The Other Einstein
Oct 18, 2016
also available as ebook
MY THOUGHTS ABOUT THIS BOOK
The Other Einstein was a big hype at BEA 2016. I also heard the author Marie Benedict talk in a panel. She seemed to be very deep and simple at the same time, and very articulate. So it was a book I was really looking forward to diving into.
It’s funny how some authors find a topic, or rather a topic finds them: while helping her son with a book report on Einstein, she discovered his wife Mileva Marić and was intrigued. Her aim then became to “tell the story of a brilliant woman whose light has been lost in Albert’s enormous shadow.”
And she does it beautifully, in a first person narrative, the most appropriate for this goal in mind. The retelling of Mileva’s life opens on her first day at the Swiss Federal Polytechnic University, in Zürich, one of the few universities in Europe to grant women degrees in 1896. Back in Serbia, her homeland, Mileva has already had to suffer from classmates, male and female, when they realized her difference and the scope of her ambition. Her short size and limping did not help, at a time when this slight handicap was enough to make it difficult to find a spouse.
So the reaction of her exclusively male classmates and teachers are not that surprising for her. But Mileva, emboldened by her father for whom education was essential, is determined to master physics and mathematics. Fortunately, she finds three friends at her pension, all equally smart, ambitious, and ridiculed!
I really enjoyed how the author portrayed Mileva’s inner struggle as Einstein started flirting with her. She was stuck between her feelings, slowly warming towards Albert, and her fear that being married and starting a family would put a stop to what had been her unique goal in life.
It was also neat seeing her develop from a serious and rather shy girl to a young woman trusting enough in her intelligence to mix with male students for passionate discussions on physics and maths in the cafés of the city, an activity almost exclusively male at the time.
Mileva’s discovery of another face of Einstein, his moodiness and his maneuvering to keep her in the shadows (while benefiting from her genius gifts in maths) to be himself exclusively under the spotlight was so well done, that I often wanted to slap the guy, even though I’m not an ardent feminist. I do believe in the couple as a team and am fortunate enough to experience it on a daily basis (to the point that I plan to have my next book not just with me as the author, but co-authored by my husband), so I could feel the hurt when Albert renegaded on the collaboration he had promised in their studies and work together.
Add to that his affairs, and it is understandable that she ends up living him, with their children.
We do not know for sure what happened to their first child, Lieserl. Benedict’s proposed solution seemed to make total sense. And this led to a wonderful epiphanic passage (in chapter 25), when Mileva realizes the limits of Newton’s laws and that time is actually relative to space.
I also enjoyed the passage when the couple meets Marie Curie, another female genius of the time.
This historical novel is based on letters between the young couple and between Mileva and Helene, one of the other girls in the Zürich pension.
There’s a fierce debate on how important her role may have been in Einstein’s discoveries. This is the perfect situation for a historical novelist to take over and try to fill in the gaps. I think Benedict did it in a wonderful way, that seemed to be totally relevant and plausible.
Plus her descriptions of the period, mentality, and places (awesome passages on Zürich made the book very lively and enjoyable.
Finally, take time to admire the cover, with equations in shining silver filigree superposed on a gorgeous picture – you will have to hunt a copy to see what I’m talking about, it’s not really visible on a picture.
This is definitely an author I will keep an eye on.
VERDICT: Albert Einstein was not ready to share with his wife Mileva Marić the fame she was due. Marie Benedict gives it back to her in this excellent historical novel.
WHAT IS IT ABOUT
A vivid and mesmerizing novel about the extraordinary woman who married and worked with one of the greatest scientists in history.
What secrets may have lurked in the shadows of Albert Einstein’s fame? His first wife, Mileva “Mitza” Marić, was more than the devoted mother of their three children—she was also a brilliant physicist in her own right, and her contributions to the special theory of relativity have been hotly debated for more than a century.
In 1896, the extraordinarily gifted Mileva is the only woman studying physics at an elite school in Zürich. There, she falls for charismatic fellow student Albert Einstein, who promises to treat her as an equal in both love and science. But as Albert’s fame grows, so too does Mileva’s worry that her light will be lost in her husband’s shadow forever.
A literary historical in the tradition of The Paris Wife and Mrs. Poe, The Other Einstein reveals a complicated partnership that is as fascinating as it is troubling.