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No.
36


 
Interesting,
Informative,
Insightful

9 reviews

The Other Einstein: A Novel
by Marie Benedict

Published: 2016-10-18
Hardcover : 304 pages
39 members reading this now
133 clubs reading this now
10 members have read this book
Recommended to book clubs by 5 of 9 members

One of PopSugar's "25 Books You're Going to Curl Up with this Fall."

"The Other Einstein takes you into Mileva's heart, mind, and study as she tries to forge a place for herself in a scientific world dominated by men."-Bustle

In the tradition of The Paris Wife and Mrs. Poe, The Other ...

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Introduction

One of PopSugar's "25 Books You're Going to Curl Up with this Fall."

"The Other Einstein takes you into Mileva's heart, mind, and study as she tries to forge a place for herself in a scientific world dominated by men."-Bustle

In the tradition of The Paris Wife and Mrs. Poe, The Other Einstein offers us a window into a brilliant, fascinating woman whose light was lost in Einstein's enormous shadow. It is the story of Einstein's wife, a brilliant physicist in her own right, whose contribution to the special theory of relativity is hotly debated and may have been inspired by her own profound and very personal insight.

Mitza Maric has always been a little different from other girls. Most twenty-year-olds are wives by now, not studying physics at an elite Zurich university with only male students trying to outdo her clever calculations. But Mitza is smart enough to know that, for her, math is an easier path than marriage. And then fellow student Albert Einstein takes an interest in her, and the world turns sideways. Theirs becomes a partnership of the mind and of the heart, but there might not be room for more than one genius in a marriage.

Editorial Review

No editorial review at this time.

Excerpt

Chapter 1

Morning

October 20, 1896

Zürich, Switzerland

I smoothed the wrinkles on my freshly pressed white blouse, flattened the bow encircling my collar, and tucked back a stray hair into my tightly wound chignon. The humid walk through the foggy Zürich streets to the Swiss Federal Polytechnic campus played with my careful grooming. The stubborn refusal of my heavy, dark hair to stay fixed in place frustrated me. I wanted every detail of the day to be perfect.

Squaring my shoulders and willing myself to be just a little taller than my regrettably tiny frame, I placed my hand on the heavy brass handle to the classroom. Etched with a Greek key design worn down from the grip of generations of students, the knob dwarfed my small, almost childlike hand. I paused. Turn the knob and push the door open, I told myself. You can do this. Crossing this threshold is nothing new. You have passed over the supposedly insurmountable divide between male and female in countless classrooms before. And always succeeded.

Still, I hesitated. I knew all too well that, while the first step is the hardest, the second isn’t much easier. In that moment, little more than a breath, I could almost hear Papa urging me on. “Be bold,” Papa would whisper in our native, little-used Serbian tongue. “You are a mudra glava. A wise one. In your heart beats the blood of bandits, our brigand Slavic ancestors who used any means to get their due. Go get your due, Mitza. Go get your due.”

I could never disappoint him.

I twisted the knob and swung the door wide open. Six faces stared back at me: five dark-suited students and one black-robed professor. Shock and some disdain registered on their pale faces. Nothing—not even rumors—had prepared these men for actually seeing a woman in their ranks. They almost looked silly with their eyes bulging and their jaws dropping, but I knew better than to laugh. I willed myself to pay their expressions no heed, to ignore the doughy faces of my fellow students, who were desperately trying to appear older than their eighteen years with their heavy waxed mustaches.

A determination to master physics and mathematics brought me to the Polytechnic, not a desire to make friends or please others. I reminded myself of this simple fact as I steeled myself to face my instructor.

Professor Heinrich Martin Weber and I looked at each other. Long-nosed, heavily browed, and meticulously bearded, the renowned physics professor’s intimidating appearance matched his reputation.

I waited for him to speak. To do anything else would have been perceived as utter impertinence. I could not afford another such mark against my character, since my mere presence at the Polytechnic was considered impertinent by many. I walked a fine line between my insistence on this untrodden path and the conformity still demanded of me.

“You are?” he asked as if he weren’t expecting me, as if he’d never heard of me.

“Miss Mileva Mari?, sir.” I prayed my voice didn’t quaver.

Very slowly, Weber consulted his class list. Of course, he knew precisely who I was. Since he served as head of the physics and mathematics program, and given that only four women had ever been admitted, I had to petition him directly to enter the first year of the four-year program, known as Section Six. He had approved my entrance himself! The consultation of the class list was a blatant and calculating move, telegraphing his opinion of me to the rest of the class. It gave them license to follow suit.

“The Miss Mari? from Serbia or some Austro-Hungarian country of that sort?” he asked without glancing up, as if there could possibly be another Miss Mari? in Section Six, one who hailed from a more respectable location. By his query, Weber made his views on Slavic eastern European peoples perfectly clear—that we, as dark foreigners, were somehow inferior to the Germanic peoples of defiantly neutral Switzerland. It was yet another preconception I would have to disprove in order to succeed. As if being the only woman in Section Six—only the fifth to ever be admitted into the physics and mathematics program—wasn’t enough.

“Yes, sir.”

“You may take your seat,” he finally said and gestured toward the empty chair. It was my luck that the only remaining seat was the farthest away from his podium. “We have already begun.”

Begun? The class was not designated to start for another fifteen minutes. Were my classmates told something I wasn’t? Had they conspired to meet early? I wanted to ask but didn’t. Argument would only fuel the fires against me. Anyway, it didn’t matter. I would simply arrive fifteen minutes earlier tomorrow. And earlier and earlier every morning if I needed to. I would not miss a single word of Weber’s lectures. He was wrong if he thought an early start would deter me. I was my father’s daughter.

Nodding at Weber, I stared at the long walk from the door to my chair and, out of habit, calculated the number of steps it would take me to cross the room. How best to manage the distance? With my first step, I tried to keep my gait steady and hide my limp, but the drag of my lame foot echoed through the classroom. On impulse, I decided not to mask it at all. I displayed plainly for all my colleagues to see the deformity that marked me since birth.

Clomp and drag. Over and over. Eighteen times until I reached my chair. Here I am, gentlemen, I felt like I was saying with each lug of my lame foot. Take a gander; get it over with.

Perspiring from the effort, I realized the classroom was completely silent. They were waiting for me to settle, and perhaps embarrassed by my limp or my sex or both, they kept their eyes averted.

All except one.

To my right, a young man with an unruly mop of dark brown curls stared at me. Uncharacteristically, I met his gaze. But even when I looked at him head-on, challenging him to mock me and my efforts, his half-lidded eyes did not look away. Instead, they crinkled at the corners as he smiled through the dark shadow cast by his mustache. A grin of great bemusement, even admiration.

Who did he think he was? What did he mean by that look?

I had no time to make sense of him as I sat down in my seat. Reaching into my bag, I withdrew paper, ink, and pen and readied for Weber’s lecture. I would not let the bold, insouciant glance of a privileged classmate rattle me. I looked straight ahead at the instructor, still aware of my classmate’s gaze upon me, but acted oblivious.

Weber, however, was not so single-minded. Or so forgiving. Staring at the young man, the professor cleared his throat, and when the young man still did not redirect his eyes toward the podium, he said, “I will have the attention of the entire classroom. This is your first and final warning, Mr. Einstein.” view abbreviated excerpt only...

Discussion Questions

1. Discuss the various ways that gender affects the characters in this novel. Do you think gender would influence Mileva’s life in the same way if she lived today?

2. How do the characters in the book—Mileva, Albert, their friends, their parents—experience religion, and does that change over the course of the story? How do Mileva’s and Albert’s different understandings of religiosity impact their relationship to each other?

3. This novel can be seen as a quest for understanding, a search for the divine in the natural order of the world. How does the study of math and physics become this quest for Albert and Mileva? Are they, either separately or together, successful in their crusade? Does unpuzzling life’s mysteries have disparate meanings to them?

4. Betrayal is a recurrent motif in the book and an unfortunate reality in Mileva’s life. What forms of betrayal does she experience/ how does her reaction to those betrayals propel the story forward, for better or worse? Has Mileva engaged in betrayal herself?

5. Discuss the setting of the book, a world on the brink of astounding scientific discoveries, political upheaval, and ultimately horrible World War I atrocities. Does this historical setting affect the characters? What role, if any, does it play in shaping their lives?

6. Over the course of the novel, we learn a great deal about Mileva’s childhood and early adult years. What life events led her to math and science? What hurdles did she have to surmount to even get her footing on that path?

7. From a very young age, Mileva assumes that she will never marry due to her physical disability. How is this disability both a blessing and a curse? How does her limp impact her differently at different life stages?

8. Mileva and Albert are drawn to each other from the beginning of their years together at Polytechnic. What qualities compel them toward one another? Is their relationship “inevitable,” as Mileva believes?

9. Mileva and Albert share the language of science, and it knits them together. Are they equal scientific partners from the start of their relationship? Do they become the “bohemians” they so frequently discuss?

10. Leaving Lieserl behind with her mother while she awaits Albert in Zurich and Bern is a huge, pivotal moment for Mileva. Do you think she made the right choice? Should she have stayed with Lieserl and disobeyed Albert’s request?

11. The loss of Lieserl impacts Mileva tremendously, yet she doesn’t fully share her feelings with Albert. Why does she keep her devastation from him? Do you think she should have been more open with him?

12. On several occasions throughout the novel, the characters undergo metamorphoses. What are Mileva’s changes, and what instigates them? Do some of them frustrate you or take too long? Does Albert change during the course of the novel? If so, how would you describe his evolution?

13. While Mileva does not form friendships until rather late in her life, the ties she forms are deep. How do friendships and her acquaintances with other women factor in her ultimate life choices?

14. Albert Einstein is arguably one of the most famous figures of the twentieth century, but The Other Einstein share a story about him that you might not have otherwise heard. Did this novel change your perception of him? About the stories we are told regarding other women in history?

Notes From the Author to the Bookclub

No notes at this time.

Book Club Recommendations

Swiss pastries and coffee
by [email protected] (see profile) 02/28/21
This book would discussed well with early 20th-century European cafe sweets paired with specialty coffees.

Member Reviews

Overall rating:
 
 
by KRoby (see profile) 03/17/21

 
  "Superficial Imagining of Brilliant Woman, Behind the Man"by [email protected] (see profile) 02/28/21

After this quick read, I am more intrigued by the people, particularly women, around Einstein. However much of the story focused on the imagined emotional responses, easily paralleled to the modern-day... (read more)

 
by [email protected] (see profile) 09/20/20

Hated Einstein after reading this. How dare he?

 
by Hindsnorth (see profile) 09/27/19

 
by tina55 (see profile) 08/13/19

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