.