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Authors: Chrissy Kolaya

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Charmed Particles

BOOK: Charmed Particles


“Part immigration story, part Midwestern pastoral, Kolaya's charming debut maps the schisms of a small Illinois town that's divided over a proposal to build a Superconducting Super Collider at the local research lab…. The book is at its best and most nuanced when Kolaya turns her attention to the personal: Abhijat and Sarala's marriage, Lily and Meena's increasingly difficult friendship, and—above all—Abhijat's internal struggle to come to terms with the reality of his career.”

Kirkus Reviews

“This is such an accomplished debut novel…. Kolaya handles an intriguing and sympathetic cast of characters with aplomb—it's a brainy, witty page-turner, and marks the start of what I hope will be a long career for Kolaya as a novelist.”

—Newcity Lit

Charmed Particles
is inspired by very real stories straight from today's headlines, yet managed to mesmerize me in the way of an intoxicating fairytale. Kolaya's characters are flawed, though sympathetic citizens, gazing suspiciously at one another across great chasms of misunderstanding—passionately divided. Yet in her alchemical hands we're shown what is possible when we have the courage to venture deep within our wounded hearts: sweet magic.”

—Susan Power, author of
The Grass Dancer

Charmed Particles
is a deftly constructed fable of modernity told in elegant, pellucid prose. Kolaya draws her characters with affectionate acuity and the whole reminds me—in its depiction of childhood precocity and earnest adult eccentricity—of one of Wes Anderson's wry wonders.”

—Peter Ho Davies, author of
The Welsh Girl

“Unfolding gently through the evolving stories of two young families, [
Charmed Particles
] builds to a moment of colliding perspectives over pioneering progress in physics versus historical physical preservation and ultimately reveals the shared aspirations of both. You will enjoy this tender, timely, and thought-provoking first novel by Chrissy Kolaya.”

—Adrienne Kolb, co-author of
Tunnel Visions: The Rise and Fall of the Superconducting Super Collider

“A wonderfully impish satire, Chrissy Kolaya's
Charmed Particles
is all about various cross-cultural, cross-temporal, and cross-spatial explorations as charged with mystery, magic, and possibility as the high-energy particle physics conducted at the National Accelerator Research Lab that forms the novel's literal and metaphoric heart. What a sparkling debut.”

—Lance Olsen, author of
Theories of Forgetting

“Chrissy Kolaya writes from a place of deep intelligence, humor, and sympathy about a cast of varied, marvelously drawn characters…an extremely accomplished and affecting story about family, ambition, the immigrant experience, and the inexorable forward movement of Time and its much-admired handmaiden Progress. Truly wonderful.”

—Christine Sneed, author of
Little Known Facts
Paris, He Said




5220 Dexter Ann Arbor Rd.
Ann Arbor, MI 48103

The characters and events in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.

Copyright © 2015, text by Chrissy Kolaya. All rights reserved, except for brief quotations in critical articles or reviews. No part of this book may be reproduced in any manner without prior written permission from the publisher: Dzanc Books, 5220 Dexter Ann Arbor Rd., Ann Arbor, MI 48103.

Designed by Steven Seighman

Excerpts of this book appeared, sometimes in slightly different form, in the following publications: “Unveiling the Wild: Being the Account of the Expeditions of Randolph Winchester, the Last Great Gentleman Explorer,”
Chariton Review;
and “The Search for Charmed Particles,”
Crab Orchard Review

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Kolaya, Chrissy.

Charmed particles / Chrissy Kolaya.

pages ; cm

ISBN 978-1-938103-17-9

I. Title. PS3611.O5824C48 2015



First U.S. Edition: November 2015

Printed in the United States of America

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

In memory of Helen Calvert Bergman wise reader, dear friend, dream-come-true mother-in-law



Charmed Particles

Particles containing a charm quark…have only a fleeting existence before decaying into more conventional particles

A. H


Accelerator Research Lab with great pride. The offer itself was the realization of his greatest dream, now made concrete by the desk he would sit behind, the nameplate on his door, the drive every morning through the gates, where he would present his pass to the security guard who would, after a matter of weeks, begin to wave him through, recognizing Abhijat as one among the parade of scientists he'd been waving through those gates for years, and on that day, Abhijat would feel, at last, like he belonged.

He had written Sarala with the news that he'd accepted a position at the premier particle accelerator and research facility in the U.S., some argued in the world. The job would begin at the end of the semester, after he had fulfilled his academic commitments to the university.

In the evenings, he took the short, quiet walk from his office on campus to the small set of rooms he rented in the house of an emeritus professor of philosophy, with whom he sometimes enjoyed an evening game of chess before returning to his desk to pore over his work. As he walked, snow falling quietly around him as was common on those dark midwinter nights, he often caught himself peering into the lit-up windows of the houses he passed, imagining the life he and Sarala would make for themselves.

Sarala had pointed out that he neglected to respond to the questions in her letters, and so, in the next letter he posted, he included the following chart:

Letter Number




Are you making progress with your research?



Are the Americans friendly?

Not overmuch.


Do you think I will like it there, in the United States with you?

I am unable to answer this. Any response would be pure speculation, an area I prefer to avoid.

To which Sarala replied:

Yes, but if I understand your work, you are doing precisely this—speculating—in making predictions about the possible existence of new particles before they have been detected

To which Abhijat responded (keeping to himself his delight at Sarala's pluck, as well as her surprisingly accurate grasp of his research project):

You are correct. I will here attempt a prediction. I believe it is likely that you will be happy here and with me, but that you will at times experience some degree of homesickness, as I have

Abhijat had been working at a university in the U.S. since leaving Cambridge, where he had done his training and emerged from the group of young theoretical physicists as a quiet, serious student, one his professors had decided possessed a great deal of promise. And all that time, back in Bombay, his mother had been on the hunt for a suitable wife. Sarala had emerged as the foremost contender. The wedding had taken place on his last trip home, and soon Sarala would join him in the States to begin their new life together.

After the wedding, Sarala had gone to Abhijat's mother's home, a custom they kept despite Abhijat's absence. He had needed to return to the university to finish the academic year, and so the months between Sarala's wedding and her arrival in the U.S. were spent in close companionship with her new mother-in-law, who, she was surprised to find, she liked a great deal.

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