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Book Review: Einstein's Dreams
Author: Alan Lightman
Reviewed by Paul C. LoCasto

I have always been fascinated with the concept of time. With pubescent innocence I stumbled upon the rather troubling observation that upon the day of birth begins death. Upset at a draconian bedtime handed down by Parents, I resisted sleep by asking whether our arbitrary measurement of minutes, days, years, in any way implied a true understanding of the notion of time. And so it was in this capacity, as a seasoned timologist, that I picked up Einstein’s Dreams.

In it, we are presented with a young patent clerk who has just finished a manuscript, a theory of time. Exhausted, he falls asleep at his desk. We are then dropped into his mind, dreaming of other worlds. For each world, time operates differently. In one, time is cyclical ("In the world where time is a circle, every handshake, every kiss, every birth, every word, will be repeated precisely"). In another, there is no time, instead only images. In yet a third, time is a sense "like sight or like taste, a sequence of episodes may be quick or may be slow, dim or intense, salty or sweet, causal or without cause, orderly or random, depending on the prior history of the viewer".)

However, a sense of time, common to all worlds, emerges when you realize that a specific world exists in this work of fiction only long enough to expose to the reader how time operates in that world. Therefore, similar to Italo Calvino’s If On a Winter’s Night a Traveler you will not find a complete story in any one of the time-dreams. Any attempt to grab at the plot and it wisps away. Characters exist only to highlight the time. Superimposed upon the meditative nature of the subject, is a writing style reminiscent of the "magical realism" of Gabriel Garcia Marquez in its level of detail. The sparse, pellucid prose, verse-like in its impact, implores the reader to view the work as one would a watercolor rather than a novel. Although artistically immense, this delightful work can easily be read in one sitting- time should not be a consideration to the would-be reader- well, at least, not in that way!
($7.20 at Amazon.com)

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