Equilateral by Ken Kalfus

April 1, 2013 2013, Advance Reviews, ARC, reviews 4

ken kalfus equilateral book review
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
Source: Publisher 

Perfectly pieced together cover art for a novel that can’t be categorized - in the best way possible. 

“Thayer has to remind the engineers of the Equilateral’s purpose and fundamental principles. If the figure is forced to conform to the Egyptian landscape, the astronomers of Mars will be placed in the same difficult position as their colleagues on Earth: unable to convince parochial skeptics that the markings on the distant planetary surface are the work of sentient beings. 

It’s the disregard of the natural landscape that proves man’s intelligence.”

Clearly, we’re not in 2013 anymore. Ken Kalfus’ Equilateral is set in 1894, where British astronomer Sanford Thayer has spent several years working toward the construction of a massive equilateral triangle in Egypt. Thayer has come to believe that the triangle has the ability to communicate with living beings on Mars if completed and set aflame on a specific date, allowing the planets to properly align.

Equilateral is a fascinating study of time, place and purpose. While the blend of science, math and hint of sci-fi are enough to make for an interesting plot on their own, it is the historical commentary that will catch and pull you in. With delicate precision, Kalfus is able to travel back in time and piece together phrases offensive enough to come from a colonial-minded 19th century man. I found myself highlighting line after line, in awe of this story so opposite our politically correct world. 

I’m not sure if it’s the cover’s fantastic design or the time period combined with the focus on astronomy, but early in the novel I made a connection to French filmmaker Georges Méliès and had a hard time letting go. I pictured the rest of the book as this hand colored fantasy, edited with camera tricks and illusion. It was perfect. Can we get a director to make this happen?


Equilateral has much to offer to so many different readers; brilliant writing, math and science notes, a telescope into history. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever read and deserves to be picked up by as many people as possible. 

Andrew Ervin posted a great interview with Ken Kalfus on the Tin House Blog that goes a little deeper into some of the book’s themes. 

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13138730317208033566 Monika

    This sounds amazing, one that my DH would probably enjoy, too! Great review.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02024137897685829669 River City Reader

    It’s so unique that it was difficult to describe – but a totally great read.

  • http://theallureofbooks.com/ Allison S.

    I was so drawn to the cover and synopsis of this one – but some less then stellar reviews left it on the backburner. I definitely plan to pick it up very soon after seeing your thoughts!

    • http://www.rivercityreading.com.previewdns.com/ Shannon @ River City Reading

      It’s really different, so I think you have to be prepared for that going in, but I adored how unique it was.