Einstein’s Dreams

I don’t know why, but reading this book makes me unbearably sad. Alone at night, obviously, but even while paying bills at the bank, I found myself wanting to cry in the middle of all that productivity. Einstein’s Dreams is all concept; it has no characters, no plot. I have no idea why it affects me so. Somehow it feels like it carries all of the world’s sadness between its pages.

DA lent me this a few weeks back. The book has an ungrounded, ethereal feel; it makes you feel as if it’s simply passing through you. Its clean, simple sentences (not to mention the spacious layout) create this overall effect. The novel concerns itself with the fictional time-dreams that haunt Einstein as he constructs his theory of relativity. It makes you think of humanity from a distant perspective: how our daily decisions mean nothing in the greater scheme of things, how we are all just passing by. But at times it also feels like it’s just a cerebral exercise, a mere experiment in worlds. You have to be in a certain mood when you read this book; else its beauty will just pass through you, like water.

I know it’s the science aspect of all this that should amaze me, but in my reading, time is a peripheral concern—a defining factor, naturally, but only a premise. What I find more valuable (predictably) are the individual stories of humans, their private sorrows. Lightman has been lauded for his ability to bend reality and present alternate versions, in degrees we consider impossible—but is this really what he does here? Circular, three-dimensional, backwards: time is all these things. Not elsewhere, but here. We know this, we have experienced this. How can we call it impossible? Einstein’s Dreams contains so many prisms of truth within its chapters that it seems silly to call it “magical.” This is reality. As seen from an imagined mind, yes, but reality nonetheless.

I had expected myself to love this book wholeheartedly, but it didn’t turn out that way. I loved it in fits and starts, but never completely. Everyone raves about it, but perhaps it just didn’t strike me the same way it did them. I enjoyed reading it, and it made me want to start crying several times, but—that’s all. It’s not the type of book I would be unwilling to part with.

For in each town, late at night, the vacant streets and balconies fill up with their moans.

Without memory, each night is the first night, each morning is the first morning, each kiss and touch are the first.

A life is one snowfall. A life is one autumn day. A life is the delicate, rapid edge of a closing door’s shadow.


2 thoughts on “Einstein’s Dreams

  1. Andrew Albert J. Ty

    I like Einstein’s Dreams a lot, too, and I share your sense of some kind of mysterious sadness haunting its pages. If you like this, I think you’ll like Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities, which also uses a similar kind of recurrent fugue-like blabbity structure.

    (I chanced upon your blog when it turned up on a search result for Mabi David’s You Are Here, but my habit of recommending the Calvino to anyone who’s read Einstein’s Dreams just kicked in. Cheers!)


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