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, 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."
When Pauline Einstein learned that her beloved son Albert was consorting with a fellow physics student -- one who was older, of another faith and from the backwaters of the Balkans -- she was devastated. "If she gets a child, you'll be in a pretty mess," his mother warned him. But the 22-year-old Albert, as roguishly independent in his personal life as he would be in his science, brushed off Mutti's agitated words and continued the romance. On Jan 27, 1902, nine months after an idyllic interlude at Lake Como, Albert's classmate -- and future wife -- Mileva Maric secretly gave birth to a girl at her parents' home back in Serbia. Neither Mileva nor Albert ever talked about her, even to close friends. Like some brief, fiery meteor, the baby named Lieserl (diminutive for Elisabeth) soon vanished into the Balkan night.
The illegitimate child in Einstein's past did not come to light until more than 30 years after his death, when the first volume of his collected papers finally appeared, in 1987. Still, a mystery remains. What happened to Lieserl?
Zackheim says she decided to pursue the book when she discovered that Einstein, a great icon of her youth in Compton, Calif., had had a child he might have forsaken. "It fascinated me from a psychological point of view," she says. "How did his daughter feel about being abandoned, especially by somebody who was so important to the culture?"
Helped by small grants and loans, Zackheim set off on her five-year quest for Lieserl, crisscrossing Switzerland, Germany, England, Hungary, and especially Serbia. Even while bombs burst, she visited Mileva's ancestral villages, seeking her kin or anyone close to her family, including Serbian Orthodox priests and nuns, and holding many hours of coffee-table conversation, to say nothing of rummaging through countless baptismal records and archives for key documents.
Like Zackheim, most people are slowly discovering that Einstein was not simply the secular saint they grew up with -- the aureole-haired, sock-shunning professor who solved geometry problems for little girls, alerted F.D.R. to the German A-bomb peril and then wept over the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Einstein reshaped our view of the universe. That he was a flawed human being is not only fascinating in a tabloid sort of way but reassuring as well. It makes our heroes, even those of unfathomable genius, seem a little more like us. ---From Time Magazine, October 4th 1999
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 daughter--hitherto unknown to biographers--disappear 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 Cahners Business Information.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The personal life of Einstein, the century's most famous scientist, was indeed complex. In the mid-1980s, it was discovered that he and his first wife, Mileva Maric, had a daughter, Lieserl, prior to their marriage. With only a few scraps of information, Zackheim plunged deep into Serbian culture and customs as well as Einstein's and Maric's family histories to find out what became of Lieserl. After countless interviews and five years of research in the United States, Europe, and Serbia, Zackheim has produced a well-written and riveting story that demonstrates a thorough grasp of the subject. Along the way, she endured war and misleading information to stay ahead of fellow researchers. This combination of excellent historical research, mystery, and sleuthing is highly recommended for all collections.--Michael D. Cramer, Cigna Healthcare, Raleigh, NC Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
A disappointing account of the illegitimate child conceived by Albert Einstein and his first wife, Mileva Mari_, a daughter who disappeared from all records until the publication of her parents' early love letters in 1986. In 1902, Mari_, not yet married to Einstein, gave birth to a daughter behind closed doors at her parents' home in the Vojvodina (then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire). By the following year, all traces of the child had disappeared. Zackheim (Violette's Embrace, 1996) set out to solve the mystery of Einstein's "lost" daughter. In her view, the child, named Lieserl, was born with severe mental handicaps. For this reason, Mari_ decided to leave the child with her parents rather then return with her to Bern. When Lieserl died of scarlet fever less than two years after her birth, the family covered up all traces of her existence and kept secret this painful chapter in their history. Zackheim has clearly poured herself into this project. She has searched archives, read books and articles, interviewed relatives and friends of Einstein and Mari_plus potential surviving Lieserlsand spent several years in Serbia in search of the lost child. The question she leaves unanswered is: Why should anyone share the author's obvious passion for this mystery? What does it reveal to us that is new or noteworthy about Einstein or Mari_? If Zackheim has not succeeded in persuading her audience of the importance of her topic in the broader scope of Einstein scholarship, it is because her book imprudently tells more about Mileva Mari_ than her husband. In addition, Zackheim has delved so deeply into Serbian folklore, customs, and traditions that she foists them on hersubject. Readers do not benefit from Serbian sayings and words that repeatedly appear in mid-sentence in both Serbian and English. Nor does Zackheim present convincing evidence that Mari_ herself was closely bound to the Serbian customs she so lovingly details. In this misguided account of the child's story, Zackheim, playing sleuth, dwells on the details but leaves a void at the heart of the drama.