BOOK CLUB: A Universe of Sufficient Size

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Author: Miriam Sved
ISBN: 9781743535127
RRP: $32.99
Publication Date: 26 March 2019
Publisher: Pan Macmillan
Copy: Courtesy of the Publisher

A Universe of Sufficient Size is a dual timeline narrative focusing on wartime Budapest and Sydney in the early 21st Century.

I look forward to hearing what our readers think.

Publisher’s Website Overview:

I have wished so many times that I had acted differently.
I wish that I had been more worthy of you…
Eventually the war will end, and then we will find each other.
Until then, remember me.

Budapest, 1938. In a city park, five young Jewish mathematicians gather to share ideas, trade proofs and whisper sedition.

Sydney, 2007. Illy has just buried her father, a violent, unpredictable man whose bitterness she never understood. And now Illy’s mother has gifted her a curious notebook, its pages a mix of personal story and mathematical discovery, recounted by a woman full of hopes and regrets.

Inspired by a true story, Miriam Sved’s beautifully crafted novel charts a course through both the light and dark of human relationships: a vivid recreation of 1930s Hungary, a decades-old mystery locked in the story of one enduring friendship, a tribute to the selfless power of the heart.

A Universe of Sufficient Size is published by Pan Macmillan and is available now where all good books are sold.

Thanks to Pan Macmillan 10 of our Beauty and Lace Club Members will be reading A Universe of Sufficient Size so please be aware there may be spoilers in the comments below

I can’t wait to hear what our readers thought.

10 thoughts on “BOOK CLUB: A Universe of Sufficient Size

  1. A Universe of Sufficient Size by Miriam Sved is without doubt one of the best books I’ve read – and I’ve read many wonderful books. It was inspired by the author’s Grandparents and is both sad and inspiring.
    To begin with I was mildly horrified I had chosen a book that dealt so heavily with gifted mathematicians and complex mathematics as my mathematics knowledge is woeful but even though there are detailed mathematical concepts throughout the book it is done so well that a novice can understand the concept. You don’t need to be able to understand or apply the mathematical concept to understand the story.
    The time lines between Budapest, 1938 and the present time are never blurred and not at any time do you lose track of the story. You will often wonder where the story is going, but that is part of the wonder of the book. I thought I was reasonably aware of the struggles and persecution of Jews before the Second World War but I had no idea that gifted Jewish students were hounded out of University because they were Jews and gifted.
    The bond with five gifted students who can no longer return to University so meet at the statue of Anonymous in a City Park in Budapest is something that can’t be broken even when they do not all know what became of the others.
    Illy’s knowledge of her parent’s early life is incredibly lacking as her Mother didn’t want to speak about it as it was too painful to recount and her Father probably never wanted a child. When Illy’s Father dies and her Mother produces a notebook which is in fact a journal, astonishing things fall into place.
    It is a beautifully written, complex story that looks at human relationships through good and evil and all the while reality is evident.
    I absolutely loved the way it was written, the story it told and the inspiring lives it told of.
    I can’t thank Beauty and Lace and Pan McMillan enough for the opportunity to learn about the wonderful characters. An absolutely incredible book that I will share with very special people.

  2. Great that it is based on a true story, and what a story! It’s hard going at the beginning with a lot of complex references to mathematics but that tapers off towards the end. I totally disagree that the book is about friendship as promoted on the front cover. I think it’s more a depressing case study of modern family life in suburban Australia. I finished reading it days ago and I still feel sad.

  3. A story about relationships between friends and within a family and set across different timelines and locations : Budapest in 1938 and Sydney in 2007, A Universe of Sufficient Size by Miriam Sved and published by (Picador) PanMacmillan Australia, is a complicated tale.

    Not only does it discuss mathematical concepts and theories, it also explores the dark and harrowing effect of antisemitism, the lengths people will go to for their beliefs, as well as the strength of the human spirit and how past decisions can come back to haunt the present day.

    An evocative and moving story in which a modern Jewish family begins to comes to terms with their ( previously unknown) history in the wake of the death of the family’s patriach. The story masterfully builds suspense as each of the timelines and the stories within them come together. A Universe of Sufficient Size is an interesting read and made all the more poignant by the fact that it is based on true events.

  4. Based on a true story, A Universe of Sufficient Size’s opening chapters introduce us to a very relatable family living in Sydney, Australia. A married couple has two children, a boy and girl, both teenagers, and are supporting their grandmother through the death and subsequent funeral for her husband, their grandfather. I had such enthusiasm for this story.

    By the third chapter, I was lost. There were too many characters introduced too quickly, and an unclear setting. The story was jumping around and I was losing track and having to re-read paragraphs to understand. It was hard going.

    Each chapter alternates between being set in Budapest in the early 1930’s, and Sydney in the early 2000’s. A similar technique was used in the novel by Penny Hancock, in I thought I knew you whereby alternate chapters were narrated by the two main characters in turn.

    The Budapest setting is the story of the grandmother, Eszter, during her youth and her experiences and relationships with her group of highly intellectual mathematician friends. The Sydney setting is the story of Eszter’s daughter, Ildiko, named after her best friend from her youth, and exposes the fragility of her relationship with her mother and the influencing factors of her children and husband.
    Usually, I read a novel in a week at the most. This one, I struggled to get halfway in two weeks.
    It’s a tough read, and the sequence of events are very disjointed and repetitive. I think it would have been easier to understand had it been written in the first person.

    I’m disappointed I could only reach just over halfway, before I called it a day, and closed the book. I really tried, given that it’s based on a true story and is set in a time that I’m personally interested in.

  5. “A universe of sufficient size” is quite a different tale, focusing on mathematics that brought time onwards. At a time when Hitler was on the rise and the Jewish were being repressed a group of young mathematicians band together to solve mathematics problems and survive, finding their way to safety before the impending war. Eszter, Ildiko, Tibor, Levi and Pali continue their learning despite being removed from the Univerisity on the basis they are Jews.
    Illy, daughter of Ezter, is trying to keep her family together with her children forming against her, made so much more emotional by the passing of her father, an angry and opressive man. Their life in Australia has not been the simplest, but Illy wants just the best for her family. Josh wants to give up on his degree in persuit of mathematics greatness, Zoe is following a nonconventional path, joining protests for the government. Her husband is distant, perhaps having an affair and her mother is surreptitiously trying her to read a journal of the past. Is the world ever going to go her way.
    The escape for impending doom and the fight to keep it together, such different paths but leading to the same. It all comes to head when some 70 years after the war Pali Kalmar, a world renown mathematician, is coming to Josh’s Uni and his grandma Ezter wants to meet with him… is there something Josh should know???
    The twist in this tale is not one I saw coming. I found the maths conversations and work a little challenging to get through but the story around it is worth the read. How strange a take on an historical tale, thoroughly enjoyable.
    Thanks Beauty and Lace for the opportunity.

  6. A UNIVERSE OF SUFFICIENT SIZE written by Miriam Sved who was inspired by the many pre- war stories told by her grandmother Eszter when she lived in Budapest and the infiltration of the Nazi government.
    Five pre-war friends Eszter, Ildiko, Tibor, Levi and Pali are five mathematicians who meet at the Statue of Anonymous to further their numbers theory foundations because they can no longer attend university simply because they are Jews.
    The second timeframe is set in Sydney in 2007 and Eszter’s husband has passed and is not held in high regard by the family members. Illy, daughter of Eszter is named after her best friend Ildiko. Illy lives with her husband Russell and two adult children, Zoe and Josh. Russell is very distant and may be having an affair and the two adult offspring are very self absorbed as well as rebellious. Illy’s mother has come to stay and also has brought complications.
    Whilst Illy is feeling more distanced from the family dynamics she has a huge meltdown and meanwhile both Zoe and Josh are becoming more connected with their grandmother.
    The story is quite complicated and frustrating and I would have loved the opportunity to be in a secluded spot for a few days interruption free! I was not prepared for the final twist!
    This book is well written and worth reading, Thankyou Beauty and Lace and Pan MacMillan.

  7. This story begins in 1938 in pre-war Hungary where 5 brilliant young, Jewish mathematics students have been expelled from University. The other half of this story occurs in 2007 in Sydney where one of the young Jewish students, now lives, many years on. Now a grandmother Eszter is burying her husband and is staying with her daughter and her family for support.

    The alternating locations and places make this story a little disjointed. In the beginning of the novel in Hungary we find out about the relationship between the five friends and in Sydney in 2007, the novel starts by establishing the relationship between Eszter and her family. I enjoyed the relationship setting that occurred early on between the grandmother and grandson but felt it was under developed before jumping back to Hungary. With the jumping through history I quickly lost the feel for the family and the storyline. Being a science ‘buff’ I thought I would enjoy the mathematical side of the novel, but I feel it was just a distraction in this story.

    I rarely put down an unfinished book but I really struggled to complete this novel, even after several attempts.

  8. The novel bounces between modern days Sydney with a family dealing with the death of their grand-father and Budapest in late 1930s with a group of gifted Jewish mathematicians. It is a good insight in pre-war Hungary where the Jewish were already persecuted.

    The start of the book is hard to get into. It was difficult to relate to the Sydney family as we do not know much and the Budapest part of the book is not easy to read with the math discussions. However I am so glad I persisted! Once I got to know the characters and understand their stories and understand the linkages between the stories, I did not want it to stop. Some of the stories were heartbreaking, I guess this is predictable for a novel happening in a time when Jewish were prosecuted.

    I was grateful that the stories within the novel were delivered with compassion to the characters but also for the reader. I wish the story would have continued a bit longer.

    This book deserves the extra effort at the start. May be the reader should not get too hang up on the math discussions, it does not really matter in the big schema of things, the story is beautiful and fascinating.

    Thank you Beauty and Lace and Pan MacMillan for the opportunity to review this book. Event a few days later, the characters are still with me.

  9. I’ll start by saying that I ended up really enjoying this novel. If I hadn’t been given it to read and review, I wouldn’t have gotten past the first 100 pages though, actually, not even that far. So I’m really glad I had to keep reading because it was well worth persevering with this story.

    This is a dual timeline historical fiction novel that revolves around 5 friends who are mathematicians in Hungary in 1938, teens who have lost the right to go to university because they are Jewish. Despite reading a fair few books set around WWII, I really still have no idea how Hitler, referred to in this novel as the small German psychopath, and his rules and laws completely affected and persecuted everyone of Jewish descent well before the war actually started. From not being allowed to work in most jobs, study or have freedom to move around their country, or out of it. I especially knew nothing of the people from Hungary.

    The story itself was great, it was the mathematics that had me thinking, I am not enjoying this, I completely do not understand anything they are talking about. But if you can get through the larger chunk of mathematical concepts up to the first third of the book, then you will discover a really good story, one with a mystery and secrets that we slowly uncover through the reading of a notebook in the present timeline in Australia.

    The present timeline, set in Australia is one of a largely disfunctional family, who’s younger members are trying to find their way and follow their dreams, who’s mother, Illy is feeling lost while trying to deal with her adult children and her elderly stubborn mother, Eszter, as well as a husband she’s not sure of anymore. As dreams for the future converge with secrets from the past, the family dynamics will undergo some interesting changes.

    I was completely engaged with the characters, both past and present, wanting to know what would happen next and what had happened to them in the past. There’s a huge twist near the end that I completely did not see coming, which is something I love, I love being surprised when something completely unexpected happens in a story I where think I know roughly what is going to happen or be uncovered.

    It’s a story of friendship, love, family, hope, dreams and mathematics. As well as persecution and fighting back any way you can.

  10. Congratulations to Miriam Sved on a wonderful book.
    I thoroughly enjoyed the story telling even though Mathematics is no where my thing.

    This book has bought us an understanding of love and hate and extremities people go to for survival.
    At times I had to re-read some pages to understand what I was reading. This was because of the too many characters.
    Highly recommend this book

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