I received my copy of The Other Einstein by Marie Benedict from Net Galley. On Flying High Reviews, I'm participating in the blog tour. On this blog, I'm expanding on that review. So now I'm wading into the really interesting controversy surrounding Einstein's first wife.
Marić wanted to be a physicist when she was young. She was admitted to
Zurich Polytechnic to study physics and mathematics with two strikes
against her. The first was being a woman in a very male world. The
second was being from Serbia which was considered a cultural backwater
in Western Europe. I am citing facts at this point. There is a
Wikipedia article dealing with Mileva
. If you want to see how much about that article is in dispute look
at the Talk section. There has been an editing war over this article.
Both sides are absolutely certain about things that can't be known with
This is what is not in dispute.
Mileva met Einstein at Zurich Polytechnic where they were both
students. They fell in love and she became pregnant. She had to drop
out of school without finishing her degree, and they married. This is a
sad story, and it has happened to a great many women. She never
realized her dreams.
Historical fiction deals with what
isn't part of the historical record. How did Einstein treat his wife
when they weren't in public? Did Mileva contribute to Einstein's
scientific work? These are questions that are open to speculation.
No one can really claim to know the truth about them. Marie Benedict
has as much right to an opinion as anyone else. She did the research
and came to a conclusion that isn't at all palatable for supporters of
Albert Einstein. Some sources say that he was verbally abusive toward
Mileva in public, and that he called her ugly. Below is a public domain
photo of Mileva that I found on Wikipedia. You be the judge.
It's said that Einstein burned out early because he never did any great
work after he developed the theory of relativity and published it in
1905. Could his estrangement from Mileva be the reason why he no
longer produced any other brilliant new theory? I don't know, but I'm
willing to entertain the possibility.
version of Mileva isn't a feminist icon. She made choices that I
wouldn't have made in her circumstances. In fact, Marie Curie appears
briefly in this novel. This great woman scientist tells Mileva that
the only differences between them are the choices they made and the men
they married. Madame Curie's husband dedicated his life to supporting
her career. Benedict portrays Einstein as having deliberately
undermined Mileva. I wanted her Mileva to be stronger.
There's a Serbian word that applies. While I was researching this review, I remembered that fantasy writer Alma Alexander, who wrote several novels that I loved, is also a Serbian. So I did a detour and ran a search on Alma Alexander's blog for references to Serbia. I found the word "inat". She said that it could be translated as stubborn, but it's in a whole different order beyond stubborn. Given the circumstances in which Mileva found herself, she needed to be more than stubborn. I was waiting for her to find her inat.
I wanted to comment on Benedict's portrayal of Albert Einstein. I noticed that he was repeating phrases and I didn't think they were a response to what Mileva said or did. My theory is that these were phrases he heard from his own father and that he was seeing his parents when he spoke them. He had become his father and Mileva had become his mother in Einstein's mind. He was replicating the relationship between his parents. He may not have realized that he was doing this on a conscious level. This is how patterns of abuse repeat themselves. I thought that this depiction of Einstein's behavior showed insight into this syndrome and allowed me to understand his motivations.
number of reviewers believe that Benedict's Mileva was a product of
her historical environment and the dominant culture. The truth is that
the 21st century isn't that much kinder to women. Any woman who
becomes involved in a relationship with a man in the same field may
still face the same problems. She may be ignored and her work may go
uncredited. Then like Benedict's Mileva, she may be shoved out of her
field while her significant other or husband is lionized. This is why
this book has significance even if the real Mileva wasn't a scientific
genius. It could be a wake up call to young woman readers who may be
on the verge of making a terrible mistake that could destroy their
For me, the value of The Other Einstein is
learning of Mileva Marić's existence. Whatever the truth might be
about her, she deserves to be known rather than buried in obscurity.
Now anyone who has read this book can examine what is known about her,
and make their own decisions about what they believe concerning the
issues that Benedict has raised.