The Wives of Los Alamos by TaraShea Nesbit is beautifully written, lyrical, unique and could be the best fiction I’ve read in a very long time.
I downloaded this audio book so long ago that I’d forgotten it was a novel– I was half way through it, thinking it was a memoir, when I discovered it was a novel. If you’re looking for a great summer read–this is my book recommendation for summer or any season at all.
Why was it so notable? To begin with, it’s written in the third person, which can be super annoying, but in this case, it’s executed so well and so poetically that I was immediately drawn into the lives of the women, women who ended up in the remote and fairly primitive town of Los Alamos simply because their husbands were ace physicists. The men were, of course, working on the atomic bomb, a fact that was kept secret from their wives and anyone else without the proper security clearance.
Imagine being a wife and mother sent to a isolated, desert town, to a small, rudimentary house that frequently was without clean water. Imagine being unable to reveal where you were and what you were doing to family and friends left behind. Your letters were censored. Imagine that your husband couldn’t discuss his work at all, not even with you. Later, after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, imagine finding out that the husbands had been working on something so destructive that it would alter the course of the war and of the world. I won’t ruin the book by saying more, but I can say that I hated for this book to end.
One important note: I heard it on Audible and it was read by one of the best female voices I’ve heard on Audible. So good that I’ll look for more audio books she reads. Because the book is so lyrical, a good reader makes all the difference.
(The reader for Cheryl Strayed’s Wild was so annoying I hated the book and never finished it.)
I mistook the historical novel for memoir because the content has the ring of truth, and in fact, the author did extensive research on Los Alamos and listened to oral histories done by the real wives of Los Alamos’ and read their memoirs. Nesbit says that almost everything in the novel actually happened and I believe it. I love the 1940s and from the attitudes of the men, the women and the government the book effectively evoked that era. If you’re looking for a book recommendation and if you enjoy lyric novels that are written differently than most, give this one a try. And let me know what you think!
I love historical novels and this sounds like a winner. When it comes so close to the truth it makes it even more palatable. Thanks for a wonderful review, Carol.
I always know a book has huge potential to capture my imagination when I hear the premise and say to myself, “why didn’t I think of that?”
Just curious … why do you find third person unappealing? The writer in me wants to know! 🙂
I’m adding it to my shopping cart today; it’s hard finding really good books that you don’t want to end. Thanks for the recommendation!
Third person is not always done well…I don’t really have a reason, other than it sounds awkward. It’s hard to pull off. …but she did it so beautifully and the reader did a great job.
You have made me want to grab a copy! Thank you Carol. Love the new site! Kimberly XO
Its just as good in print.
I knew it would be. Just loved it!
I love the show Manhattan. This sounds like a great summer read. Thanks!
I have to look that up.
This sounds awesome! I’ll get it on audible now. I love historical books that are entertaining too!
Let me know how you like the reader’s voice.
Sounds like one to pursue. Thanks for the write up.
That sounds like the kind of book I’d enjoy. There was a TV series out about 2 years ago on an obscure channel called Manhattan about the Manhattan project. It was so well done but didn’t receive the recognition it deserved. Well worth watching if you can find it.
I see what you mean about the ‘third person’ being annoying. But you are also right about being drawn right in. Great story!
She did it well. So well.
I will put this on my list! I love to read historical fiction. Sounds like a good book club read too!
Thanks for the book recommendation. I love historical fiction!
I just finished a book of Jodi Picoult’s and thought of you immediately. Have you read Second Glance? It’s a multi-generational story about unsettled spirits and family connections. I adored it!
I haven’t but I will! Thanks, Tamara!
This sounds like a really good book. I wish I had more time to read!
Now that is powerful writing to take you to that space where believed it was a memoir! Just so happens i have been looking for a book to take me away! Thank you.
And when, missy, will you EVER have time to read it! But do. xo
Wow! This is high praise: “…best fiction I’ve read in a very long time.” I’m adding it to my Goodreads list. Thank you for the review and recommendation.
Thanks for the review Carol. I enjoy reading historical books and having visited Nagasaki I would be very interested in reading about the lives of those involved in contributing to its destruction. I’ve not tried audio books but I would think that the narrator would have to be able to keep your interest.
SO hard to find anyth8ing that would occupy my mind like that – thank you! 🙂
Sounds like a great read, Carol! I listen to a lot on audible & I agree – whoever is reading makes a huge difference! Pinning to my books to read board!
Sounds like a great recommendation and so timely right now with President Obama visiting Hiroshima today.
Love historical novels—this sounds good. I’ll check it out!
Oh my word! Either this is a great book or you’ve summerized it well because now I want to read it.
love reading books like this. I love to read stories with historical background. I also love to read books with a new story. This one has both thanks for sharing
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any book you don’t want to finish is a good book! Also audio books with good readers make all the difference. I heard a Nora Roberts book on audio once and it was beyond dreadful – women cannot do a man’s voice with integrity 🙂
I rarely read fiction anymore with the exception of Manga and the anime type light novels. Even then that’s rare! I guess I’d say it’s not often I read non-fiction either! This sounds like something I would like, though, so I’m going to check it out!
This book sounds interesting, I haven’t read a book for a while and it makes me want to read again.
Success! You’ve made me want to read this. Just put it on hold at the library. Thanks. Off to share. 🙂
sounds like a really interesting book. i’ll have to check this out more.
Sounds like a book I’d love to read, Carol. Isn’t it crazy when we don’t want a book to end? 🙂
This sounds really good! I wish I enjoyed reading more, though. Think I’ll catch it when they make it a movie. 🙂
Historical Novels are some of my favorites! I will definitely check this one out!
It sounds fascinating. Heading to Amazon, thank you!
This would be a novel stretch for me. You’ve awakened my curiousity though and one I may have to explore. Great review!
Hi, I’m visiting from Grammie Time’s Party at My Place.
This sounds like something I would really enjoy. I’m going to see if my library has it.
On the subject of men preparing the atomic bomb, look for the movie Above and Beyond. From 1952, it stars Robert Taylor and Eleanor Parker. (I’m a classic film addict). The film is about the man who actually flew the plane that dropped the bomb. He needs to keep what he’s doing secret from his wife, and they also live in very isolated locations. Your review reminded me of that movie.
Anyhow, thanks for bringing the book to my attention.
Patti @ Embracing Home
I got a bit annoyed with the plural pronouns–the “our Marcias” etc. But you are right–it was very well done. The story was too big for that format to me. When the Emperor Was Divine was written the same way.
I just found your blog thru a link-up party and really like it.