This book’s narration caught my attention right away, although I did keep waiting for it to perhaps change in a few chapters … it did not, however. The book, written by Tarashea Nesbit is written in first person plural, through the eyes and remembrances of the wives who accompanied their husbands in secret to a mountain location above Santa Fe, New Mexico. The location later became the town we know today as Los Alamos, but in the throes of world war in 1943, there wasn’t much to speak of, even after the scientists and their families began to arrive.
Housing was erected, there was round-the-clock security in the fenced-off secret enclave, schools and a hospital were established …. but there were no telephones. Names were changed, children if asked were told to lie about where they lived, jealousies arose and friendships were forged. They called it Shangri-La or “Sha-La” for short. Though the book is considered a novel, I believe most of it is based on actual fact.
I had only a cursory knowledge of what happened in Los Alamos between 1943 and those fateful days in August of 1945 when atomic bombs were dropped on Japan. While the story telling in this book isn’t straightforward history, I learned a great deal more about those important, earth-shaking events. The wives were not privy to the activities in the “Tech Area” and their husbands were not allowed to divulge the aspects of their work, although the wives gossiped and theorized at times as to what was so secretive about their husbands’ work. One ironic and humorous excerpt about the secrecy:
We walked back home. We had a secret. We set the table and laid out the steak we had saved our rations for and sat down. But before the first bite, we announced, I’m pregnant! . . . . What shall we name him? We hoped it was a him and we had science backgrounds so we thought it would be funny to suggest first names that were elements from the periodic table and we said, Uranium Fisher, and before we could say more our husbands, put their hands over our mouths. We asked, through voices muffled by their hands, What’s wrong?
They socialized together – cocktail parties and dances were frequently held. Often they would hold a celebration without the wives knowing exactly what was being celebrated. The wives could sense the tension in their husband’s behavior as the project progressed. Some would have pangs of conscience and withdraw from the project. One scientist sent his wife away for awhile just before the test blast at White Sands, New Mexico.
After the atomic bombs ended the war with Japan, there was great jubilation. Some who had fallen in love with New Mexico decided to stay and some just wanted to go home, wherever home was. All their mail had been censored and there were over eighty babies born in the first year alone. Mail for everyone was received in Santa Fe at Post Office Box 1663 – it was also the address listed on every birth certificate of children born during that period of time.
I wasn’t sure I would like the format but it actually worked well for me after all. The chapters are very short and thus I found it very easy to read quickly and still absorb important details about that historic time when the war-weary world just wanted to be “normal” again. Anyone with an interest in World War II or the building of the first atomic bomb, with a different perspective, would enjoy this book.
Have a GREAT day . . . someday it will be HISTORY!
© Sharon Hall (Digging History), 2014.