Rosa’s Einstein by Jennifer Givhan
The University of Arizona Press, 2019; 84 pp
Reviewed by Danielle Susi
Jennifer Givhan’s fourth full-length collection, Rosa’s Einstein, is a narrative retelling of the German fairy tale “Snow White and Rose Red” through a Latinx lens. This iteration of the tale focuses on border, identity, and immigration through perspectives of Einstein’s life and theories of quantum physics.
Lieserl is the daughter Albert Einstein and his wife Mileva allegedly gave up for adoption at birth. The reader finds Lieserl wandering throughout the desert borderlands of New Mexico, along with Rosa (Rose) and Nieve (Snow), through a surreal landscape of childhood trauma and survival in search to find their fathers. Givhan weaves these two stories masterfully, allowing multiple universes to overlap through their similarities and telling the tale as if these girls exists and do not exist at all simultaneously, perhaps event on multiple planes.
Givhan’s imaginative collection begins with the standout poem “Rosa Roja” in which the stage is immediately set that Rosa is willing to let Lieserl—or rather, herself—believe anything she needs to believe so that she might find her father. Calling it “a fool’s journey from the beginning” (1), “Rosa Roja” brings the reader into the secret that Rosa has only read about Lieserl in books and imagines her to be a “sister” in their same plight.
In this first poem, the reader also begins to see Einstein as more than just Lieserl’s father, but the father or God of time and of modern physics:
I call out to the mad:
—God sometimes comes in the form of a scientist—bandit
of time. (29-32)
While the collection circles around the narrative of these young girls, there are many places in which Givhan incorporates themes of violence, fragility, and the struggles of motherhood. Often pieces of landscape are anthropomorphized, such as in “When the Jornada del Muerto had a Windpipe” where the desert “was choking on deviled eggs” (1).
In the poem “Nieve, the Brave Sister,” the speaker says that she fears “how she does not need / how she does not need me” (15-16). Each person in Givhan’s brilliant collection is begging to be wanted. To be remembered. Sisters, daughters, desert circus performers, scientists. Each one is lost either physically or metaphorically—or both.
There is a particular line in this book that seems to sum up the entire collection: “But I believe she lived” (19). This line from the poem “Lieserl Runs Away,” is able to combine the desperation and hope and imagination of Rosa wishing for Lieserl to be alive and in the world she in habits. Givhan’s collection is so much about having hope for another and about envisioning another world in which someone is brave and bright and has not been abandoned. And in this hope, they are wanted and remembered.