Title: The Wives of Los Alamos by TaraShea Nesbit
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
Genre: Historical, Fiction
Length: 240 pages
Book Rating: C+
Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley
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 P.O. box addresses 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. It’s 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.
The Wives of Los Alamos is an interesting look into the lives of the scientists and families who lived in Los Alamos during the development of the atomic bomb. Using a very unique storytelling technique, TaraShea Nesbit describes the hardships and frustrations the wives experienced while living in seclusion as their husbands carried out their work in secrecy.
The point of view in The Wives of Los Alamos is not from a specific individual. Instead, it is written in first person plural (“we”) which makes for a very unusual reading experience. I think I understand why Ms. Nesbit chose this particular viewpoint-the wives were pretty much stripped of their identity upon their arrival, making everyone indistinguishable from the others. But it also makes for a frustrating reading experience when coupled with the attempts to show individuality from a group perspective. Every possibility for every situation is included in the narrative and the delivery is so impersonal it is virtually impossible to connect with any of the characters.
While the POV was frustrating, their overall experience is quite fascinating. The entire project is shrouded in secrecy right from the beginning and the majority of the wives had no idea what their husbands were working on. The living conditions were austere and harsh. Mail was heavily censored and there were no phone calls in or out. No visits from extended family were allowed and in fact, once most families arrived, they did not leave except for the occasional day trip to Santa Fe. Many of the wives are highly educated, but their skills are sadly underutilized. Surprisingly a few of the wives did take jobs, but their wages were practically non-existent.
TaraShea Nesbit’s The Wives of Los Alamos provides an intriguing look into the lives of the people who were involved with a huge moment in American history. While the collective “we” takes getting used to, in the end, it is the most effective way to tell this incredible story.