Cover Image: The Atomic Weight of Love

The Atomic Weight of Love

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Member Reviews

After reading a few chapters, I decided this book held no interest for me at this time nor was it a good fit for my blog.  I elected not to finish the book now, but it may well be a case of "the wrong book at the wrong time" syndrome and I might be willing to try it again in the future.  Thank you to Algonquin Books and NetGalley for giving me the opportunity to sample this title.
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The Atomic Weight of Love is a story of love, sacrifice, womanhood, science, and so much more. I am still hungry for this book. I did not know what I was in for when I began reading about Meri and her love for birds, but by the end, I found myself staying awake until sunrise, reading, and sobbing, (yes actual sobbing) for the characters in this story.

I usually get bored with novels that span an entire lifetime, but this one was a rare gem. Set during World War II, we follow Meridian, an ambitious but naive young woman who falls in love with her college professor. I devoured the setting for this book, the theme. Every page is filled with sheer science, metaphors and facts imbedded into the story. What I fell most in love with, was the feminism. I wasn’t expecting it. Meri finds herself sacrificing her dreams for a man, (who is much older and has already accomplished much, may I add) and follows him to New Mexico, where she later discovers he was working on the first atomic bomb. Years into their marriage, things become stagnant and she wonders why she didn’t finish getting her doctorate for a man who doesn’t recognize her dreams, or her crow journals.

Another favorite part of mine, was her study of crows. I learned a lot from this book about crows, which I knew were fascinating animals. Following her study of one murder of crows, and the one she calls White Wing, is compelling and written beautifully.

Eventually, Meri falls in love with a young vietnam war veteran who is now a geologist. He is the catalyst that pushes her to realize her dreams are her own and they are attainable without her husband. This part of the book was riveting, because the vietnam soldier and her husband had a similarity; war crime, yet they were different in every way possible. He opened her eyes to a lot of new things, considering her age and the time setting. She smokes weed for the first time, has a lot of ravenous sex and learns his ways from his old hippie commune. I was eager about the comparison in her two lovers. My only dislike of the book is that I wish the author explored the topic of war more in depth. There were scenes where Meri questioned her husband and his guilt for the thousands that his bomb ultimately disintegrated. There was a scene where she even directly compared her two lovers in an essay by their experiences with the war. This, beside the crows, was the most compelling part of the novel for me.

I won’t spoil the book any further, but I did want to address the theme of feminism in the story without giving away too much.

-In the community that Meri lives, she is surrounded by scientists’ wives with degrees in fields they have long retired in to become housewives. She has a discussion club with these women, which unveils a hard truth of how most people behaved in the 1940’s. Meri often challenges these women in her mind, and doesn’t understand their contentment with the sacrifices they’ve made for their husbands.
-The author paints a vivid picture of marriage and its trials for a woman in the 1940’s and even today. Often, Meri felt unacknowledged and undermined by her husband, whom she used to admire in college because of his intellect and his mutual admiration for hers, which he seems to have forgotten about.
-The story depicts the thousands of women’s stories who decided to sacrifice their dreams so their husband could pursue theirs.
This is the kind of the book that every woman should read. I found the narrator extremely relatable and was left feeling empowered. I recommend this book to basically anyone, especially those with an interest in science or the Manhattan Project.

I give this book 5 out of 5 stars. 

Thank you NetGalley and Algonquin Books for a copy of this book in exchange for a review.
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I really loved reading this book and, once I started reading it, I had trouble putting it down. I would highly recommend!!!
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After reading a book, I usually re-write the blurb to try and give a truer sense of what the books about. but in this case the blurb it comes with is perfect! Here it is …

“For Meridian Wallace–and many other smart, driven women of the 1940s–being ambitious meant being an outlier. Ever since she was a young girl, Meridian had been obsessed with birds, and she was determined to get her PhD, become an ornithologist, and make her mother’s sacrifices to send her to college pay off. But she didn’t expect to fall in love with her brilliant physics professor, Alden Whetstone. When he’s recruited to Los Alamos, New Mexico, to take part in a mysterious wartime project, she reluctantly defers her own plans and joins him.

What began as an exciting intellectual partnership devolves into a “traditional” marriage. And while the life of a housewife quickly proves stifling, it’s not until years later, when Meridian meets a Vietnam veteran who opens her eyes to how the world is changing, that she realizes just how much she has given up. The repercussions of choosing a different path, though, may be too heavy a burden to bear.”

There is so much truth in this book. It is a vivid portrait of not just Meridian Wallace but of a whole generation of women born just a little too early to live the lives they should have lived. As you might guess from the title and blurb it also covers the birth of the nuclear age and touches upon the feelings of the scientist that created ‘Little Boy’ and ‘Fat Boy’ and who wreaked so much destruction on Japan. In fact this book seems so completely true that I had to Google to see if she and Alden were in fact real historical figures!

Meridian is the kind of woman we all want to be friends with, intelligent, curious and kind. She’s a bit of a loner but also able to keep her mind stimulated, a useful trait as her marriage stagnates. Her life is not unexpected for women of her generation. It was a time when women had begun to break through the educational barriers in greater numbers than ever before but many families supported them in going not so much for them to stretch their intellectual wings but in order for them to find the right kind of husband. One of the many small tragedies in this book is that by falling for an intelligent man who excites her intellect she is unwittingly signing it’s death warrant! It’s only her stubbornness that helps keep it alive.

This is a quiet book, but often things that are important are said quietly. There’s no bluster, very little violence or action, yet there is still plenty going on. In the book Meridian is the scientist, studying the behaviour and life habits of a local flock of crows, but in reading it you become the scientist, learning the same about Meridian and the flock she belongs to. It is at once an intimate character study and an evaluation of post war American society.

4 Bites

NB I received a free copy of this book through NetGalley in return for an honest review. The BookEaters always write honest reviews
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Reading the synopsis on the back of the book , I was expecting a story full of adventure and a strong woman character.  I got one, not the other unfortunately.  There is no doubt that the lead character Meridian was strong in her own way but there was not much of a change of story.
I found that I got frustrated with her weaknesses along the way when she had so much potential - but maybe that was the purpose of the author to highlight how many potential geniuses of women have been lost in a world of dominating men.  
The descriptions in the world encompass all of your senses and you are transported into Meridian's world from day one.  
I walk away with this book with a sense of profound sadness and anger but I hope that this will drive my motivation levels to make sure that this characters life is not an example of any young women's life in the future.
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This book wasn't immediately engaging, so I'm going to pass on it for now.
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