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Monday, February 24, 2014

The Wives of Los Alamos: A Novel

Los Alamos has to be one of the most interesting government secrets kept during the Great War, so I jumped at the chance to read TaraShea Nesbit's The Wives of Los Alamos last month.

An exceptional group of women inhabited Los Alamos during WWII. They came from all over the United States, leaving behind their homes and the lives they had built to accompany their husbands to do a strange, secret job in a strange, hot place with strange, unfinished homes and strange, unknown people. They banded together for an unknown length of time, forming deep friendships that were so desperately needed without contact with the outside world. They raised children and together created a community that would sustain them as their husbands made history and changed the world for better or  worse.

This novel is a tribute to the women who held up their husbands in a history-making time that so many of us forget. Not about the atomic bomb; that is covered in history classes and on anniversaries. What so many of us forget is that behind the scientists, the physicists, and the engineers were their families--those who gave up their lives to move to this hot, sandy, far-flung place with nothing but their china and curiosity. Nesbit has written a book that is solid, honest, and eye-opening.

Nesbit's writing style is particularly interesting; this book is written in first person plural. It is unlike anything I have read in recent time. This style allows the author to tell us the story of the Los Alamos everywoman--each had a story to tell, and Nesbit lets us in on the secret of their quiet lives. This wasn't an easy transition for most women; some (if not most) were war brides, coming along after only being married for a short time. Their husbands kept secrets from them daily, and there is no way this did not take a toll on a marriage and a family. Nesbit is able to get this across while telling us that every woman's story was different.

I also found that Nesbit was able to get across quite clearly the reservations of the men in the story regarding what they were doing and the toll it took on their psyche. They understood what they were making, and at times (we are told in this story) some men had crises of conscience, wondering if maybe they un-wove every night the fruits of their labor during the day a la Penelope if maybe they could keep the power of destruction away from those in power. Alas, we may never know if this had been an option to occur.

This was a genuinely beautiful book and I loved living in it for such a short time. 

Kindle version on left, hard copy on right.

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