Beginning the World Again

Roberta Silman, Author Viking Books $19.95 (416p) ISBN 978-0-670-83062-6
This seems like a good idea for a novel: to retell the oft-told but unfailingly dramatic tale of the Manhattan Project, and the high-powered scientists gathered in Los Alamos, N.M., in 1943-1945, from the point of view of their wives-- domesticating the atom bomb, as it were. In the event, however, this is a disappointing book. The problems begin with Silman's heroine, Lily Fialka, married to dashing nuclear scientist Peter but involved in a secret affair with moody Jacob Wunderlich. She is a remorselessly conventional narrator, and although the details of the hothouse atmosphere of that odd place and time are realistically conveyed, the effect is very much that of a romance novel with an unusual backdrop. There is a baby born dead, a dying wife, an exiled German agonizing over her wartime homeland. Real characters like Robert Oppenheimer, General Groves and Richard Feynman crop up without much conviction, and one subplot concerns the thwarted efforts of a thinly disguised Niels Bohr to get a reluctant Churchill and Roosevelt to agree to a pooling of atomic knowledge among all the Allies before war's end. But despite all the effort and research that clearly went into the book, it remains flat and predictable. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 10/01/1990
Release date: 10/01/1990
Paperback - 376 pages - 978-1-5040-0964-5
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