Third time's the charm for Milwaukee's Rojstaczer
Third time's the charm, at least for Milwaukee-born and bred author Stuart Rojstaczer.
Rojstaczer's third stab at writing a novel has been his most successful and the publication of "The Mathematician's Shiva," out now in paperback from Penguin, brings the Brew City boy home for a reading and signing next week at Boswell Books.
The book earned a positive review in Publisher's Weekly recently.
Rojstaczer -- who lives in Northern California -- moved out the city at age 11 and left town after high school to see the world.
We asked him about his years here, how Milwaukee has infiltrated his work, what he plans do when he visits on Wednesday, Sept. 10 (the free event is at 7 p.m.) and more.
OnMilwaukee.com: You're a Milwaukee boy, I hear. Can you tell us a bit about where you grew up and went to school, etc.?
Stuart Rojstaczer: I was born and raised mostly on Milwaukee's West Side. I went to 65th Street School and 81st Street School. When I was 11, we moved to the northern suburbs. I graduated from Nicolet High School. My dad built every home I lived in except for our first on 41st and Auer.
OMC: When did you leave?
SR: When I was 16, I wanted to see a bit of the world and left Milwaukee. I started out by hitchhiking across Canada. When I got back from my travels, I went to college in Madison.
OMC: Do you get back much?
SR: I try to get back every few years.
OMC: What do you think about how the city has changed since your departure?
SR: The biggest change is that when I was growing up most of the people in my neighborhood made good money doing highly skilled physical labor. Most of those jobs are gone and Milwaukee seems like less of a blue-collar town. Also back then it seemed that people rarely ate out and, truth be told, the restaurants weren't anything to brag about. Now Milwaukee has quite a few places to enjoy good food. It's not just a custard town anymore.
OMC: Tell us about your new book; it has a Wisconsin connection, doesn't it?
SR: The new book, "The Mathematician's Shiva," is about what happens when a UW-Madison math prof, a Polish émigré and the best mind of her generation, dies. Rumor has it that she solved a major problem in math before she died, but she was so angry at the math community for never awarding her the Fields Medal -- math's equivalent of the Nobel Prize -- that she took the solution to her grave without revealing it to anyone. The math community acts on this rumor and crashes her funeral and mourning period after -- the shiva -- to look for clues to the solution. It's part mystery and part comedy.
There's quite a bit of Polish, Russian, Hebrew, Yiddish and math mixed into the novel. The problem the math prof is rumored to have solved, the Navier-Stokes problem, is a real one and it's so important that its solution comes with a real million dollar prize. I was worried someone might solve the Navier-Stokes problem before my novel came out. Fortunately for me -- and unfortunately for the math community -- the problem remains unsolved.
OMC: I noticed the bio says "The Mathematician's Shiva" is your first published novel. Were there others before?
SR: I wrote two earlier novels. The first was a Pynchon-esque comedy about a young man traveling and taking too many drugs. I wrote that when I was 20. The second was a comedy about a crazy college president. I wrote that when I was 45.
OMC: Will they see the light of day?
SR: Not if I can help it. They're both terrible. You have to be bad before you can be good. Those two novels and the newest one, which I like a lot, are all proof of that.
OMC: Do you think you'll write about Milwaukee someday?
SR: I grew up in a colorful community of Polish and Soviet WWII survivors who ended up in Milwaukee and my childhood is a great wellspring of emotions and creative ideas. I write a lot of short stories that take place in Milwaukee. There might be a time when I take a selection of them and create a book.
OMC: I see that you're working on a novel about a neighborhood torn apart by a planned freeway. That's the story of many Milwaukee neighborhoods.
SR: The novel takes place in a fictional town that's a mix of Milwaukee and a few other Midwestern cities that I know well. I never name it. If it had a name it might be Mildechiminakee.
OMC: You're coming to Milwaukee on Sept. 10, will you have some time to look around before you jet off to Durham, N.C.?
SR: I get something like 18 waking hours in the Cream City. I hope to play hooky from my book promo duties for about six of them.
OMC: What's on your to-do list?
SR: Visit some old neighbors. Try to find Otto Salomon's old cheesecake recipe. Take a swim in Lake Michigan.
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