Half Life

Jillian Cantor

The USA Today bestselling author of In Another Time reimagines the pioneering, passionate life of Marie Curie using a parallel structure to create two alternative timelines, one that mirrors her real life, one that explores the consequences for Marie and for science if she’d made a different choice.

In Poland in 1891, Marie Curie (then Marya Sklodowska) was engaged to a budding mathematician, Kazimierz Zorawski. But when his mother insisted she was too poor and not good enough, he broke off the engagement. A heartbroken Marya left Poland for Paris, where she would attend the Sorbonne to study chemistry and physics. Eventually Marie Curie would go on to change the course of science forever and be the first woman to win a Nobel Prize.

But what if she had made a different choice?

What if she had stayed in Poland, married Kazimierz at the age of twenty-four, and never attended the Sorbonne or discovered radium? What if she had chosen a life of domesticity with a constant hunger for knowledge in Russian Poland where education for women was restricted, instead of studying science in Paris and meeting Pierre Curie?

Entwining Marie Curie’s real story with Marya Zorawska’s fictional one, Half Life explores loves lost and destinies unfulfilled—and probes issues of loyalty and identity, gender and class, motherhood and sisterhood, fame and anonymity, scholarship and knowledge. Through parallel contrasting versions of Marya’s life, Jillian Cantor’s unique historical novel asks what would have happened if a great scientific mind was denied opportunity and access to education. It examines how the lives of one remarkable woman and the people she loved – as well as the world at large and course of science and history—might have been irrevocably changed in ways both great and small.

-Excerpt taken from Goodreads.

Check Goodreads to see the book’s ratings.

My Opinion

You can love your work or you can love your family, but it is impossible as a woman to have both, to have it all, isn’t it?

3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5) We’ve all heard bits and pieces of the life of Marie Curie. This book takes that life and adds “What if?” What if she didn’t leave Poland and go to Paris for school? It explores the possibilities of Marya’s life if she chose differently at a pivotal point in her life.

Marie grew up as Marya in Poland and became engaged in 1891. The engagement is called off and she heads to Paris instead where she changes her name to Marie. We go back and forth through her life; one as Marya, if she stayed in Poland to marry and one as Marie who leaves for school to pursue her deepest desires.

This was fascinating to read. What happened in one life, didn’t necessarily happen in the other but there were many similarities, even if they were years apart. The differences it brought about were so interesting to think about. How one choice can shape our lives. It can even shape others lives. That choice can affect who we become, who we love, and how we treat others.

I didn’t know much about Curie before this book, but she is definitely one to admire. She blazed the way for women in the work place in so many ways. She won Nobel Peace Prizes (two) and overcame obstacles and trials with fervor. Our world today is shaped because of her discovery of radium and polonium.

Many things surprised me about the book, namely the illegal school in Poland that she created. How crazy to think it was illegal to learn as a woman. Where would our world be without people like Curie? The determination she had was admirable.

In the middle of the book, my interest waned a bit. The details were not keeping my attention as I would have liked.

Half-life…the way I might describe how I lived my entire adult life. One foot inside my reality… one foot inside the fantasy of what might have been.

Content Summary: Baby deaths, still borns, affairs, difficulties being the only woman in the field.

Thank you to Harper Collins for the gifted copy in exchange for an honest review. This book releases Tuesday, March 23, 2021.

**As an Amazon associate I earn from qualifying purchases. 


  1. I’m more interested in a biography or histfic fictionalized biography. I’m not the biggest fan of the “what if” sub genre.

  2. I wrote a paper about Marie Curie in school and she was so cool! I have never read a what if scenario book.

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