Benjamin Labatut & Adrian Nathan West with Jay G Ying
Anyone who studied physics at school might remember the mysterious way in which light is said to hover somewhere between wave and particle. In a similar way, according to Philip Pullman, the thrilling new work by Benjamin Labatut hovers somewhere between fiction and non-fiction. Labatut, born in the Netherlands and living in Chile, is an emerging superstar of this approach to writing that refuses to settle into a neatly-defined genre category: essay, memoir, conjecture and pure fiction – Labatut deploys them all.
His third book, When We Cease To Understand the World, has been translated from the Spanish by writer and translator Adrian Nathan West, who used his prior knowledge of the Second World War and sought out original documents from scientific history to render this ‘nonfiction novel’ into English.
When We Cease To Understand the World looks at how pioneering 20th century scientists including Albert Einstein, Erwin Schrödinger and Werner Heisenberg grappled with mathematical theories that asked profound questions of existence. Einstein is said to have loathed quantum mechanics, yet its mind-bending theories underpin the science that we live by today. At the same time they have also brought about the possibility of unimaginable human suffering – not least in the form of nuclear weapons powerful enough to wipe out humankind. In gripping and dazzling text, Labatut and West have turned science into a series of imaginative extrapolations. According to the Evening Standard, ‘it may be possible to feel our brain getting bigger as you read.’
In today’s session Labatut and West discusses this majestic book with writer, critic and translator Jay G Ying.
This event includes a short performed reading from When We Cease To Understand the World by actor Fiona Shaw, directed by Blanche McIntyre on behalf of the Royal Shakespeare Company and commissioned by The Booker Prizes.
Available to watch on-demand shortly after the live broadcast has finished.
Book Festival News
Tuesday 7 December