Tuesday, 11 October 2016

The Other Einstein

Author: Marie Benedict
Genre: Historical Fiction
Type: e-book
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: Sourcebooks
First Published: October 18, 2016
First Line: "The end is near."

Book Description from GoodReadsA 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.

My Rating: 2.5/5 stars

My Review:  I was drawn to this book for two reasons: the beautiful cover and the premise that this famous scientist plagurized his own wife's work. In the past I had given little thought to who Albert Einstein was as a person.  I knew him only as the brilliant E=MC2 scientist with the crazy white hair so I was eager to learn more about him and the woman he married.

Unfortunately, from the get-go this book had a different feel than I had expected with too much time spent focusing on the courtship of Albert and Mitza.  If I'm being honest, I didn't buy into their connection. Albert plies her with silly nicknames that turn this brilliant young woman into a gushing, silly girl eager to look past all of his rude behaviours.  Albert starts off as a quirky, yet highly intelligent, young university student who is lacking in social graces and a clue when it comes to being invited to events.  But the reader quickly sees, via Mitza's first person account, a change in his personality as their relationship progresses.  He goes from awkward geek to an absolute scoundrel - arrogant, power hungry, misogynist and self-centred to a shocking degree.  I couldn't see why she would want to be with (and stay with) this annoying man who even her close friends and parents outwardly disliked.  In this author's view, besides his brain, Albert didn't bring a lot to the table.  As I said, I knew next to nothing about Albert Einstein going into this book but I'm not sure portraying him as a total jerk was respectful or substantiated in fact.

Mitza, on the other hand, is shown as being a brilliant young woman who sees her future in academia due to a limp (that is mentioned repeatedly) which immediately labels her as unfit for marriage by her culture's standards.  She is sweet and smart yet increasingly and astoundingly meek as her relationship with Albert continues.  She is portrayed as frustratingly compliant for a smart woman who was raised by a father who believed in higher education for his daughter.  In contrast, Albert is portrayed as sneaky and egotistical as he repeatedly does things to undermine Mitza and put himself first.  Sure, at first she's furious when he does these things but if you wait a beat she'll back off and ultimately do nothing but accept her fate. This circle of dysfunction and Mitza's ongoing meek behaviour got on my nerves fast.  The plot focuses so long on this ongoing dysfunction that the characters are left with no time for development until too far in the book.  By that point I had lost interest in what happened to her.

There has been conjecture that Mitza contributed to many of Albert's theories and it's this thread that the author chose to follow and assume it for fact for her fictionalized story.  I'm willing to entertain the idea that Mitza contributed her skills in mathematics in some way to her husband's scientific discovery but I think Benedict went too far when she decided that Mitza suddenly came up with The Theory of Relativity.   

Benedict's writing is standard fare but lacked any emotional quality to help me sympathize with the characters which resulted in me not having any connection them.  Benedict freely admits that science isn't her area of expertise and that comes through in the writing since that aspect was glossed over with a general idea of certain scientific theories given to the reader but not in depth enough to give the reader a clear idea. 

My thoughts of this book are in the minority compared to other readers.  I realize that this is a work of fiction but I think the author took too many liberties with the personality of Einstein and the premise that Mitza had major input into many of his famous theories.  Ultimately, this was a dysfunctional romance with a side of science.  I was left expecting and wanting so much more out of this novel. 

Disclaimer: My sincere thanks to Sourcebooks and NetGalley for providing me with a complimentary e-book copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

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