What if Mileva Marić, Albert Einstein’s first wife, contributed more to the theory of relativity than anyone knew? Afflicted with a congenital hip defect, Mileva grows up convinced she will always be disdained and will never marry. Her only hope for happiness lies in physics; indeed, she sees God in the details of the mathematical universe. Fortunately, her father supports her unconventional destiny. Soon after moving to Zurich to study at the Swiss Federal Polytechnic, Mileva has not only gained a circle of like-minded girlfriends, but also attracted the attention of a disheveled classmate: Albert. Despite Mileva’s reticence, Albert quickly ensconces himself in her life, joining in spirited musical evenings previously reserved for her girlfriends, pulling her into intellectual debates at cafes, and ultimately seducing her into his bed. Enthralled by her first love, Mileva wonders whether marrying Albert is wise: what will become of her own dreams? 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. Aligning the scientific accomplishments with the domestic tribulations of 19th-century life holds promise. Yet from the moment Mileva falls for Albert, she submits easily to the expectations both society and, surprisingly, Albert hold for women. Narratively, too, Benedict douses the fire and passion expected from such an iconoclast as Mileva Marić. She certainly builds tension each time Mileva bends a rule to advance her relationship with Albert. Yet even these first forays into collaboration reduce Mileva from Albert’s intellectual equal, and often superior, to the shadows: Albert easily convinces Mileva to ignore her doubts about his fidelity, establishing the pattern of sacrificing Mileva’s astonishing intelligence to social harmony. An intriguing, if thin, reimagining of one of the strongest intellectual partnerships of the 19th century. Copyright Kirkus 2016 Kirkus/BPI Communications. All rights reserved.
Benedict’s novel, her first, of love, ambition, disappointment, and betrayal begins in 1896 with a young Serbian woman enrolling in the Swiss Federal Polytechnic to study physics. Though possessed of exceptional intellect and talent, Mileva is not easily accepted by her male classmates and professors, except for one outspoken student. Their classroom relationship leads to much more, first sharing music, then mutual scientific theorizing, on to a sexual relationship that yields a child and marriage. The remarkable hook here is that Mileva’s love interest is Albert Einstein. The sweetness of the courtship and the bitterness of his betrayal, both scientific—the source of the theory of relativity might have been her rather than him—and personal, with his unfaithfulness leading to divorce, provide the tension. Benedict insightfully portrays Mileva, Albert, and other European intellectuals of the time and dramatizes the difficulties a woman faced when attempting to enter that world. She also vividly captures the atmosphere, the cafes, the boardinghouse, and the customs of Mileva’s world, making for an engaging and thought-provoking fictional telling of the poignant story of an overshadowed woman scientist. Copyright 2014 Booklist Reviews.
To what extent did Albert Einstein's first wife, Mileva Maric´, contribute to his groundbreaking theories? That question lies at the heart of this first novel, narrated by Mileva. When she arrives from Zagreb to study physics in Zurich in 1896, she faces local prejudice against Serbs and pity for her limp resulting from a congenital defect. She also must prove herself academically in a class of five men, including Albert; his interest in her quickly shifts from intellectual to romantic, with promises of marriage he doesn't fulfill until after their daughter, Lieserl, is born. Having lost her academic chances, Mileva hopes to continue collaborating with Albert on his theories, but he never acknowledges Mileva's work and increasingly treats her like a servant. Benedict draws on many sources, especially letters from Albert, Mileva, and her friend Helene Kaufler, but Albert in this portrait emerges as self-centered, unlikable, and ambitious. And as Mileva submits to Albert's repeated bullying, it is hard to imagine her drive and determination in pre-Zurich days. Although both Lieserl's fate (early death or possible adoption) and Mileva's scientific contributions are subjects of debate, they continue to stimulate discussion. VERDICT With a reading group guide included and major publicity campaign planned, expect steady demand in public libraries. [See Prepub Alert, 5/2/16.]—Kathy Piehl, Minnesota State Univ. Lib., Mankato [Page 77]. (c) Copyright 2016 Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.