Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The Wives of Los Alamos by Tarashea Nesbit

In The Wives of Los Alamos, Tarashea Nesbit tells the story of the creation of the atomic bomb through the experiences of a group who knew nothing about the work, the wives of the scientists recruited to develop a project they called the “Gadget.”

Families began arriving in Los Alamos in 1943 when it was a city still under construction. Although the wives were a diverse group, coming from various backgrounds and various parts of the country, they quickly became a group, a neighborhood and a sisterhood, united by isolation from friends and family, physical hardship, patriotism, and keeping secrets when they didn’t even know what secrets they were keeping. For this reason, the author’s choice of telling the story through the first person plural, the communal “we,” works very well. Most of the wives were young, newly married college graduates. Their names were changed and their letters home censored. They were assigned to live in hastily constructed apartments with army-issued home furnishings. The roads and yards were either mud or dust. Sometimes there was no water or power. They tried to lead ordinary lives: cooking, cleaning and raising children. They formed friendships and helped each other. They formed book clubs and held dances. They argued and gossiped. After August, 1945, when everyone in the world learned what their husbands had been working on in Los Alamos, they were free to return to normal life. Some stayed in Los Alamos, their husbands taking jobs with the National Laboratory. Some left, their husbands taking teaching positions or jobs in private industry. Some felt pride and some felt guilt about the bomb. They resumed their middle-class American lives, but for a few years they had been part of something that changed the history of the world.