The Woman with Two Shadows

A Novel of WWII

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Pub Date 26 Jul 2022 | Archive Date 01 Aug 2022
SOURCEBOOKS Landmark, Sourcebooks Landmark


For fans of Atomic City Girls and The Secrets We Kept, a fascinating debut historical novel of one of the most closely held secrets of World War II and a woman caught up in it when she follows her missing sister to the mysterious city of Oak Ridge, Tennessee.

Lillian Kaufman hasn't heard from her twin sister since Eleanor left for a mysterious job at an Army base somewhere in Tennessee. When she learns, on an unexpected phone call, that Eleanor is missing, Lillian takes a train from New York down to Oak Ridge to clear up the matter.

It turns out that the only way into Oak Ridge is to assume Eleanor's identity, which Lillian plans to do swiftly and perfectly. But Eleanor has vanished without a trace—and she's not the only one. And how do you find someone in a town so dangerous it doesn't officially exist, when technically you don't exist either?

Lillian is thrust into the epicenter of the gravest scientific undertaking of all time, with no idea who she can trust. And the more she pretends to be Eleanor, the more she loses her grip on herself.

For fans of Atomic City Girls and The Secrets We Kept, a fascinating debut historical novel of one of the most closely held secrets of World War II and a woman caught up in it when she follows her...

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ISBN 9781728249537
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Featured Reviews

“The Woman with Two Shadows” is a debut novel by Sarah James.

I had a difficult time keeping Lillian and Eleanor apart for about 20% of this book. Eventually I realized that the main focus was on Lillian trying to find out where Eleanor went. Lillian and Eleanor are identical twins with very different personalities. Lillian is more orderly thinking (science is her jam) while Eleanor is more whatever happens, happens. Lillian gets a phone call from a man Eleanor dated - saying that Eleanor’s gone missing. Lillian decides to go to Oak Ridge, TN in order to find her sister. While in Oak Ridge, Lillian (who is pretending to be Eleanor) learns that Eleanor was seeing a prominent scientist - and Lillian becomes a member of his scientific group. From there, questions arise - what happened to Eleanor? Who are the ‘spies’ in Oak Ridge - and on whose side are they passing on secrets? What is the big secret in Oak Ridge?

That’s the background of the story. I will admit that while I’ve read a tiny bit about Oak Ridge previously, I ended up doing a bit of research online - which at times cleared up what was happening on the pages. I think that Ms. James did a good job at explaining things in Oak Ridge, but for this reader, I needed more to understand what was going on - fission vs fusion was okay, but I actually ended up chatting with a science major friend for further scientific details (unlike Lillian, I don’t think in physics, math, and science - it needs to be explained a lot). There was another part where, I have to admit, I ceased reading and polled a few science friends - none agreed with a point mentioned in the book (it’s minor, but it’s about a safe). I didn’t really find Lillian likable, but I could understand (at times) why she thought and behaved the way she did (although not telling her sister something and then betraying her sister’s trust I found, well, hurtful and odd for someone with such ‘high’ values).

In some ways this book moved along at a slow pace, but then it rather galloped to an ending. I would’ve preferred this book to be more linear in telling - opposed to the flashbacks. I liked the idea of this book, but it didn’t always work in execution. I think I wanted to like this book more than I actually did. As this is Ms. James’s debut novel, I’d read another book by her as I found this, as I said, an interesting idea. 3.5 stars rounded up to 4.

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I think fans of historical fiction will find much to enjoy in THE WOMAN WITH TWO SHADOWS. The premise is fantastic and I love how the author picked a portion of American history that some readers won't be immediately familiar with. I grew up in western NC so I have heard about Oak Ridge but didn't, of course, know the details of what went on there.

I also really enjoyed the missing sister aspect to the plot, which keeps the reader turning the pages.

Like other early readers, I had a little bit of a hard time keeping the characters straight at first, but I quickly settled in to the narrative.

I look forward to reading more from this author.

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Lillian, the main character of the book and most certainly the main character in her own world isn't very likeable in my mind. Early in life she is deeply affected by her father's death and mother's existence thereafter. As a twin she makes the decision that she must be responsible for her sister Eleanor.
This is an interesting enough story. Unraveling threads give hints as to why Lillian is driven to find her missing twin. Her journey into a secret military 'town' crosses paths with Eleanor's former boyfriend and the new man her family has no knowledge of. Lillian becomes acquainted with the head of the top-secret project her sister went to work in. Andrew is intriguing and at least equal to her intelligence level. In ways he is like her. Self- centered, self-important. As she has assumed her sister's identity things get intense. The reader learns about the historical significance of this project and how it marks the world and it's future. The descriptive writing about the life and 'job' was quite interesting to me.

I want to thank NetGalley and the publisher for my advanced reader's copy of this book. If nothing else, it has made me think. I learned something years ago and that is that no character can be perfect. No character can be all evil nor can one be all good. This story shows this very well. There is a lot going on in this story. In my honest opinion there was no main character who I cared about. I'm not sorry I read the book. It is different. You will have to make your own decision if you would find it interesting.

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This is Lillian Kaufman’s story, a woman before her time, or a woman in a man’s world, and of all things she want to be a Physicist, and go to Harvard!
Her twin Eleanor is completely different, she is an actress, and though they are look alikes, they are very different!
There is the usual drama that surrounds sisters, or twins, but beyond everything they are family, and when one is missing, well, the other moves mountains, or in this case goes to a secret place in Tennessee.
Eleanor is not the only one missing, and now we are looking for answers, and some will unsettle you.
This is a story of secrets, some people keep, others a Government keeps. Answers come and there are surprises, and hopefully answers! Yes, this becomes a page turner looking for answers!
I received this book through Net Galley and the Publisher Sourcebooks Landmark, and was not required to give a positive review.

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“We built something terrible. We’ve made the world terrible. How can you not see that? How can you not feel the weight of that inside you?”

This is an ABSOLUTELY FASCINATING debut historical novel about one of the most closely held secrets of WW2 and a woman caught up in it when she follows her missing sister to the mysterious city of Oak Ridge, Tennessee.

If you are a STEM teacher or simply interested in learning more about the Manhattan Project, this book will most definitely appeal to you.

Like the author, I found it surprising that a group of the smartest Americans in 1943-1945, ones who daily question everything and rely on evidence, could so easily press pause and ‘stop thinking’ when it suited them. Here was a town of several thousand people doing various seemingly menial, but extremely necessary jobs, day in and day out without knowing how they were helping the war effort. How could they live like that?! Wouldn’t you want to know?! Only a handful could be trusted with the secret of the atom bomb and were threatened if they ever talked about their job to outsiders! Oak Ridge, TN was a secret city. It wasn’t on a map, its existence was never acknowledged by the government during the war, and almost none of the residents know that they were working on a new type of bomb, only some kind of war effort. I’m curious to find out how the knowledge of what they had been doing affected them after Hiroshima.

Since learning about the Manhatten Project, I’ve questioned how history would have been different had the scientists and calutron girls working on the fusion reactions known what they were developing.

If you enjoy mysteries, cover-ups, missing people, and conspiracy theories, this is a good read! I loved the name-dropping of famous mathematicians and scientists and appreciated the fabulous lessons the author presented in furthering our knowledge in this field. Congratulations to the author for a great title and to the graphic design team for a fabulous cover.

I’m still thinking about Lillian putting on Eleanor’s boots and the realization that occurred!

Somewhat forgotten after the war, the calutron girls’ stories are making a comeback. Now I’m excited to read Kiernan’s “The Girls of Atomic City” and Beard’s “The Atomic City Girls.”

This advance copy was gifted to me by Sarah James, SOURCEBOOKS Landmark, and NetGalley and was under no obligation to provide a review.

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Wonderfully written, great characters, good pace. Loved it! Thanks to the publisher, author and netgalley for the arc in exchange for an honest review.

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Reviewed for New York Journal of Books.

"The Woman with Two Shadows" by Sarah James
July 26, 2022
Sourcebooks Landmark

It is 1945 and sisters Lillian and Eleanor Kaufman live in New York City. Lillian is older than Eleanor, her identical twin by seven minutes and the two are as different as day and night. Lillian is analytical and resolved to become a physicist. In her senior year at Columbia, she is no-nonsense and determined to make it to her goal as a Harvard grad student. Eleanor is the type of gal everyone is drawn to: flamboyant, captivating, flighty, and heading for a career on the stage.

Lillian spends almost every waking hour at the college lab, working tirelessly and quickly irritated with anyone and anything inconsequential or emotional. Emotions are to be kept inside and smothered, and though she loves her baby sister, her actions and manner irritate Lillian. If only they hadn't lost their father, which turned their mother despondent and barely able to get out of bed, Lillian would have no problems planning her life.

All aflutter, Eleanor is scheduled to audition for a show. Yet when the phone call comes in for her, Lillian answers it, posing as Eleanor taking the message about a revised tryout date. Thinking of telling Eleanor later, Lillian heads off to school with half a mind on the call.

Lillian's primary concern is getting her Ph.D. at Harvard, but she wonders If Eleanor acts in a play, who will take care of their mother? She has worked too hard to give up now and refuses to let Eleanor overshadow her as she always does. Every man falls for Eleanor; everyone looks at her and wants to befriend her. Even their mother shows a preference for her over Lillian. It's just not right.

Absorbed in her schoolwork and preparation to win the Allerton Prize, a scholarship to gain acceptance to Harvard, she loses track of time, only to later remember Eleanor's schedule change. Oh well. Lillian, who does not let her mind get caught up in trivial matters, figures she'll tell her sister later. She doesn't even consider Eleanor will find out she passed herself off as Eleanor.

Members of Lillian's class are offered jobs at the Clinton Engineer Works on an Army Base in Tennessee, promising the men deferment from the draft and the ability to continue their education. Max Medelson, Lillian's classmate and Eleanor's beau, jumps at the chance. He is sure Eleanor will attain the lead to open in Chicago, but before he departs, he proposes to Eleanor. Lillian, unintentionally eavesdropping, is shocked. Eleanor does not love him.

Tension elevates when Lillian voices her dislike for Max. A gulf grows between them, simmering with anger and animosity. Lillian considers him hallow and low class, firing many arguments, widening the chasm between the women. Max leaves, and when Eleanor learns about Lillian's deceitful deeds, she signs up for employment in Tennessee and goes after Max.

Lillian brushes this off as her sister's capriciousness and decides it will blow over and she will be home soon. Time passes, and Lillian hears nothing from her, no calls or addresses to send her letters. One day, while at the school lab, a summons has Lillian racing to reception to take a phone call. Heart leaping, she hopes it is Eleanor calling. But it isn't Eleanor. It's Max! What the heck?

"'Don't hang up,' he said quickly as if reading her mind. 'It's important. Have you heard from your sister?"'

"She did not want him to have the satisfaction of knowing that he was in more regular contact with Eleanor than she was. And yet, there was something in his voice, some hitch of desperation that made Lillian fear honestly was required. 'No.'

"The rest of the office faded away. Lillian clutched the phone. 'What do you mean?'

"'She disappeared from the facility. Almost two weeks ago. No one's heard from her since then. Did she tell you where she might have gone?'"

This is more than one of Eleanor's moods—something serious has happened to her. With Max's instructions to travel and to meet him upon arrival, Lillian lies to her mother and flees, worry churning in her gut. After a long and tedious journey, Max is nowhere in sight. What seems hours later, Lillian spots an Army bus approaching. A young woman excitedly runs up, believing her to be Eleanor, and drags her to the vehicle to return to the base. Now she must pass herself off as Eleanor, for no one believes she is Lillian. No one but Max, but where is he?

Arriving at the dorm, Lillian scrabbles through Eleanor's things while her roommate Emmy prattles on. She desperately needs to find a clue as to her sister's location. There is nothing. So Lillian takes on Eleanor's identity, imitating her, hoping to discover her whereabouts. Working at Eleanor's job, she learns of rumors of an affair between Eleanor and Andrew Ennis, a renowned big-wig physicist Lillian would love as a colleague.

Again, where is Max? When she eventually encounters him, he fills her with tales of subterfuge and secret projects allegedly using people as test subjects. Lillian thinks he's crazy and will not listen to his stories. Her search is hopeless, so she hunts down Andrew to see if he and Eleanor are involved. He claims to have no idea where Eleanor is, and, unlike anything Lillian ever experienced, she becomes captivated by the physics genius, soon finding herself working for him, falling under his charms.

When someone besides Eleanor is known missing, Lillian's pulse quickens, and her rational mind points her to trust no one. Her discoveries regarding assignments she once desperately wanted to be part of being brought to light have her rethinking her whole purpose and existence. She now knows she has her work cut out for her—unearth the actual function of this facility.

Although fiction, this comprehensive and descriptive novel demonstrates factual occurrences during the 1940s. At first, Lillian is portrayed as a dedicated scholar intent on making her mark on the world. Yet, as we delve deeper into her relationship with Eleanor, we see she is opinionated, self-centered, and egotistical. Jealousy plays a key role, though her mind focuses on herself as a self-affirmed caretaker of her baby sister and mother. What she deals with throughout her experiences makes her look inward and become more retrospective. For a debut author, "The Woman with Two Shadows" provides a little bit of everything: romance, suspense, and history, along with human emotions, failings, and soul searching. Author Sarah James is someone to be watched.

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The Woman with Two Shadows has got me thinking about the creation of the nuclear bomb. Were the politics that extreme that certain people could get away with anything? Was the town of Oak Ridge, Tennessee really the way the author described it? Did people go missing? Did anyone have to answer to the conditions at Oak Ridge? If I hadn't read The Woman with Two Shadows; I don't think I would have known of the possibilities or wanted to learn more. This is my personal thank you to Sarah James for igniting the desire to know more in a world where we are only taught the highlights of history.

War with Germany has ended but work continues to create the atomic bomb. College students are being recruited to work in a secret location. Lillian, a physics student, passes on the offer, wants to further her education. When her twin sister goes missing at the secret location she has no choice but to go and try to find her.

Lillian's investigation has her discovering secrets that people want to remain secret. She discovers one person's importance trumps everything else. Coverups and conspiracies are hindering her attempts. Doubt clouds her judgement and had me questioning what I thought would be happening. I found myself thinking that I would put it down after I find out what happens next. Then it was another chapter, and then another because the plot thickened, the plot twisted and twisted again.

The author grabbed my attention. She kept me entertained. She created mind blowing situations that kept me thinking. I was invested in the story, and yet I still didn't expect the explosive ending.

Congratulations Sarah James on a fantastic debut novel. I look forward to reading more books in the future.

Please read The Woman with Two Shadows. Realize we should all continue to learn about the past.

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Absolutely one of my favorite books so far this year The characters of Lillian and Eleanor and their stories were so well developed I felt like I knew them personally. Historical fiction fans will live this novel read that will be enjoyed by patrons, The historical facts, couples with action and mystery will have you throughly invested. Read in one day non stop.

Highly recommend.

A huge thank you to NetGalley, the author, Sarah James, and the publisher, Sourcebooks Landmark, for granting me an advance copy in return for my honest opinion.

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