Poised to be a sleeper hit, The Wives of Los Alamos tells -- in the collective "we" -- the story of the women who followed their scientist husbands to New Mexico right after WWII; the men were working on the Atom Bomb project, not that their wives or families (or anybody else, mostly) knew that. An intelligent, probing novel, author TaraShea Nesbit's debut does what historical fiction does best: portrays a time and place and people we've heard of but probably didn’t know much about. Here's what Nesbit has to say about her book.
What drew you to this time and place?
My fascination with the history of the atomic bomb started with learning about a high school in eastern Washington that has an atomic bomber as their mascot; after that, I researched nuclear waste, and I just kept going back and back to the source of the bomb. Though I read about the lead scientists, even more interesting to me was to think of what life was like for their educated, newly married wives who followed their husbands to an unknown location in New Mexico. I wanted to know these women and be their friend and make more space in the world for their voices.
What do you enjoy reading and writing about historical fiction?
In historical fiction, time has stopped, at least for a little while, and I get to see, in slow motion, how co-existing experiences and points of view interact with and affect one another. Another thrill is how much historical fiction actually reveals about the time period with which it is written -- the preoccupations and focuses of revisionist history, for example, shift as our contemporary moment shifts. I love that historical fiction enables a reader to inhabit both the consciousness of a contemporary author and the world of the past.
What are some books that have influenced you as a writer?
Virginia Woolf's Orlando, Patrik Ouředník's Europeana: A Brief History of the Twentieth Century, Studs Turkel's What Work Is, Claudia Rankine's Don't Let Me Be Lonely, Michael Ondaatje's Coming Through Slaughter, Julianna Spahr's The Transformation, Tove Jansson's The Summer Book, Jennifer Denrow's California, and the Mr. Bridge and Mrs. Bridge books by Evan S. Connell.
What do you hope readers take away from The Wives of Los Alamos?
I hope the book adds complexity to readers' understanding of the 1940s and atomic bomb history, while encouraging them to seek out more information. I want readers to enjoy spending time in the environment the book created, and it would be great if readers notice parallels between these women and that time and the present day.