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Einstein's Daughter: The Search for Lieserl Hardcover – October 25, 1999
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Albert Einstein met Mileva Mari at Zurich's Polytechnikum, where they were both physics students. Shortly thereafter, in 1902, she secretly gave birth to their daughter, Lieserl, at her parents' home in a small Serbian village. Although the couple married a year later (and divorced in 1919), they never publicly acknowledged their first child--and, in all probability, the girl never left the country of her birth. In order to uncover Lieserl's fate, author Michele Zackheim knew she had to gain access to the fiercely proud and private Serbian kin who sheltered Mileva after the baby's birth until she rejoined Albert in Switzerland in 1903, and presumably never saw her daughter again. Zackheim's narrative, studded with Serbian proverbs and accounts of elaborately polite fencing with elderly relatives who might just know something, offers a vivid glimpse of a rural life that has changed little in the nearly 100 years since Mileva's time. It's also a cat-and-mouse tale of missing documents, letters with sentences obliterated or pages destroyed, and four women who might have been Lieserl... but weren't. The author's final conclusion about Lieserl's fate is speculative, to put it mildly, and most Einstein scholars have questioned it. Einstein's Daughter is best enjoyed as a memoir of scholarly detection and a colorful social history rather than a conventional biography. --Wendy Smith
From Publishers Weekly
In 1986, Albert Einstein's granddaughter discovered a cache of love letters by the physicist and Mileva Maric, the Serbian woman who became his first wife. The letters disclosed that the couple had a daughter named Lieserl, born in 1902, a year before they married, but all traces of this infant daughterAhitherto unknown to biographersAdisappear after 1903. What became of Lieserl? Scholars have assumed that she was put up for adoption, but Zackheim, who went to Serbia and Germany to comb archives and to interview the Einsteins' surviving relatives, neighbors and associates, believes that Lieserl was born with a severe mental handicap and died of scarlet fever in infancy. Her thesis is intriguing but inconclusive, based on only a few witnesses' recollections. Writing elegantly, Zackheim does establish that Lieserl lived with Mileva's parents, and her remarkable sleuthing turns up new details of Einstein's personal life. In her withering, one-sided portrait, the great physicist, pacifist, freethinker and internationalist was a dictatorial, insulting, selfish, unfaithful spouse, a curmudgeon with a misanthropic streak. Einstein, by this account, emotionally abused his ailing first wife and virtually abandoned their two young sons after he divorced Mileva in 1919 so that he could marry his cousin Elsa five months later. Zackheim paints Einstein's second marriage as one of mere convenience, portraying him as a cold, distant mate, "a middle-aged Lothario" who "tended to have a few romances going at once." She also speculates, without evidence, that Einstein may have infected Mileva with syphilis, and that she could have passed it to Lieserl in utero, increasing the risk of mental retardation. (Nov.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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For example, Zackheim clearly has it in for Einstein. The book makes no bones about that, and this causes it to veer off of Lieserl and what happened to her. Einstein was, obviously, an imperfect husband and father. But so too was Mileva as a mother. Speculations about Mileva having thought up Einstein's theories have been thoroughly disputed - the 'revolutionary' ideas were his, not her, brilliance.
The book builds up to a conclusion that leaves the reader feeling let down. This could have been avoided by somehow using the "BLUF" technique - "Bottom Line Up Front" - so the reader knows that ultimately, Lieserl's fate is still unknown. (as an aside, if her fate is ever proven, it could completely invalidate Zackheim's effort).
Its an entertaining book; not a hard read, although names and people can get tedious. Ultimately, the book should not be taken too seriously...
Update: I'm reading the book a 2nd time, with a view to thinking through the issues a bit more. Even more than the 1st time, I cannot escape the conclusion that the author has a distinct bias.
She mentions more than once that the Maric family are local aristocracy, but decribes Mileva's mother in terms of a working class family - strong, calloused hands, sensible shoes, etc, that leaves a distinct feeling of contradiction for anyone reading for the detail.
In Part 2, she states Einstein had "no patience and very little respect for women" other than perhaps Curie. And the Curie exception is offered grudgingly. But this is false - Einstein knew and respected Lise Meitner, the brilliant Austria physicist; and had dealings with female scientists and students all through his career. Interestingly, Meitner is not mentioned in the book/glossary.
I my second reading, I'm again hit by the lean references. Reader has to constantly refer back to the endnotes in hopes of matching topics to references, since they are not enumerated in the text. This makes for a difficult scholarly read, and suggests poor scholarship and a tilt toward personal opinion. And the feminist slant is obvious.
Einstein was certainly a poor husband - but no more so than Maric was a nagging, or at least troubled, wife. These two people were developing in different directions, which is no one's 'fault'. Husbands or wives outgrowing one another is a common human occurence.
Too much use is made of quotation marks to indicate doubt or cast aspersions on Einstein's words; this is a distasteful technique however unintentional it might be....
Again, do not take this book too seriously.
The standard theories are: i) she died of Scarlet Fever in September 1903. ii)She was put in a home for mentally-handicapped infants. iii) She was adopted by the Savic family. After two years' research I have concluded she was born mentally-handicapped and at the age of 21 months, just after contracting Scarlet Fever, she was mercy-killed and secretly buried in Kac. My 'fourth theory' points to Albert Einstein instigating this action and probably Milos Maric carrying it out.
"Einstein's Daughter" contains a great deal of information about Einstein himself and much else, including the author's personal journey. Her honest account should not be denigrated just because she failed to solve a mystery that with the passage of time has probably become insoluble.