Sunday, April 21, 2024

Universe of Two by Stephen P. Kiernan ~ Book Review

 Nineteen year old Brenda Dubie works in her parents organ store and her dream is to attend a music school.  Her young life is pretty easy, working at the store, practicing her organ and flirting with the young soldiers who are in town.  Then in 1943,  she meets Charlie Fish.  At first he doesn't leave much of an impression.  A Harvard educated mathematician, he is reserved and quiet, nothing like the fun loving soldiers she hangs out with.  But Charlie keeps coming around the store to see her.  In a short time they become a couple but his mild nature holds Brenda back from fully committing to him.  Then Charlie is drafted into a special top secret military project where he gets very little time off.

Working for the Manhattan Project, Charlie finds his life fully consumed.  Soon he is assigned the task of designing a detonator without knowing what it is for.  But as he continues to work on the project and the reality of what it is he is having a hand in building starts to become very real, Charlie starts to have reservations.  His highly ethical nature is rising up, yet he is not allowed to talk to anyone, including Brenda, about it.  As he struggles with his conscience, Brenda unaware of what the project is, urges him to be a man and step up to the task.  If it helps the war effort, then what could be the problem?  When the war is over Charlie ends up receiving a scholarship to get his PhD in physics, a dream as there is no way he could afford it.  But it comes at a cost.  As the guilt continues to lay ahold of both Charlie and Brenda of what they had a part of, Charlie quits school and the two build a life trying to make amends.

This is my second book by this author and I have loved both.  I didn't really know what it was about when I bought it a couple of years ago, but funny that I happen to pick it up right when the movie "Oppenheimer" is all the buzz.  The story is loosely based on the life Charles B. Fisk, who was a mathematician and world renowned organ maker.  It explores the guilt and remorse that followed him throughout his life for his part in the development of the atomic bomb.  It's a love story set in a time when payback and stopping the enemy was forefront in the minds of most Americans and most were willing to do what it took without really understanding or looking into the consequences of what producing such a weapon would have for the future.  I learned a lot about a part of the WWII effort that I've never really understood before and, if truth be told, never really thought of at all.  And that is the guilt that some of these ordinary people had to live with for their whole lives.  They were not soldiers or military but ordinary people who had been drafted into the making of a horrendous, top secret weapon just because of the skills they possessed.  In all honesty, I find it hard to believe why this book is not being talked about, or reviewed more.  I did read another story that dealt with the making of the atomic bomb last year, reviewed here, that explored the question of how the scientists working on the bomb could justify the end result.  This one took the angle of the guilt that plagued some of them as the revelation of what they were using their talents for comes to light and their struggle to make sense of it.  Very good read that held my attention with it's compelling and flawed characters and it's twists and turns based in history.  

I rated it a 9.5/10

1 comment:

Faith said...

thanks for the great review Susanne! I LOVE historical fiction particularly civil war era (which are hard to find) or WWII. This one sounds great.

I'm going to look for it at the library