This fourth novel by Marie Benedict (the pen-name of lawyer-turned-writer Heather Terrell) sets the tone for many of the novels that follow, in that it explores what it’s like to be the highly-intelligent wife of a very famous man.
Mileva Marić, born in Serbia to well-to-do parents. was so outstanding at math that in 1891, when she was fifteen, her father requested special permission to enroll her as a private student at the all-male Royal Classical High School in Zagreb.
Subsequently, she enrolled in the Zurich Polytechnic, where she was the lone woman out of a group of six. And that is where this novel begins, with Mileva’s arrival in Zurich, her excruciating first day in class (she was not only female but Serbian) and how out of all the people there, the only person who was kind to her was classmate Albert Einstein.
I would say that around half of the novel was taken up with Einstein’s courtship of Mileva Maric, the birth of their illegitimate daughter Lieserl, and Lieserl’s mysterious disappearance from the record shortly after they eventually married in January 1903.
Lieserl’s death or disappearance casts a shadow over the rest of the book, which details the deteriorating relationship between Mileva and Albert. It turns out that Einstein, often seen in public as charming and affable, was in fact extremely misogynistic in the treatment of his wife. Not only did he essentially steal her ideas on the theory of relativity, which he put forth in his famous 1905 paper that won him the Nobel Prize, he also drew up a list of obnoxious conditions that Mileva had to adhere to if she was to continue being his wife (or he would abandon her.)
But Mileva had enough of ten years of sublimating her talent to be her husband’s maid. She called his bluff and walked out in the summer of 1914, taking their two sons with her. For the rest of her life, she lived in Zurich, Switzerland.
It is interesting to note that when Albert finally received his Nobel prize for that 1905 paper on relativity, he sent the entire monetary award to Mileva. Even though he never gave her the credit that was her due, she did at least get the money.