This novel is set mainly in Berlin, in the months before Hitler came to power. Martin Kirsch is a psychiatrist, about to marry into a rich family, but increasingly disillusioned with the path his life and his profession is taking. When a young woman who Martin met briefly a short time earlier, is admitted to his clinic, with no memory of her own identity or her past, he takes on her case. The young woman was found semi-naked, and the only clue to her identity is a flier for a lecture given by Albert Einstein. The press are fascinated by the case and call the woman The Einstein Girl. Kirsch too is fascinated by the case, but his fascination turns into a potentially dangerous obsession. As he attempts to unravel the mystery of the woman’s past, he finds links with the eminent Albert Einstein, who is one of the Nazi’s most prominent enemies, and realises that danger could be closing in…
I’m in two minds about this book. It started very well, and I thought I was going to love it. However, as the story progressed, it became more and more convoluted, which I think hampered the telling of the story. Generally speaking, I like books that weave fact and fiction, and this book certainly made me interested in finding out more about Einstein’s life, but even as a character, Kirsch himself often seemed unsure what was fact and what was fiction. This does seem to be something of a recurring theme throughout the book, because at the beginning of the story is a letter from a character who does feature later on, which suggests that the whole book itself was written as a novel within a novel.
However, I was interested to find out the real identity of The Einstein Girl, which is revealed incrementally throughout the story, although it was never clear until the end as to what was true and what was false.
What I found particularly interesting was the glimpses into (now) outdated beliefs regarding psychiatry and the treatment of psychiatric patients. Some of the ideas which were invested in, seemed particularly disturbing and there was a general undertone of menace surrounding the whole subject.
As a character, I found Kirsch hard to warm to, although I did feel that he was well drawn, and was believable. Neither could I find much about The Einstein Girl to invest in (and indeed Einstein himself does not come across as a particularly sympathetic character).
All in all then, there were some interesting aspects to this story, and I would probably consider reading more by this author. However, I feel that it got a bit too tangled up in itself at times.
(Author’s website can be found here.)