Philip Sington’s The Einstein Girl is a historical novel that takes place during the last days of the German Republic and the first month of the Nazi regime. A woman was found, bruised and near death with no memory of who she is. A psychiatrist at the local Charité hospital in Berlin recognizes her as a woman who caught his eye on the street, but he does not really know who she is. Nonetheless, Dr. Martin Kirsch resolved to treat her and solve the mystery of what happened to her.
This is a unwise. He is not popular where he works and has been asked to resign. A mysterious benefactor with quite a lot of power has commissioned him to do research on the efficacy of psychiatric diagnosis. The benefactor forces the resignation of Kirsch’s opposition. He’s also feeling conflicted because he is engaged to the lovely and adoring Alma Siegel and really should not be this interested in another woman, even a women cloaked in mystery.
The more he learns about the mysterious Mariya, as she names herself, the more intriguing it all becomes. Is there a conspiracy to keep her identity hidden? He finds her apartment and discovers that she is a brilliant mathematician/physicist trying to solve the problem of the fifth dimension and the unified field theory. She must be connected to Einstein in some way.
There is much to admire in The Einstein Girl. Sington is good at writing about physics and quantum mechanics without being technical. He also effectively creates the atmosphere of the declining Weimar Republic, the growing suspicion, the rapid consolidation of power under the Nazis, the way threats and intimidation were used to silence criticism and invoke fear. It is a cautionary example of abnormal and aberrant ideology being normalized through fear and collaboration.
The story is not convincing in the end. Elements are. I can understand how Martin Kirsch became obsessed with Mariya. Her story is touching, even haunting, and the seeds of it lie in the revised understanding of Einstein since the release of his papers by Princeton. In the end, the story just did not add up to enough of a real story to justify the intrigue and mystery. The story of a psychiatrist coming to realize how his work has been misunderstood and exploited by the Nazis was the more interesting plot line and it was the least developed, more of a subplot. The main focus was on figuring out just who the Einstein Girl was and the sad, shoddy, and sorry answer to what happened was just that, sad, shabby and sorry and neither she nor Einstein deserved what happens when they meet each other.
Of course, in the very end, we are left wondering how meta this story is. Is it the story of Martin Kirsch and Mariya or is it Eduard’s, Einstein’s son, story? Perhaps that ambiguity allows for the awful claim against Einstein that is made. I am not certain, which makes this book one that people can spend a lot of time discussing and debating.