A thoroughly gripping–and groundbreaking–investigation into the mysterious fate of Albert Einstein’s illegitimate daughter.
Albert Einstein fell in love with Mileva Maric, the woman who would become his first wife, when they were students at the Zurich Polytechnic Institute. When Maric conceived a child out of wedlock, she went home to her family in Serbia to have the child. Lieserl Maric Einstein was born in 1902.
Though Einstein and Maric married the following year, Lieserl was left in the care of her grandparents and never became a part of the Einstein family. In fact, her very existence was unknown until the recent discovery of a cache of letters between Einstein and Maric. The final reference to Lieserl comes in a September 1903 letter, when, at the age of approximately eighteen months, she simply disappears.
What happened to Einstein’s daughter is the most potent mystery to emerge from the mythology that surrounds one of the century’s legendary figures, owing in large part to the careful and apparently deliberate manner in which her existence was erased. Countless scholars and biographers have been unable to penetrate the mystery, until now.
After five years of travel to Serbian villages wracked by years of strife, painstaking forays into the labyrinth of Central European record-keeping, and hundreds of kitchen-table conversations; after following every lead and every flicker of intuition, and with the support of an international network of women,
Bound to be controversial, stunningly dramatic, Einstein’s Daughter includes newly discovered primary-source material and is certain to make headlines of its own. Michele Zackheim has conclusively answered the question of what became of Lieserl Maric Einstein.
Zackheim set off on her five-year quest for Lieserl [Einstein’s daughter], 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 conversations, to say nothing of rummaging through countless baptismal records and key documents. Many of them turned out to have been lost in the endless Balkan wars; others relating directly to Lieserl may have been destroyed by Mileva’s protective father. The result is a colorful glimpse of rural Serbian culture, with its patrimonial society, strong family loyalties, female subservience, slow, leisurely disclosure.
Zackheim’s absorbing account of her search across war-torn, modern Serbia for clues to that girl’s fate gives us a vivid sense of how heavily the cultural pressures of the region, especially the ferocious concepts of family and tribal honor, may have weighed upon Mileva — pressures her husband shrugged off and left her to wrestle with alone. He simply didn’t want to be bothered, it seems; he felt that he had bigger fish to fry. For Einstein, family life was at best a distraction from the great work he had undertaken.”He proudly proclaimed,” Zackheim writes, “that he had tried all his life to liberate himself from the ‘chains of the merely personal.’ ” The revelations about Lieserl that Zackheim comes up with may strike some readers as anticlimactic. But it seems to be Zackheim’s point that the girl’s fate was typical of the fates of many displaced people in this unhappy region, mired in what one recent commentator called “a culture of revenge.” What emerges along the way is a vivid impression of the grim landscape into which Einstein cast this innocent.
– The San Francisco Chronicle
Experts on Einstein were surprised by the fairly recent revelation that he and his first wife, Mileva Maric, produced a daughter before they were married. The child, called Lieserl, was left with her maternal grandmother in what is now Serbia, and all mention of her in the surviving correspondence soon disappeared. Ms. Zackheim set out to learn what became of Lieserl. Almost half of her book is devoted, with understandable feminist bias, to the Einstein’s disastrous marriage, but when she gets to the actual investigation, she can report on Serbia in 1995 as professional journalists do not. She saw official corruption, smuggling, military brutality, provocation and injustice, and an intimidated population. She did not find Lieserl, but her theory of what happened to the child is plausible.
— Phoebe-Lou Adams, The Atlantic Monthly
Get inspired by these incredible women’s words — five must reads. The 1986 discovery of several love letters between Albert Einstein and his first wife, Mileva Maric, also revealed the existence of their daughter, Lieserl, born in 1902, before their marriage. But what became of Lieserl? Journalist Zackheim spent years searching war-ravaged Serbia to find the answer.
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.
– 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.
– Library Journal
Love letters between Albert Einstein and his first wife, the Serbian physicist Mileva Maric, made public in 1986, confirmed the fact that the couple had a daughter before they were married. But what happened to baby Lieserl? Zackheim traveled to war-torn Serbia to find out, and her cogent and suspenseful chronicle portrays Maric as a woman caught between worlds. Encouraged to excel intellectually by her doting parents, Maric fell in love with her fellow student, Einstein, but neither family approved, and Einstein wouldn’t defy his parents even after Maric became pregnant. They did eventually marry, and raised two sons, but Lieserl seems to have vanished, even though, as Zackheim was repeatedly told, no one, not even Einstein, could have induced Maric to give up her first-born. Zackheim followed every lead, until she found a convincing answer to the puzzle, and so wraps up a sorrowful story that reveals the callousness of a legendary scientist, and the terrible sacrifices made by the woman he scorned.
The news made by this book is that Albert Einstein had an illegitimate daughter who died of scarlet fever as a toddler. And that revelation is indeed interesting. Outright fascinating, though, is the profile that emerges of the sadistically cruel man whose science made us understand the world in a new way. The argument will run deep into the next century as to the extent that out public men and women, should be judged by their private actions. Nevertheless, it’s another kind of education when we at least look at what they do when success relieves them of the obligation to behave with humanity. […] Zackheim may not have retrieved an irrefutable explanation of one of the mysteries of Einstein’s life, but she does give us a look at that life, one that illuminates the man, if not the science.
— New York Daily News Sunday