If readers are able to set aside irritation with Albert and focus on the story of Mileva "Mitza" Maric, then they will find themselves drawn into the end of the nineteenth century and the dawn of the twentieth. The incredible limitations that women lived under will seem ridiculous to modern audiences. Marie Benedict does an awesome job of showing the culture and customs of the times and how they hampered women who sought higher education or careers in predominantly male fields. In the book, a conversation takes place between Mitza and another female scientist about balancing family life with scientific pursuits, and captures the gist of their struggle:
"...nothing is easy for people like you and me. We are eastern Europeans living in countries that look down upon people from our lands. We are women, who are expected to stay in the home, not run labs or teach at universities. Our expertise is in physics and math, exclusively male fields until now. And, on top of it, you and I are shy in a scientific realm that requires us to speak publicly. In some ways, managing a family has been the easiest part."
Fans of historical fiction, or fictionalized history, have a lot of meat to sink their mental teeth into with this story. Along with the feminist themes and the discrimination against eastern Europeans, there are also the growing anti-Semitic feelings, the clash of old ways with breakthroughs in science, and descriptions of European cities from a century ago. It's best to clear your calendar before starting to read, because you won't want to stop until you reach the end.
Highly recommended for YA and up.
I received an advance reader copy from the publisher for review purposes.