Title: The Wives of Los Alamos
Author: TaraShea Nesbit
Rating: 5/5 stars
“Their average age was twenty-five. They came from Berkeley, Cambridge, Paris, London, Chicago—and arrived in New Mexico ready for adventure, or at least resigned to it. But hope quickly turned to hardship as they were forced to adapt to a rugged military town where everything was a secret, including what their husbands were doing at the lab. They lived in barely finished houses with a P.O. box for an address in a town wreathed with barbed wire, all for the benefit of a project that didn’t exist as far as the public knew. Though they were strangers, they joined together—adapting to a landscape as fierce as it was absorbing, full of the banalities of everyday life and the drama of scientific discovery.
And while the bomb was being invented, babies were born, friendships were forged, children grew up, and Los Alamos gradually transformed from an abandoned school on a hill into a real community: one that was strained by the words they couldn’t say out loud, the letters they couldn’t send home, the freedom they didn’t have. But the end of the war would bring even bigger challenges to the people of Los Alamos, as the scientists and their families struggled with the burden of their contribution to the most destructive force in the history of mankind.
The Wives of Los Alamos is a novel that sheds light onto one of the strangest and most monumental research projects in modern history, and a testament to a remarkable group of women who carved out a life for themselves, in spite of the chaos of the war and the shroud of intense secrecy.“ (description from Goodreads)
The Wives of Los Alamos is a book that sat on my shelf for a few years. I originally bought a copy of the book after hearing great things about it. But then I held off reading it due to the use of the plural first person point of view (“We”, “Our”, etc instead of “I”). Turns out that I was hesitating for no reason. After a few pages, I got hooked by the book and the plural first person POV didn’t bother me at all. To be honest, I think one of the strengths of this book was this rarely used POV.
The POV plays a big part in telling the story of this large community of women. While every one of these women is an individual, they also shared many of the same experiences. This is reflected in the writing, along with various other experiences some may have went through. Through Nesbit’s writing each woman has a voice as well as the community of Los Alamos having a voice together.
Aside from how well that all was written, this book is also informative about this time in history. I don’t know many details about the Manhattan Project. I know a little more about it now. But what’s best about having read this book is that it wasn’t overloaded with details. That’s not the goal. The goal was to show the effect of secrets on marriages, families, friendships. It shows how this secretive relocation altered the course of the lives involved and then after, the course of world history. I could have read a non-fiction book that spelled out all the experimenting, politics, and more surrounding the project. But The Wives of Los Alamos made it all human. History shouldn’t always be boiled down to the facts. Real humans were involved, and a book like this one reminded me of that.
If this is what Nesbit has to share with readers for a début novel, I can’t imagine what’s in store for us with the rest of her career.
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About the Author:
TaraShea Nesbit grew up in Dayton, Ohio, one of the lesser-known Manhattan Project locations. Her first book, The Wives of Los Alamos, was a finalist for the PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize, a New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice, a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Selection, an Indies Choice Spring 2014 Debut Pick, an Amazon Best Book of the Month, and winner of two New Mexico-Arizona Book Awards. Her writing has been featured in the The Guardian, Iowa Review, Quarterly West,Fourth Genre, The Collagist, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Necessary Fiction, and elsewhere. She teaches creative writing to graduate and undergraduate students at Miami University.
To learn more about the making of The Wives of Los Alamos, watch an interview on New Mexico PBS, read an interview with the American Booksellers Association, an interview with Omnivoracious, an author profile from USA Today, an interview with Carolyn O on her blog Rosemary and Reading Glasses, an interview with Barnes & Noble, or listen to an interview on Colorado Public Radio.
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