To say that the book The Other Einstein is heartbreaking would be an understatement. Reading it felt like watching your house burn down – you know it’s not going to end well but you can’t look away.
The Other Einstein follows the life of Mileva Maric, wife of the infamous Albert Einstein. Marie Benedict first entertained the idea after researching her child’s project about the life of Maric. The book is told from Maric’s point of view, highlighting her struggles as one of the few women of her time to be given the opportunity to study physics at an elite school, up until the demise of her marriage with Albert. Although fictional, Benedict’s work closely resembles the life of Maric as we’ve come to know it today.
Maric is driven, passionate about her chosen path, and an intellectually gifted woman; despite her classmates and professor looking down on her for being a woman, she strives to get a degree. It is during her time at university that Maric first meets Einstein – the perpetually disheveled genius who is intrigued by Maric’s intellect and aloofness. He pursues her with a passion despite Maric’s continuous expression of disinterest and rejection.
Eventually, they end up together. But what should have been a happy ending is instead the beginning of Maric’s unraveling as a scientist and as a woman. The book portrays Einstein as a distant, unreliable man and husband. Maric is constantly left licking her wounds as Einstein pursues his own career and what is good for his own aspirations.
Although Maric is just as clever as Einstein, she ends up dealing with the day-to-day menial tasks of being a wife and mother: cleaning, cooking, and taking care of the house and children. She is bored out of her mind and wishes to have a project of her own to pursue. She continues to hope that Albert will keep his promise of treating her as an equal in both love and science. But it never happens. All of their collaborations continuously see Maric’s name being left out, giving credit only to Albert Einstein.
What disturbed me while reading The Other Einstein is that although this is a work of fiction, the thoughts and points of views of the characters are very much real and still relevant to our time. The sexism Maric faced while studying in an environment that was profoundly male; her unending struggle to make a name of her career; the constant push and pull of life at home and at work – these are all gender issues prevalent in today’s society.
While reading The Other Einstein, you won’t be able to help but Google what happened to Maric in the end. When I read that the couple eventually divorced, I was able to go on reading in peace knowing that eventually Maric was going to get out of the dreadful marriage.
Benedict wrote Maric’s character with authenticity. You go through moments of being in awe of Maric’s character and wanting to strangle her for not leaving her toxic marriage with Albert sooner. Perhaps saddest of all is that there exists very little happy ending; years later, Maric’s contribution to Einstein’s work is still hotly contested. But at least it is being debated.
Kristyn M. Levis is a freelance writer, author and photographer based in Sydney. She is currently the managing editor of Her Collective. Her first novel, The Girl Between Two Worlds, was published in 2016. Book two is set for release this year.