Research. Careworn, leather-bound books piled around me. Copies of letters and pictures too delicate for libraries to loan stacked around me. Arcane scholarly articles brightened with post-it notes. This image of getting knee-deep in research draws me to historical fiction. But I know it would give many people the shivers.
But how to research a relationship, once very real but now long past? While still keeping in mind that I’m writing fiction?
While many biographies of Albert Einstein and his life exist (among them the wonderful EINSTEIN IN LOVE by Dennis Overbye), for all aspects of my research—especially for an aspect as intimate as a relationship—I seek out original source material. Not the words of a historian but the words of the historical person themselves, if I can find them. This was particularly important in researching THE OTHER EINSTEIN because, while the book is unequivocally Mileva’s story, her relationship with Albert figures prominently in it. I did not want to rely only on anecdotal stories nor did I want to base my story exclusively on another historian’s interpretation of what might have passed between them.
Fortunately, I came across ALBERT EINSTEIN/MILEVA MARIC: THE LOVE LETTERS by Jurgen Renn and Robert Schulman. This compilation of the letters between Albert and Mileva spans the beginning of their relationship in 1897—when they were classmates only—through the early years of their marriage in 1903, and it was discovered in 1986 with the assistance of Albert’s granddaughter Evelyn Einstein. The letters reveal the young lovers to be enamored of one another and with science—physics and mathematical developments figure prominently in their conversations—and uncover the rather challenging early years of their marriage. In reading the young couple’s own words, I could envision the youthful, mercurial Albert and simultaneously brilliant and insecure Mileva. And in my mind’s eye, I could see the unfolding of their relationship in a way that no secondary re-telling could ever convey.
Filling in the gaps in my understanding of Mileva during this time period and beyond were the letters compiled by Milan Popovic in IN ALBERT’S SHADOW: THE LIFE AND LETTERS OF MILEVA MARIC. The author had in his possession letters between Mileva and his ancestor Helene Kaufler, a dear friend of Mileva. These missives showed another side of Mileva, one that explained her willingness to stay with the relationship as it declined and that showed her sadness at the loss of her scientific ambitions.
Taken together, these original source materials—the letters of Mileva, her very words—helped me form her voice and understand her world. This research served as a critical piece in writing THE OTHER EINSTEIN and giving another life to a woman whose astonishing story deserves to be told.
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