Summary and book reviews of The Wives of Los Alamos by TaraShea Nesbit

The Wives of Los Alamos

By TaraShea Nesbit

The Wives of Los Alamos
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  • Hardcover: Feb 2014,
    240 pages.

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Book Reviewed by:
Suzanne Reeder

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Book Summary

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.

1943
WEST

Over the Black Sea, the Mediterranean, the Pacific, the Arctic, the Atlantic; in sewers, in trenches, on the ocean, in the sky: there was a war going on. Sometimes it seemed far away, barely happening, but then a mother or a wife placed a gold star in her living room window— her brother, her husband, her son, our neighbor— and the war became personal. It was March, gas was rationed; therefore the streets were quiet. We heard a car pull up in the driveway. We wiped our hands on our apron and placed the apron on the dishes. The doorbell rang and a young man, just slightly older than our husbands, about thirty-five, stood on our porch in a porkpie hat and asked whether the professor was home. His eyes were the color of stillness— something between a pale body of water and the fog that emerges above it. Although dinner was almost ready our house was chilly— we could not turn on the gas heater— and we invited him in but felt embarrassed by the cold. Our ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. The Wives of Los Alamos is narrated in first person plural. While individual women are mentioned, the wives speak as a group. How does this affect your understanding of them and their story?Do you come to knowany of them as individuals?What was your emotional response to this stylistic choice?

  2. From the very beginning, the town of Los Alamos is one defined by secrets. Who is keeping information secret from whom? What type of information does each group within the community have access to and how does that information give them power?

  3. Where do you see issues of race and class come up in the novel? Do race and class differences manifest themselves differently in this small, isolated community than they do in the world at large?

  4. The wives ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse

The Wives of Los Alamos is a provocative novel that boldly re-imagines one of the most monumental periods in our history from an original — and long neglected— women's point of view.   (Reviewed by Suzanne Reeder).

Full Review Members Only (1146 words).

Media Reviews
Library Journal

This well-researched and fast-paced novel gives a panoramic view of the lives of ordinary women whose husbands worked on the atomic bomb during World War II. Recommended both for its important subject matter and for the author's vivid storytelling.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. The author's writing - by turns touching, confiding, and matter-of-fact - perfectly captures the commonalities of the hive mind while also emphasizing the little things that make each wife dissimilar from the pack...Engrossing, dense, and believable.

Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review. Nesbit artfully accumulates the tiny facts of an important historical moment, creating an emotional tapestry of time and place.

Author Blurb Paula McLain, author of The Paris Wife
Tender and mundane details of marriage and domesticity quietly collide with the covert and solemn work at hand. With chilling implications and charged, sure-footed prose, this is a novel - and writer - of consequence.

Author Blurb Madeline Miller, author of The Song of Achilles
Hypnotic and filled with elegaic details; Nesbit offers fascinating and disturbing insight into the secret life of the Los Alamos families.

Author Blurb Gail Godwin, author of Flora
I am in awe of this novel. TaraShea Nesbit's brave and brilliant choice of point of view for these women living inside their earth-shattering secret crucible brings home to us in the fullest way possible that our personal story is never just ours.

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Los Alamos and the Manhattan Project

During World War II an isolated area in the American Southwest became the primary research and development site for the creation of the most destructive force in human history. As part of the Allied mission to vanquish the threat of the German nuclear development program, scientists and engineers built the atomic bomb in Los Alamos, New Mexico. This top-secret endeavor had a code name: the Manhattan Project, which TaraShea Nesbit explores from a collective women's point of view in her debut novel The Wives of Los Alamos. The project received its code name in late 1941. The term came about because the program started under the Manhattan Engineering District of the War Department.

Los Alamos Before the Los Alamos site was chosen, research was ...

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