The Other Einstein, by Marie Benedict, is a fictional account of the marriage and professional collaboration between Mileva Maric and Albert Einstein, but even more so, it is a tale of Mileva’s struggle as a woman, a professional, a wife, and a mother. The story spans the late 1800’s to early 1900’s, but Mileva’s struggle still painfully resonates in today’s society.
In The Other Einstein, Benedict explores, and sides with, the unclear and debatable idea that Mileva was an integral theorist and co-writer of the theory of relativity before being cast aside by Albert and the community. Although Benedict’s story is fictional, she has written a heartbreaking piece of fiction with truth as its skeleton that leaves the reader indignant on behalf of all those brilliant women who become diminished, cast aside and ignored because of their gender, life situation, culture, religion and/or even marriage to the wrong person.
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In the beginning of the novel, the reader is introduced to a strong, determined, focused Mileva just starting her first year at the Polytechnic University in Zurich, Switzerland. An anomaly from where she came from, Mileva is not used to having like-minded men, and especially women, around her who accept and respect her for her intelligence and drive. She soon lets down that guard she had constructed in her young life and enjoys a social existence with the ladies she houses with and the charming, intelligent and passionate Albert Einstein.
For the first two years of education, Mileva keeps Albert at arm’s length, despite her mounting attraction and love for him, to stay focused on her goals. When her best friend Helen breaks their pact of staying single, Mileva begins to question why she cannot have both love and a profession. She decides that she should not deny herself love and companionship with Albert, as he has been supportive, a scholarly companion and a dear friend.
When he promises that they will solve the universe’s mysteries side-by-side, she no longer sees a reason to not be happy in love. The reader cannot help but adore Albert and be happy when she consents to be with him. In their final year, right after Albert accepts his first job, real life knocks on their door when Mileva discovers that she is pregnant. The pregnancy and birth of her beloved daughter, who she adores, forces Mileva’s path to turn towards an uncertain and heart-breaking direction.
As the reader could probably decipher, Mileva’s studies and professional aspirations are put on hold. The reader (and Mileva) has hope that Albert would continue being supportive of Mileva and they would be able to parent and be professionals together as they planned and as he had promised. This is where Benedict takes the uncertain history into her own hands and begins the story of the slow decline of Mileva’s dreams and rising fame and selfishness of Albert.
In order to not give away too much of the story, it must be simply put that after tragedy and Mileva’s need to make sense of her loss, she comes up with the relativity theory and writes the paper outlining her theory and research on her own. Because she is a female, and without a college degree, she consents to including Albert’s name as an author. The first in a series of betrayals by Albert, he removes her name off the document. The recognition and fame that Albert gleans from the journal puts him in the public eye, and he soon seems to forget that it was Mileva who wrote it.
Einstein continues to gain standing in the scientific community, and Mileva continues to be cast aside and used by Albert for his own gain. During their years, Mileva takes his emotional and verbal abuse as he has affairs, makes her walk behind him, and berates her for being a simple housewife, despite him excluding her from his research and scientific studies.
It is not until Mileva meets the famous and successful Madame Curie, who has a very supportive husband, that she allows herself to admit that she doesn’t see a thread of who she used to be and that she cannot any longer deny herself … herself.
In the epilogue of the book, Mileva writes:
“My childhood math-mathematician, scientist, loner – continued on a straight line until it was acted upon by a force. Albert was the force that impressed upon my straight path. I became swept up in his direction and velocity, and his force became my own. As I took on the roles of his lover, mother of his children, his wife, and his secret scientific partner, I allowed him to trim away all the parts that did not fit into his mold.”
Although the budding relationship is the main focus in the first half of the novel, the book is not so much about their romance. Mileva’s struggle represents many women throughout history that have been pushed behind the men in their lives, in their professions, and many have allowed it, because like Mileva, they need to fulfill many different roles if they want to be a mother, a wife, and a respected professional or simply be able to afford to support their children.
Some people are upset with the fact that Benedict used real people for her fictional novel; allowing for confusion and misrepresentation of the people involved. The use of real people does not bother me so much since she states her work is fictional. I did think maybe Albert’s transformation from someone who is passionate, supportive and open-minded to someone as cruel and selfish was a little much at times.
The fact is, Marie Benedict wrote a gripping piece of fiction that filled in the gaps and questions surrounding the life and relationship between a well known figure and his forgotten first wife. The characters could have been given different names and different professions, and the book would have still resonated with its readers. For me, what’s important is the fact that Mileva was a real-life woman, who for whatever reason, gave up her dreams of becoming a Professor of Physics, yet still conquered societal and cultural hurdles to become accomplished in her own right.
This sacrifice and struggle mirrors today’s society, which is one of the reason it strikes a chord with its readers. The Other Einstein will make readers want to be better and reinforce to them that they don’t have to sacrifice their passions for the love of their families. That is why I recommend this novel and commend Marie Benedict on writing it.
*The Other Einstein is Marie Benedict’s first novel written under her real name. As Heather Terrell, she wrote the fictional novels: The Chrysalis, The Map Thief and Brigid of Kildare. Check out her website, and buy The Other Einstein at Amazon and retail stores.
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A NOTE FROM JANE: I started Old Mission Gazette in 2015 because I felt a calling to provide the Old Mission Peninsula community with local news. After decades of writing for newspapers like the New York Times and Los Angeles Times, and magazines like Family Circle and Ladies' Home Journal, I really just wanted to write about my own community where I grew up on a cherry farm and raised my own family. So of course, I started my own newspaper. Because the Gazette is mainly reader-supported, I hope you'll consider tossing a few bucks my way if I mention your event, your business, your organization or your news item, or if you simply love reading about what's happening on the Old Mission Peninsula. Check out the donation page here. Thank you so much for your support. -jb