The letters between Albert Einstein and his first wife, Mileva Maric, reveal a tumultuous relationship.
At first, the two wrote to each other about physics, their families and their day-to-day happenings. They began as friends and classmates, and their relationship eventually turned passionate. They married against the objections of Einstein’s parents. Over the years, as their relationship turned sour, Einstein stopped including Maric in his work, had an affair and demanded in writing that she carry out specific household chores while not expecting any intimacy from him if she wanted to stay married.
These letters, compiled in Albert Einstein/Mileva Maric: The Love Letters, served as a crucial source for Marie Benedict as she wrote her novel, The Other Einstein.
And in The Other Einstein, Benedict tries to bring Maric’s story to life. Maric, a Serbian mathematician, was the only woman among Einstein’s classmates at the Zurich Polytechnic, now known as the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich. Benedict spoke about the book and Maric on Jan. 10 at Har Zion Temple.
“Hers was a narrative that deserves to be told,” Benedict said. “I was really desirous of inserting her back into that piece of history.”
Benedict first learned of Maric while helping her son with a report on Albert Einstein. A scholastic article the two read mentioned Maric, and Benedict became intrigued.
“She was not only the wife of a famous person,” Benedict said. “She made some incredible contributions of her own.”
As students, the couple connected over their shared perspective of finding spirituality in science, as well as their status as outsiders.
Their relationship was not an easy one, Benedict said. The two had a child together before getting married, and the child either died or was put up for adoption; records aren’t clear. Einstein also struggled to find work in their early years, in part because he was Jewish.
“They have all these challenging, real-life events that took place, and that is not Albert’s strength,” Benedict said. “He lives sort of in the life of science and the life of the mind, and real-life tribulations aren’t his strength, and their relationship dissolves.”
When Benedict set out to write the book, she was nervous about the criticism it might receive for portraying Einstein negatively, though that was not her intention.
Benedict decided to write this story as a novel to give herself more flexibility in exploring Maric. While she uses historical documents as the foundation of her book, fiction allows her to fill in the gaps. For example, a letter from Maric to a friend detailed a romantic getaway she took with Einstein, but Benedict used her imagination to write the exact conversations the two had.
“I practiced as a lawyer for a decade before I started writing books, and the way I like to look at writing historical fiction is sort of a blend between the logic of my days as a lawyer and the imagination and creativity piece of being a writer,” Benedict said.
Benedict’s book talk at Har Zion Temple is part of the “Open a Book … Open Your Mind” series that features a different book and author every month, except for April, when several authors will be present. Though the series has existed for years, this iteration, which started in October, is the first year it occurs over a greater span of time than just a week.
Sheila Kliger, who organized the series, said she requested Benedict after seeing her speak at the Jewish Book Council Conference in New York City in May.
“We find that when an author comes to speak with us, their enthusiasm spreads,” Kliger said.
Benedict previously wrote historical fiction novels under the name Heather Terrell, but The Other Einstein is the first that focuses specifically on a woman’s story. It is also the first of several books she will write that explores the lives of historical women through a novel. The next book, Carnegie’s Maid, comes out Jan. 16 and focuses on Andrew Carnegie’s transformation from a ruthless businessman into a philanthropist through the eyes of his mother’s lady’s maid.
“I am really propelled by the notion of unearthing untold stories from history, especially stories of people who’ve been marginalized or who are voiceless, and inserting them back into the historical narrative,” Benedict said. “That’s been a longstanding passion of mine.”
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