The Light in Trieste is a stunning achievement, an ambitious opus set in Trieste, straddling 120 years and divided into three time periods. In 1898 Empress Elizabeth of Austria, Sisi is desperate to escape the stultifying court in Vienna and start a new life in New York. This historical section was a thrilling read for me, having visited the palace in Vienna and like many others, being mesmerized by the vain beauty who starved herself to maintain her tiny waist right till the time she was assassinated at age 60. Aubert’s rendition of Sisi is exhilarating.
In the second part, still set in Trieste but in 1954, the protagonist, Marijana, is the granddaughter of the man who was supposed to take Sisi to New York. Echoing the storyline, Marijana, now a scientist, desperately wants to escape her home in Communist Yugoslavia and get to America with the help of an American scientist.
The final section jumps to the present with Ravena, a street-smart young con artist who deals in scientific oddities for cash and who has an inexplicable talent for mathematics. The theme replays and she, too, fervently seeks a new life in America. I am not a math aficionado, but I enjoyed Ravena’s display of math bravado as well as the mathematical esoterica introduced, among them a “nocturnal,” which can tell time from the stars. Aubert has connected the three stories with a prism, a magical piece of glass originally owned by Isaac Newton and used by the three women as a bargaining chip for their freedom.