256 pages, Trade Paperback, Fiction
Release Date: October 14, 2014
ISBN 13: 978-1500856175
Available in print and eBook
Published by The Russian Estate
Sabine is a theoretical physicist from Berlin and Renata is a prominent Polish-born American investor. They arrange to meet for the first time in the lounge of a Boston hotel, where Sabine wants to discuss a personal matter.
They touch on a succession of topics: quantum gravity (Sabine’s academic specialty); Renata’s strange diet and her famous husband Mark, who’s a mathematician; Jewish jokes; high school memories; numerous intellectual figures and ideas; Haiti rescue efforts, Cuban boleros and Frank Sinatra; the Holocaust—and the BRCA mutation that causes breast cancer. But every time they get near Sabine’s personal matter, they meander back into safer currents.
Sabine slowly comes to the point: she encountered Renata’s husband in a professional setting and fell deeply in love with him. She propositioned him, but Mark demurred in consideration of his wife, despite her unconventional views on marriage. Ashamed, Sabine determined that his rejection would be the end of the story—except for the intrigue of those unconventional views. Thus, she contacts Renata for answers.
Sabine gets more than she bargained for. Renata comes prepared. She knows about Sabine and she has her own agenda which may include bringing Sabine into her family.
In its form, This Isn’t Easy for Me is a contemporary conversation, a novel conveyed only by the women’s dialogue. In its substance, it is a story that spans decades but is told in one afternoon, a meditation about fidelity and what matters most in the many ways to live, love—and die.
In Berengaut’s (The Estate of Wormwood and Honey, 2012) second novel, two women discuss love, physics, infidelity, polyamory, mathematics, the Holocaust and the importance of family.
Imagine if My Dinner with Andre, with its emphasis on dialogue and the nuanced analysis of past adventure and philosophy, took place between two contemporary, highly accomplished women having lunch. Berengaut has accomplished something remarkable: a novel composed entirely of dialogue, with no chapter breaks, that is riveting from beginning to end. Sabine Stern is an academic who is regularly invited to speak at top-tier universities, while Renata Rubinstein is a world-famous, wealthy intellectual married to a genius mathematician named Mark. Ostensibly, Sabine has arranged to meet Renata about a “personal matter,” but the conversation takes on incredible scope and depth, traversing the two women’s vast experience and knowledge, including their ancestors’ time in Nazi Germany and concepts of poetry and sexual fidelity. The narrative begins to take shape when Sabine mentions that she received an email out of the blue from Renata’s husband about a mathematical concept related to her work. Gradually, the women discover that their connection is about more than a simple chance email; the interweaving of their backgrounds, philosophies and approaches toward living has the potential to dramatically alter each of their destinies. The book’s strength is simultaneously its weakness. As Sabine and Renata discuss at one point: “It’s hard to believe that, once upon the time, people used to read philosophy for pleasure.” “It is a rather strange experience, reading those books. You understand the words, you sort of think that you understand the sentences, but the sense of paragraphs—not to say anything about whole chapters—is completely elusive.” Indeed, the engrossing narrative, which twists and turns through a variety of historical anecdotes and personal experiences, has no natural breaks, almost forcing readers to finish it in one sitting. However, the experience is a richly rewarding one, and the surprise ending is poignant without being sentimental. These mature, thoughtful women are unlike almost any others in popular contemporary literature, and their conversation—long, gorgeous, encompassing—is one of the most memorable in literature of the last 10 years.
An unusually structured, thoroughly researched and deeply felt work that creates an intimate portrait of two women and the decades they have thoughtfully inhabited. —Kirkus
“In Julian Berengaut’s This Isn’t Easy for Me, two strangers—Sabine, a German physicist, and Renata, an economist and philanthropist—meet for tea, one with a confession, the other a proposition. What follows is not a novel, but a conversation—a conversation that becomes more than a novel. It is a sweeping look at history, love and relationships, science, mathematics, and, most importantly women. Berengaut has written Sabine and Renata with as much tenderness, respect, and understanding as any woman writer.” —Jen Michalski, The Tide King and Could You Be With Her Now
“… here’s a book for people who love language. Language of literature, but also of physics, history, and the tangles you make with the daily news and private memories. Inside here is sex and sin and religion and dietary restrictions. This Isn’t Easy for Me is also for people who wish they could let their minds go wild—because by the end of the book, they will. From Conan Doyle to Pushkin, from Diderot to Godel, from Jewish jokes to Dumas to the Bible to Babel, bring some sticky notes for this lively marathon conversation between two learned women, so you can jot all the words, books, and your own ideas that you’ll want to follow up on later. The only problem here is that, as much as wish you could be, you aren’t there to join in.” —Linda Franklin, Barkinglips