I enjoyed reading this story because it's specific yet universal. The words used to tell this story may not have been poetic, but the feeling I had after reading it was.
I've had a special fondness for Einstein for as long as I can recall. I was enamored with his philosophy long before his science. So while I was excited to read this book, I didn't look forward to a "me too" narrative about Einstein.
Having said that, I have always been curious to know more about women in history, as they have mostly been treated as side dishes to the main course of the men in their lives.
The book starts with Mileva's (future Mrs. Einstein) first day of her education at a university in Zurich where she first meets her classmate, Albert Einstein. They both had selected to attend one of the few universities in Europe that granted women degrees.
The story is told from the first person so it has the feeling of being there versus looking back.
There was something wonderful about reading about a woman going against convention, though as she meets Einstein, just another student, we are reminded that for all her smarts and courage to rage against the machine, she will be relegated to the fate of a second class citizen and the back seat of history, forever overshadowed by her famous husband.
Having said that, I relished Einstein showing up in the book as I've always felt he was a kindred spirit.
As the story moved along, it was disturbing how sidelined she was in her husband's meteoric rise. It's believable that she may have had something to do with Einstein's discoveries. It's also believable that the work would not have been taken seriously with a woman's name attached. Even Mary Shelly's famous tale was thought to be the work of a man because it was unthinkable that a woman could have written it. Even today, she has the qualifier "woman" in front of her accomplishments.
One could almost wonder if Einstein hadn't married her, if he would have had his breakthrough. We know he partnered with other mathematicians so it's feasible that she would have at minimum helped him there. It's also feasible she had ideas and at minimum may have had a significant impact on his thought experiments. Or his whole talk of thought experiments could have been a cover for not being able to show his work.
I revere Einstein and I know this is a novel and not a biography, yet I thought it important to step into the protagonist's shoes. There was nothing that seemed impossible but there are some things we'll never know for sure. There is no mistake Einstein was a genius, but is it so hard to believe that she was too? Is it even harder to believe she might have been more of a genius than him? I'm not saying she was, but what if? What if she coauthored his important papers, the ones that made him world famous, only to be edited out of history? Though let's say it was all her, if she had submitted anything for publication she likely would have been challenged and it would have been assumed that she couldn't have discovered anything for no other reason but that she was a woman.
In the end, the loss feels huge. She was marking her own path and gave that up for a man. Though, to find a partner that you could share your passion with has to be wonderful. I felt sad for what might have been but who knows, I mean, the hurdles any woman in a man's world would have to jump through, just to be treated unequally, were - and still are sometimes - brutal.
I still adore Einstein, but this story is a sober reminder that no one is without flaws and we shouldn't expect anyone to be. Einstein was a genius but he was also just a man in a man's world likely with misogynistic tendencies like most men of his time and still too many today.