Book Review: 'Lightning'

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Veteran French novelist Jean Echenoz knows genius when he sees it, says our book commentator Alan Cheuse. His new novel, called Lightning, is a brisk and enlightening fictional rendering of the life of the Balkan born, long-time American inventor Nikola Tesla.


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Melissa Block.

If you're looking for a brisk, compelling read this summer, our book reviewer Alan Cheuse has just the thing. It's a new book from the veteran French novelist Jean Echenoz. "Lightning" offers a fictional rendering of the life of inventor Nikola Tesla.

ALAN CHEUSE: Tesla - or, as Echenoz calls him it in this fast-striding 140-page novel, Gregor - emigrated to New York as a young man, worked briefly for Thomas Edison and then moved in giant steps past his old employer, becoming an inventor who seems to rival nature in the force of his creations.

Gregor perfects alternating current, while creating a power generator that causes an earthquake beneath his Manhattan laboratory. He finds a patron in financier J.P. Morgan, moves to Colorado Springs, where he creates a lightning storm that destroys the city's electrical grid.

He takes up residence in New York City's Waldorf Astoria, hobnobs with New York society but never finds love, except in the flocks of his beloved pigeons whom he takes on as his constant company.

But after J.P. Morgan's death, Gregor is forced to move to a shabby midtown hotel and looks for handout after handout to continue his visionary experiments. He offers the U.S. Army an invention we know as radar, which they reject, and then guided missiles, which they also turned down.

Echenoz somehow captures the spirit of this rangy - he was 6 foot 5 dark-eyed genius with an electrical storm of a mind in these few pages, which you'll be pleased to hear you can read at lightning speed.

BLOCK: The book from Jean Echenoz is called the "Lightning." Our reviewer is Alan Cheuse.

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