WOW! This is such an amazing flight-of-the-spirit book dressed up as a very imaginative and fun sci-fy tour de force. As all good science fiction should be.

The book consists of a set of 30 vignettes encased by a prologue and an epilogue and divided in equal parts by three ‘intermissions. The prologue and the epilogue introduce us to the early morning when young Einstein finally hands over his manuscript of what will be known as his theory of time to his typist and then seats at his desk, exhausted and empty. The 30 vignettes take us back to 30 possible conceptualization of ‘time’ that Einstein may have dreamed of during the time he was developing his theory of time. The ‘intermissions’ take us to three possible conversations he many have had with an admiring and grateful friend very concerned with Einstein’s health. In a sense, the book strongly resembles Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities, which the author surely knew.

The chapters are short vignettes that purport to represent dreams Einstein has while he is writing his theory of time in 1905. The dreams cover 11 weeks from 14 April 1905 to 28 June 1905. Each chapter story develops a different conception of time, not in an expository manner but illustrated with a short scene. Many of the ‘stories’ are located in ‘in this world’ or ‘in this town’, but some of them are actually located in different cities in Switzerland.

But this is not a popular science manual. And very soon you discover it is more than just really imaginative science fiction. The author’s main purpose is not to expand on scientific explanations of fantastical conceptualizations of time, but ponder the human dimensions of several conceptions of time. Although the tone of the book is fantastical, it more closely and lovingly ponders with empathy different aspects of the human nature’s kaleidoscopic relation to time than it studies different understandings of ‘time’, as maybe Einstein considered before abandoning. Time, in these stories, incarnates our hopes, disappointments, anxieties and acceptance towards existence, it really is a projection of our existence.

The prose is clean and precise (‘crystalline’, in the words of the NYT’s Michiko Kakutani), keeping in check a restrained lyrical undertone. Under the clear expository prose, you can detect, without overt preaching, a melancholy tone that exposes the author’s love, empathy and, sometimes even compassion for his subjects.

For a profound and beautifully lyrical commentary about this book, consider  Marginalian/Einstein’s Dreams

Einstein’s Dreams, by Alan Lightman, Warner Books, 1993.

Alan Lightman teaches physics and writing at the Massachusets Institute of Technology has published in several very respected publications, but this is his first work of fiction.

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