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But when her son turns out to be a ballet prodigy, Joan is pulled back into a world she thought she'd left behind a world of dangerous secrets, of Arslan, and of longing for what will always be just out of reach.
Book clubs: The sidelines of history
TaraShea Nesbit’s The Wives of Los Alamos revisits a fascinating chapter in American history. Following their scientist-husbands to the improvised city of Los Alamos during World War II, the women in this intriguing novel find their lives turned upside down. Many of them give up careers of their own to join their partners in a barren locale with poorly constructed housing. The novel’s sharply etched characters—captivating Starla, delicate Margaret, steely Louise and cantankerous Katherine—bring a deeply personal dimension to a story that’s told in a collective, first-person plural voice. While their husbands work in the Tech Areas of Los Alamos on the top--secret development of the atomic bomb, the wives pass the time by dabbling in crafts, outdoor activities and alcohol. Nesbit has done her homework, and it shows in her expert handling of detail and in the authenticity she brings to her characters’ daily routines. She skillfully mixes fact and fiction, bringing the 1940s to life in a way that’s sure to appeal to fans of historical novels.
STARTING A NEW LIFE
All Our Names, the third novel from Ethiopian author Dinaw Mengestu, is a compelling tale of immigrant life and the search for identity that accompanies it. Isaac leaves Uganda—a country torn apart by revolution and war—and comes to America, where he settles in a Midwestern college town and becomes involved with a social worker named Helen. Although she’s open-minded and compassionate, Helen is unable to make sense of her new and distant friend. Isaac is held back by his past in Africa and the memory of his relationship with a close friend who forfeited his own happiness so that Isaac could embark on a new life. Balancing the past and the present is a delicate dance for Isaac—one that Mengestu renders with great sensitivity. The immigrant experience takes on a new poignance in his hands. Narrated by both Isaac and Helen, the novel provides fascinating perspectives on relationships, the meaning of home and the endurance of history. This is a rewarding novel that’s sure to get book clubs talking.
TOP PICK FOR BOOK CLUBS
Astonish Me by Maggie Shipstead revisits the era of Soviet ballet superstars, providing a backstage look at the demanding lives of professional dancers. Using Mikhail Baryshnikov’s famous defection as her point of departure, Shipstead tells the story of Arslan Rusakov, a Russian virtuoso who shakes up the ballet world after seeking asylum in America. Arslan struggles to make sense of his fame and of life in the West. He indulges in drugs and sex as he copes with the homesickness and displacement that come with defection. His failed romance with Joan, an American dancer of only average talent, takes the novel in a different direction, as it follows her transition from ballerina to wife and mother. Shipstead writes with insight about the lives of perfomers who sacrifice everything for their careers. This is a fascinating novel that examines the tensions and demands of an exacting vocation—one with repercussions that can last a lifetime.