STARRED REVIEW
October 18, 2016

Behind every great man is a fed-up woman

By Marie Benedict
Review by

Like so many male genius-types, Albert Einstein’s behavior toward at least one woman who supported him was revolting. Fortunately, Marie Benedict’s tragic, crisply told novel isn’t about Albert, but about his Serbian, almost-as-brilliant first wife, Mileva Marić, who narrates it. The two met at Zurich Polytechnic as students in 1896, embarked on a passionate affair and launched a turbulent, 13-year marriage in 1903.

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Like so many male genius-types, Albert Einstein’s behavior toward at least one woman who supported him was revolting. Fortunately, Marie Benedict’s tragic, crisply told novel isn’t about Albert, but about his Serbian, almost-as-brilliant first wife, Mileva Marić, who narrates it. The two met at Zurich Polytechnic as students in 1896, embarked on a passionate affair and launched a turbulent, 13-year marriage in 1903.

To be blunt, Benedict’s exploration of this unfortunate woman’s life makes you mad, and that’s probably the point. What really burns one up isn’t reading page after page about how ill-used Marić was by her philandering husband, or how thoroughly he derailed her career and life, but the knowledge that this story isn’t entirely a relic of the past. Somewhere in the world—yes, even in the United States of America in the year 2016—there is another young woman like Mileva Marić, whose promising future is crushed by domesticity and an ambitious, selfish partner.

At least, the way this story unfolds in The Other Einstein, Marić has the wisdom to dump Einstein before he dumps her. But even that scene isn’t a moment of feminist triumph. Worn out from years of childbearing and housekeeping, Marić becomes a single mom with few prospects, burdened by the stigma of divorce. 

Benedict does take liberties with her story: The Other Einstein is a novel and not a biography. Her speculations on how much Marić contributed to her husband’s work and what happened to their first child, born before their marriage and lost to history in the real world, are thought-provoking, if unable to be substantiated. There’s no doubt this is a novel that will inspire strong emotion in its readers. And it carries a warning: Hold on to your dreams, and find someone who’ll support them even as you support theirs. 

 

ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read a Behind the Book essay from Marie Benedict on The Other Einstein.

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The Other Einstein

The Other Einstein

By Marie Benedict
Sourcebooks
ISBN 9781492637257

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