Let’s get a couple things straight right off the bat: I wanted to love this book. I really did! In a day and age (still!) where it is unfortunately common to belittle a woman’s intellect, deny her the same accolades freely offered to a man, a woman’s work in ANY field to be viewed as lackluster compared to a male counterpart, I wanted to love this book HARD. But I didn’t. Even with stories of women being passed over for men being so common, I felt that this particular story was forced. A huge assumption was made in something that is supposed to be historical fiction, and in order to lift a woman up, someone else had to be torn down. In this case, another very real person: Einstein.
I do hold historical fiction to a slightly different standard than straight fiction. I go into historical fiction because I want to learn and be entertained. Sure, I could stick to just biographies or true crime novels, but there’s no fun in that for me. Textbook-like biographies feel so detached from the people who lived these lives and did these incredible things, and it doesn’t record everything. But, because I want to learn, I want to be inspired to go out and learn even more after completing these books. Well, mission accomplished because I did go out and research more of Mitza and Einstein but not because the central character fascinated me. Oh no! I wanted to see if Einstein was really as big of a douchebag as this book portrays him.
The answer is unclear. He wasn’t a great husband or father, there are documents of him making some pretty absurd demands of his wife before they divorced, and he married his cousin (yeah, that was a thing). But this story also claims that Albert beat her (yeah, spoilers but whatever, it can also be considered a trigger, too) along with stealing her work that Albert got not just all the credit for, but even the Nobel Prize. Now, it is unclear what role Mitza might have actually played in the papers that won Albert his fame; we don’t know if she helped him with the maths or anything like that. All anyone can agree on and has record of, is that she certainly filled the role of support and, as a physicist in her own right, a perfect sound board. Am I saying she had no hand in the theory? No, of course not. That would be silly. But to claim that it was Mitza alone, and then Albert stole it, is also silly. There is 0 record of her involvement, no letters stating she was working on a brilliant thing, nothing. Instead, the author claims Mitza was responsible for all Albert’s theories, and that a terrible tragedy (which is also unconfirmed) was what sparked Mitza’s idea for special relativity. Is it possible? Maybe? But with how the story is presented, it’s a little unbelievable.
Mitza was brilliant, she really was, and it is unfortunate that history has all but forgotten her as Albert’s first wife, so at least kudos to the author for bringing her out of the shadows on that score. But she was no Marie Curie, either. For all intents and purposes, Mitza gave up her academic pursuits to be a mother, which is noble for different reasons. But when Mitza was free of Albert did she go back to writing scientific papers or theories? No. Which, if she had, might have given more credence to the author’s artistic license for Mitza’s contributions to Albert’s early career. And, again, when you write fiction about two people who actually existed and not just what it may have been like for a fictional character to be living and working near these two people at the time, keeping to the FACTS, regardless if you put FICTION in the genre, is critical.
The whole arch of the character we are shown as readers is of a brilliant woman who needs permission; she needs to be invited into these discussions Albert has with other scientists. Early on, however, we are shown Mitza’s spine; her desire to show up all her male colleagues and prove she is exactly where she should be. That doesn’t strike me as someone who would seek permission, someone who would not correct the “mistake” of leaving her name off such vital papers. Which made the authors claim that these were her theories ring false from a story perspective. And, by never showing Albert as the genius he was, it further implies that Albert would not be the Einstein whose theories and contributions are still taught and studied to this day without Mitza. And yet there is very little science in this book; it’s completely glossed over in favor of Mitza and Albert coming up with pet names for each other and Albert insisting that they were going to live a bohemian lifestyle. It made things unnecessarily dull, in my opinion, when the author could have better built these fictionalized representations to fit with the picture she was attempting to paint.
Admittedly, I had some big expectations for this book, and had I found the writing more compelling or Mitza to be the strong, intelligent woman that she’s supposed to be (and clearly was, but wasn’t presented as such in the book), I may not feel so let down now. We don’t need to fib stories where a woman’s contribution has been erased. And while the author says this book is in no way meant to belittle Einstein’s work, it clearly does! Was Einstein a saint? No, he was a philanderer and an absentee father for the most part. But the way the story is presented, the historical facts wobbly at best, it makes me just all around angry. I didn’t want to be angry! I wanted to love this story and praise it for all the girl power in the world! But I just can’t… and undoubtedly that makes the sting all the worse. But, that being said, it did make me want to look into Mitza and Albert more, and now I know that Albert had a wife and family before he was the Einstein history remembers, which should always be a historical fiction author’s goal. I’ve been teetering between 2 and 3 stars this entire review, but I’m still so annoyed that I’m sticking with a 2 star rating for this one. Meh.
Click the book images to see them on Amazon!