Monday, July 27, 2009

I'm Impressed

In the dead of summer, when I conjure up an image of reading in a comfortable spot, I go to winter. Let me explain. Reading can be about killing time; just doing something to wile away the day. Or, reading can be about digging your butt into a comfy couch, wearing your most comfortable pajamas with a roaring fire burning in the fireplace, as a blanket of snow covers the ground outside. It becomes your safe, comfy place. It's warm, it's cozy; it's where you go in your head when you need to escape. For me, that place is winter, especially since I live in Austin- a place that offers months of relentless 100 plus degree weather in the summer time.

When I first opened up Einstein's Daughter: The Search for Lieserl, I immediately went to that comfort reading spot in my head. I imagined myself- no matter where I really was at the time- tucked into that cozy spot in the dead of winter. I sighed with contentment after reading the first chapter and settled in for the journey that I was about to embark on. It must be Michel Zackheim's writing skills, her way of telling a story, that makes me love her second book as much as I loved Violet's Embrace. Well, not quite as much, but close to it!

Once again, Zackheim goes in search of something; this time, it's finding the lost daughter of Albert Einstein. His first child, Lieserl, was born out of wedlock to his first wife, Mileva. Lieserl was born before they were married and before they added two more children to the family. Isn't that sad when you have to give up one child because you are not married or ready for children, only to get married and have more children with the same man? Talk about guilt.

Nowadays, having a child without being married is not necessarily a bad thing. But way back in 1902, in Serbia, where Mileva was from, this love child was not an acceptable thing. It was frowned upon to have a child without being married and so Mileva and Albert never spoke of their first child together. Mileva went to her family home, had the baby and acted like it didn't happen. There is no record of an adoption or of a death and so the mystery of what became of their daughter is born.

The search for Lieserl takes Michele, the author, traveling across several countries, including Serbia, where she met with Mileva's distant friends and relations. There, she had to overcome the Serbian way of keeping everything guarded closely, especially secrets of the family. Zackheim was quick to learn to respect the cultural difference that she was faced with and, many times, overcame this block to gain access to secrets that were supposed to be kept until you went to the grave. She was faced with lost documents, dates that didn't make sense, and people who didn't want to share their knowledge of a lost little girl. It read like a detective story at times, with me agonizing over what she would uncover in her quest for information. Many times, I felt frustrated for her and it made me like Zackheim that much more for her diligence in her art. It took five years for Zackheim to write this story. I bow to her for what she accomplished.

I also had to have diligence while reading this book. Do you know how hard it was to not Google anything about this story? No searches for Lieserl or Mileva. No searches for Albert Einstein (and boy, he sure was quite the jerk). I just allowed the story to unfold in front of me without sneaking a peek at what the outcome was. Tough, I tell you. But I made it through and waited until the end to Google until my heart was content.

I took Einstein's Daughter with me while on vacation with my family; we took a road trip from Texas to Virginia. I'm a bit of a control freak, even when it comes to driving. I don't like anyone else behind the wheel. So I had long thirteen hour days of driving. When we'd at last reach one of our destinations, all I wanted to do was sleep, but I couldn't resist the pull to read this book and to find out what happened to Lieserl. I stayed up when I should have been asleep to prepare again for another long day on the road just to get to the end of this book. It was so worth it.

You'll have to read it to find out who the real Lieserl Einstein is; I'm not going to tell. Stay away from Google while reading it. And give Michele Zackheim a round of applause for yet another well-written, page turner!

And, by the way, I like the name Lieserl. I think I will throw that into the name box if I ever have another daughter.

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