Saturday, November 30, 2013

The Wives of Los Alamos by TaraShea Nesbit


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 told in first-person plural.  It made me wonder whether one of the women who actually lived there may have dictated her memoirs to Ms. Nesbit.  As a Navy Veteran and volunteer at the Captain James A. Lovell Federal Health Care Center, I meet World War II veterans every day.  They’re quite elderly now, in their late eighties, early nineties, and even a few centenarians—but many of them are still quite lucid and able to recall their experiences from those days.  So it’s just possible Ms. Nesbit spoke with someone who was there.

The blurb says much of it.  They came from everywhere.  Some of the families had time to say goodbye to loved ones back home; some didn’t.  Most came from academia.  Very few were prepared for the hardship, the secrecy, the discipline or the red-tape of the military.  “Why can’t we name the new puppy Plutonium?  You’re a chemist and it’s on the Table of Elements.  It’s cute.”  “What do you mean we can’t say that word?”  “I’m Mrs. Fermi.  Why do I have to tell people my name is Mrs. Farmer?”  “What do you mean the General is in charge?  I thought the Director was in charge.”  “You said we’d have a house.  This is an army cot in the community room in a lodge.  They say our house won’t be ready for a week.”  “Why can’t we have a bath tub?”

Eventually the Army Corps of Engineers built the little houses.  The ladies got used to showers with rationed water instead of baths.  They learned which words they could and could not use and what they could name their pets—Spot or Fluffy, not Uranium or Plutonium.  They got used to the thin walls and hearing their neighbors’ beds squeak at night and nine months later they helped each other get to the hospital when their husbands were stuck at The Project.

The latter reminded me of Navy housing in Hawaii. We lived in a four-unit townhouse.  ;-D  Debbie’s hubby was at sea when she was due, so we planned that she would knock on Chris’s wall and Chris would knock on mine.  Chris would drive Debbie to the hospital and I would babysit for Chris.  Her hubby was also at sea.  We didn’t bother with phones in the middle of the night on baby-watch.  We all kept our windows open and a phone ringing at two a.m. would wake everyone in a three-block radius.  But, I digress.

They learned to ride horses and went on picnics in the desert.  The endured the heat, the dust, the mud, and then gloried in the beauty when the desert bloomed.  The Wives of Los Alamos is a warm, witty, intimate look at life at Los Alamos and the women who supported the men who changed the world during The Big One.  It will be released in February.  I highly recommend reserving a copy now.

Length:  240 Pages
Hardcover:  $17.16
Paperback:  $15.90
Digital:  $9.99

You’ll notice I always include the publisher’s buy link.  That’s because authors usually receive 40% of the book price from the publisher.  Editors and cover artists usually receive about 5%.  When you buy a book from Amazon, Barnes & Noble or another third-party vendor, they take a hefty cut and the author, editors and cover artists receive their cuts from what is left.  So, if a book costs $5.99 at E-Book and you buy from there, the author will receive about $2.40.  If you buy the book at Amazon, the author will receive about $0.83.

Downloading the file from your computer to your Kindle is as easy as transferring any file from your computer to a USB flash drive.  Plug the USB end of your chord into a USB port on your computer and simply move the file from your “Downloads” box to your Kindle/Documents/Books directory.  I actually download my books using “Save As” to a “Books” file I created on my computer that’s sorted by my publisher, friends, and books “to review,” and then transfer them to my Kindle from there.  That way, if there’s a glitch with my Kindle, the books are on my computer.  Your author will be happy you did when he/she sees his/her royalty statement.

Thanks for visiting.  RIW

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