20 March 2018

Laurent Seksik: Le Cas Eduard Einstein (2013)

Laurent Seksik's Le Cas Eduard Einstein, as its name suggests, is a novel concentrating on the life of Albert Einstein's psychiatrically disturbed younger son. It is in three imagined narrative voices: Eduard's (told in the first person), and Albert and his first wife Mileva's (both in the third person).

Albert's first marriage to the partly crippled Mileva was against his parents' wishes, and resulted in three children: Lieserl (who in the novel was abandoned to a nourrice and died before she was one year old); Hans Albert, who became an engineer and adopted US nationality with his wife; and Eduard, who developed severe mental (schizophrenic) problems at about the age of twenty and spent most of his life in Burghölzli clinic in Zürich.

The first marriage ended effectively in 1914, with Albert later marrying his cousin Elsa. Forced out of Germany by Hitler's régime, Albert Einstein escaped to America, where his left-of-centre political views and ideas on racial integration weren't exactly welcomed. He last saw Eduard in 1933, and the band round this edition shows them the last time they were to see each other, in Burghölzli: Albert looks uncomfortable, perhaps despairing, and Eduard looks disturbed or very puzzled.

To some extent the novel is a record of Mileva's devotion to Eduard, who finds it difficult to understand it when his mother, one of his few grips on life, dies. Several years later his father dies too, although initially he feels nothing because he has spent many years hating the father who has not bothered to re-visit him: the narrative makes it quite clear that Albert Einstein was a courageous man, braving the Gestapo, supporting the blacks in America, helping the Jewish cause, trying to prevent the USA from bombing Japan, but remaining incapable of visiting his own son.

Eduard's mind is understandably of central interest to the story, and his child-like vision of the world, along with his stating the same thing in a slightly different way, is evident in these astonishing words, and I translate from the original French: 'Life has taught me that nothing is definitive. However, I think I know that I'll never have any children. That's probably the best way to avoid being a father.' There's something oddly comical, but at the same time slightly chilling, in those last two sentences.

Eventually, from hating his absent father, Eduard comes to appreciate him, and as he looks through his father's well-known sayings he interprets one as a reference to his son: "'The main thing in the existence of a man like me lies in what he thinks and how he thinks, not in what he does or what he suffers.' Thanks for the compliment, dad." The novel ends on a happy note, with Eduard looking at the photo on the cover of this book with a journalist. This (as mentioned above) is the last time Albert will see his son, he (a man who normally dresses any old how) is very smartly turned out, as if this is a very special occasion, and he looks very sad. Eduard is happy.

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