WHEN CATHERINE CHUNG’S debut, Forgotten Country, was published in 2012, she started thinking about what it means to be a smart, ambitious woman in the world. “This article came out in the Smithsonian magazine about five famous women in mathematics. I’d never heard of any of them,” she says. “In the histories of math and science, women are often excluded.”
Chung, 40, kept this in mind in the seven years that followed, with the experience directly informing her next book, The Tenth Muse, which is centered on a fictional mathematician named Katherine as she reflects on how she and other trailblazing genius women defied society’s expectations.
Herself a recipient of a mathematics degree from UChicago, Chung spent years researching for the novel. “The more I read about these women, the more inspired I became,” she says. “These were stories of our ancestors, women who’d come before us and done these amazing things.” She also met a woman in her 70s, near Katherine’s age, at an academic talk on black holes: “She told me what it was like for her, as one of the only women coming up in graduate school... That was helpful for me in creating the environment—what academia was like at that time for women.”
Muse is also engrossing, filled with juicy historical details (Alan Turing makes an appearance) and startling twists related to Katherine’s family li