Monday, October 31, 2016

The Other Einstein

Title:  The Other Einstein
Author:  Marie Benedict
Publication Information:  Sourcebooks Landmark. 2016. 304 pages.
ISBN:  1492637254 / 978-1492637257

Book Source:  I received this book as a publisher's galley through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "The end is near."

Favorite Quote:  "Science certainly needs practical men, but science also needs dreamers."

Mileva Maric was the "other" Einstein. She was born in Serbia and trained as a physicist at the Zurich Polytechnic. It is here that she met Albert Einstein as a fellow student. The two developed a personal relationship, went to be married (as the title implies) and have children. Mileva Maric was a scientist in her own right, and it has been suggested that she contributed to Einstein's work although no credit has been given, and most historians discredit the claim. This book is a fictional story based on this history.

Historical fiction is about the balance between history and fiction. From the content of the book and the author's note at the end, this book is more fiction than history. Yes, the individuals existed. Yes, the marriage existed. Yes, the children existed although perhaps not as the book suggests. Perhaps, so did some of the surrounding characters. The rest is fiction. What takes this book even further away from history is that the focus is really only the relationship. This is the story solely of a marriage - a fictional one based on conjecture; it touches upon their work as scientists only as it relates to the relationship. Thus, the time and place along with the history is lost in the story.

So, let's ignore the history and look at the book just as a story. The premise has the potential of becoming a story of a strong woman. Mileva Maric deals with a disability. She deals with being a woman's in what was a man's field. She deals with being the only female student of her class. She is reputed to be a brilliant scientist. For a while, she finds herself in the company of like-minded women, each with the potential for scientific success. She may or may not achieve scientific greatness in her own research.

That is the Mileva Maric described. However, that is not the Mileva Maric that comes to life in this book. The bulk of the book is not really about her; it is about her courtship and subsequent marriage to Albert Einstein. This relationship becomes about cutesy (read, annoying) nicknames, a leading man who comes across as more a caricature - a rather cruel one - than a fully drawn character, and a leading lady whose actions seem to belie her scientific background and her description as a strong, independent woman.

Even as a story about a relationship, the book stays at the surface. No insight is given as to his motivations and actions; nor does the book show Mileva's scientific mind seeking an explanation or looking for change. The two individually and together face so many highs and lows of life - first love, scientific discovery, and the loss of a child. However, the tone of the book remains constant and descriptive throughout. As a reader, I don't feel as if I am along on that emotional journey.

Unfortunately, to me, neither the history nor the fictional story comes to life in this book, leaving this an unsatisfying reading experience.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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