Written upon reading this in November 2007:
I've spent the last few weeks immersed in the world of Mileva Einstein Maric, the first wife of Albert Einstein. To be more specific, I've been reading Einstein's Daughter: The Search for Lieserl by Michele Zackheim. The book chronicles the author's efforts to solve the mystery of Mileva and Albert Einstein's daughter, born before their marriage and so considered illegitimate. The little girl disappears from the record when only a year old, and no one knows whether she died, was adopted, or merely hidden because of the shame her existence brought upon her family.
The book is largely speculative and one-sided. I'll have to pick up a more objective biography of Albert Einstein at some point to get a better picture of him, I think. But I'm haunted nonetheless by the crushing sadness of Mileva's life as portrayed by Zackheim.
Mileva starts with such promise -- likely could have been a great mathematician or scientist in her own right -- until she succumbs to love for her genius, and Albert becomes her world to the extent she fails her university exams and ultimately gives up her first-born child as a condition of her marriage to the man she adores. Even though their marriage may have legitimized little Lieserl, Albert apparently feared the child's existence would jeopardize his chances at gainful employment as a patent clerk in Switzerland. Mileva finds happiness with Albert for a time, but he eventually grows weary of her obsessive love and dissatisfied with her age and leaves her for another woman.
Mileva looks deeply sad in nearly all of the photographs reprinted in the book. In addition to the loss of her great love, Albert, and the loss of her daughter, Lieserl, she had to contend with another child, Eduard, who descended into severe mental illness and had to be institutionalized. The expense of Eduard's care drove Mileva into poverty. Albert shared with her his Nobel Prize money and some real estate holdings, but it wasn't enough.
I keep thinking about why Mileva's story resonates so strongly with me. I know the feeling of obsessive love for someone else, of becoming subservient to that love to the exclusion of self. I wonder what Mileva could have been if she'd been less desperate for Albert's affection and had more equality in their relationship. I wonder what Lieserl could have been if she'd been raised by her parents. Would she have grown to greatness? Would her parents have been more willing to claim her as their own if she'd been a son instead of a daughter?
Mileva had moments of happiness with her Albert. Perhaps that's all happiness is. Moments. Flashes. Impressions. A glance across a cafe. The intimacy of sharing a bite of cake from the same fork. Those instances when it seems finally that everything is aligned in your favor, when a touch is warm and conversation flows like wine. But the question, the unanswerable question, remains. Are those bright, fleeting moments enough to fill a life? If not, how do we survive in the void that remains?