Lightning by Jean Echenoz


General FictionLightning by Jean Echenoz

LightningJean Echenoz; New Press 2011WorldCatGregor was born around midnight in the middle of a storm around midnight. Nobody knows exactly which day is his birthday. The is the first of many dirty tricks that happen to Gregor throughout his life. Gregor is a genius with a photograph memory. He also compulsive tendencies. Numbers, science, relationships, and electricity are almost like games to him.

Gregor started working as an engineer in Europe. He envisioned machines and electricity producing gadgets that are beyond anything they have in the late 19th century. He goes to America and New York City. He quickly gets a low paying job with Thomas Edison, giving many suggestions and ideas. Another dirty trick – Edison keeps the ideas and eventually lets Gregor go. He spends his adult life envisioning wonderful machines and filing preliminary patents. But more often than not, someone else took the ideas and profited. Eventually he dies in his 80’s – broke and almost friendless. Yet Gregor created the first viable eletrical delivery system in alternating current. He invented radios but hadn’t put his ideas into reality. Before he completed his ideas, Marconi took many of the parts and officially invented the radio – another dirty trick.

Lightning is a fictionalized version of Nikola Tesla’s life. Jean Echenoz renames Tesla as his character Gregor in this book, but follows his life. Famous people like J. Pierpont Morgan, Thomas Edison, and Mark Twain are all named. Gregor/Tesla was a celebrity for many years, especially after he worked with Westinghouse on the alternate current delivery system for electricy. The dirty trick played on Gregor/Tesla that time he brought on himself. Westinghouse owed him millions but Gregor/Tesla tears up the contract without collecting any of it.

The man was a genius in all things but his own finances. He also exhibited obsessive compulsive symptoms. He had to count everything. He was a microphobe who cleaned everything multiple times before he used something. He played with lightning storms. He dreamt up guided missiles, radar, radio stations, and free energy for everyone.

Echenoz’s Lightning  is a small quiet book that tells a biography in a straightforward manner. There’s no sensationalism. It’s the story of the man’s life – told like one person was to tell to another in a general conversation. The book isn’t exciting but interesting.

I had forgotten what Lightning was about when I started reading it, nor did I have a dust jacket on my copy. I kept reading, waiting for the hook. Then I realized that this man’s extraordinary mind was the story.

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