Books: Fiction in brief

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The Independent Culture
Mrs Einstein by Anna McGrail, Anchor pounds 12.99. This is a fictional portrait of the true-life daughter of Albert Einstein, though the heroine's CV is wildly improbable. After a deprived start to life on a Hungarian homestead, Lieserl, born out of wedlock, abandoned and vengeful, determines to beat her father at his own game. First, she comes up with the theory of relativity before he does. Next, she discovers nuclear fission in a Nazi laboratory. Finally, she escapes to the US to help build the Hiroshima bomb, by posing as a secretary and tinkering with calculations made by dim Los Alamos scientists.

Lieserl sparks to life after a brief, turgidly written childhood. When she discovers science and strikes up a friendship with sassy German teacher, Maja, the action takes off. The plot, despite its pace and range, manages some convincing emotional situations and exploration of moral questions. But McGrail is at her best when her heroine muses, fascinatingly, on the intricacies of scientific thought. It's a gripping combination of textbook, biography and adventure.