Some time ago I was sent The Einstein Enigma to review. Various circumstances conspired against me so that the book sat for too long on my desk. Time seemed to be against me. Finally however the universe brought me full circle, cleared the way and I found myself embarking on one of the most fascinating stories I have ever read.
The Einstein Enigma was written by José Rodrigues Dos Santos, a familiar face on Portuguese television. Born in Mozambique, the son of a doctor, José was brought face to face with the horrors of war from an early age. This was to shape his life as he became a prize winning journalist specialising in war reporting. He is also a journalism professor at Lisbon University.
Having covered real life stories in places such as Iraq, Israel, East Timor and Lebonon, José has a rich tapestry of experience to draw upon. Apparently he never intended to become a novelist. His first novel was born from a friend asking him to write a short story for a literary magazine. Two hundred pages into his ‘short story’, José realised he had the writing bug and become a best selling novelist. To date he has published 9 novels, selling over a million copies in Portugal alone and has been translated into 17 languages. He remains the main anchorman at RTP presenting the evening news and reporting on wars across the world.
Reading the back cover of the book, I realised that my interest was already piqued not only because the author hails from Portugal but also because the subject matter in itself was fascinating. I had no idea however, how rich and complex the book would become or the profound material it contains.
Essentially the story centres around a university professor who specialises in cryptography named Thomas Noronha. The hero finds himself drawn into international espionage, at the mercy of the CIA and the Iranian government who are battling to decode a message written by Einstein that they believe contains the instructions to make an atomic weapon. In way over his head, Thomas falls for a beautiful woman from Iran who may or may not be all she seems and finds himself trapped in a nightmare of conspiracy and subterfuge.
The novel starts out as a thriller, akin in pace to the novels of Dan Brown but don’t be fooled into thinking it’s an easy read. Interspersed between the action are long passages which begin to explain the intricate workings of quantum physics and mathematics. Thomas is searching for ‘The God Formula’ – the enigmatic mystery that proves the existance of God. Using real,cutting edge scientific research, José begins to weave a fascinating story that both educates and fascinates.
Whilst the premise is fictional, the story is based heavily in fact as experiment upon experiment is referenced along with teachings ranging across philosophy, history and religion. The greatest minds are drawn into the arguments and the reader is gently asked to stretch their mind as they read. The riddle that Thomas has to unravel becomes the readers riddle as slowly we begin to explore what we really believe when it comes to the big questions. José is not afraid to ask the biggest of them all:-
Why are we here?
What came before the universe?
How will the universe end?
Is the universe eternal?
Does God exist?
What exactly is God?
How can we prove God exists?
This isn’t a religious novel by any means, simply a profound knitting together of religious and scientific thought that makes you question everything you believed and then some whether you are an aetheist or a believer.
In some ways it could be argued that the characters are a little superfluous to the novel, merely there to carry the reader on a journey. Yet whilst the characters are not necessarily fleshed out, there are beautiful moments of humanity, moments that tug at the heartstrings and that we can all relate to. There is a love story, there is the cruel passage of time that destroys those we love.
Away from formulas and equations, the novel serves also as a travelogue taking us to places that many of us perhaps have never visited and never will. We travel through enigmatic Coimbra the academic capital of Portugal, through Iran and Tibet. With each journey we are treated to delicious descriptions of the place concerned with vivid, evocative language that cannot help but stir the travellers toes. Historical facts abound such as the Portuguese were the first western people to reach inner Tibet.
This isn’t a book to read at night. I quickly learned that it needed to be read with pen and paper at the ready to write notes. It’s a novel to be read in daylight because otherwise you will find your mind ticking over the profound facts found within it’s pages in the midde of the night. Thankfully, José provides us with a reading list at the end upon which he based his novel. All of these books are now in my wish list.
I’m not a scientist by any stretch of the imagination. I was good at maths but prefered English, I love astronomy but I became an astrologer. Semantics call me more than reductionism (those terms are explained in the novel!). Yet I am called to ask the big questions. As a child I tried to write a story about a man who had reached the edge of the universe and I remember the frustration at not being able to imagine what he found there. In many ways I’m still travelling this eternal line, peeking into the void beyond. This novel for me is a speck of light on the horizon, dawning realisation that everything truly is connected.
I will leave you with a rather beautiful passage in the book
“Everything was serene, translucent, lofty. Truly pure. Never had he felt so perfectly between heaven and earth, floating above the fog, his spirit free, standing out among the mass of humanity to touch God, eternity compressed into a second, the ephemeral stretching into the infinite, Alpha, the start and Omega, the end, light and darkness, the universe in a puff, the impression that life is mystical, that a mystery lies hidden behind the visible, an enigma engraved in old writing, an inscrutable code, an ancient sound that can be sensed but not heard.
The secret of the world “
The author’s official website is found here