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.
“I want to know God’s thoughts, the rest are details.” – Albert Einstein
If the research is to be believed, it wasn’t Albert Einstein at all who was interested in God’s thoughts, but his wife, Mitza certainly was. In fact, Mitza was certain that within the male-dominated world of physics, she would not only produce ground-breaking research but discover God’s thoughts. So, why in the world do we still know Einstein’s name and know virtually nothing about Mitza?
By 1896, Mitza Marić was yet again an oddity. What is known about Mitza (and there is very little known) is that she was and incredibly bright child whose father encouraged her education at every turn. Because Mitza was a woman, she and her father spent a great deal of time and effort lobbying for her inclusion into higher education institutions. When Mitza met Albert Einstein, she had already accomplished more than most women anywhere the world could ever dream of accomplishing. She was a new student in the physics program at Zürich, an outcast among her classmates except for Einstein who saw her for what she was, a brilliant mind with insights and knowledge that should not be ignored.
Over the course of their long and incredibly troubled courtship and then marriage, Mitza and Einstein constantly found solace in their work. When physics and mathematics were the topics of conversation, the bond between them strengthened. However, when the topic of conversation was their lives together as a couple, things became far more strained. Though Einstein apparently wanted Mitza in his life, he only wanted her when it was a convenience to him or they were working on a new project. For Mitza’s part, Einstein and their growing family eventually become her whole world and she did most anything to ensure her husband’s happiness. What most anything entails are some of the saddest moments of Mitza’s life.
The Bottom Line: While The Other Einstein is slow starter, I found it to be well worth the wait. What one must remember when diving into this read is that it is historical fiction and there is no way to prove or disprove the theories posited by Benedict. With that being said, what Benedict does posit is absolutely intriguing and wrapped in a story that is ultimately about loss. Quite literally from birth, Mitza Marić was at a distinct disadvantage that never, ever left her. Over the course of her life, she experienced only a few moments of true happiness and those were always overshadowed by long spans of extreme unhappiness, tragedy, and loss. There never seems to be a moment when Mitza isn’t dealing with some sort of turmoil in either her personal and/or professional life. Unfortunately, a fair number of those incidents involved the man she loved beyond reason, Albert Einstein. Benedict’s story does not paint Einstein in a positive light at all yet pulls from the reader a great sense of sympathy for his long-suffering first wife. In the end, The Other Einstein is the story of one woman’s loss of her sense of self, loss of love, love of the little independence she was allowed, loss of her family, and loss of the little control she had over her life. For the modern world, the loss may be just as profound if you consider the loss of a brilliant mind who may have been just as integral to our understanding of physics as Albert Einstein certainly was.
“In her compelling novel… Benedict makes a strong case that the brilliant woman behind [Albert Einstein] was integral to his success, and creates a rich historical portrait in the process.” — Publishers Weekly
“Benedict’s debut novel carefully traces Mileva’s life—from studious schoolgirl to bereaved mother—with attention paid to the conflicts between personal goals and social conventions. An intriguing… reimagining of one of the strongest intellectual partnerships of the 19th century.” — Kirkus
“Many will enjoy Benedict’s feminist views and be fascinated by the life of an almost unknown woman.” — RT Book Reviews, 4 Stars
“…an ENGAGING and THOUGHT PROVOKING fictional telling of the poignant story of an overshadowed woman scientist.” — Booklist