Item description for Oh Pure and Radiant Heart by Lydia Millet...
Acclaimed author Lydia Millet's latest novel is a black-comic tour de force depicting atomic bomb creators Robert Oppenheimer, Enrico Fermi, and Leo Szilard. Despite being dead, these scientists are spotted in Santa Fe by a shy librarian named Ann. She becomes convinced they are real and, to the dismay of her husband, devotes herself to them. The trio quickly acquire a sugar daddy --- a young pothead millionaire from Tokyo --- and a vast cult following of hippies, Christians, New Agers, bikers, A-bomb survivors, and curious anthropologists who join them on an RV pilgrimage to Washington, D.C. Heroes to some, lunatics or con artists to others, the scientists finally become messianic religious figureheads to fanatics who believe Oppenheimer is the Second Coming. This imaginative novel, rich with incident, brilliantly marries their journey to a history of atomic and thermonuclear weapons and to the emotionally intimate tale of a middle-class couple trying to stay hopeful about the future as they grow close to the men who gave birth to the nuclear threat.
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Lydia Millet is the author of literary fiction including Mermaids in Paradise, Magnificence (National Book Critics Circle Award and Los Angeles Times Book Prize finalist), Ghost Lights (New York Times Notable Book), and Love in Infant Monkeys (Pulitzer Prize finalist). She lives outside Tucson, Arizona.
Lydia Millet currently resides in Tucson, in the state of Arizona. Lydia Millet was born in 1968.
Reviews - What do customers think about Oh Pure and Radiant Heart?
I was so much older then . . . . Aug 19, 2008
I'm torn. The first 150 pages of this book is just about the best modern fiction crafting I've read, with perfectly tuned phrases on nearly every page. Then the last 330 pages take a direction with the odd plotting that, while well-written, just doesn't work for me.
Part of the problem is how to resolve what must be one of the more imaginative but bizarre plot setups in modern fiction: Leo Szilard, J. Robert Oppenheimer, and Enrico Fermi, the three main scientists responsible for America's atomic bomb project in World War Two, come back to life in what for them is the day after the Trinity test--the first explosion of an atomic bomb in human history--in the New Mexico desert near Los Alamos. One wakes up in a hotel and one in a ditch by the side of the road in Santa Fe, and Fermi, who was working at the University of Chicago at the time of the test, wakes up under a table at the cafeteria there.
A Santa Fe librarian, through a series of, it turns out, unfortunate events and a mystical dream, discovers the scientists, confronts them, and ends up supporting providing financial support and living space despite her husband's unbelief and hesitance.
At first alone and completely adrift in a world and a culture that has changed so dramatically in just 50 years that they are nearly incapable of independent survival, they learn about their past by reading biographies and new stories of events in their lives after the test, including their own deaths. They seek a reason and a purpose, at first trying to figure out the scientific theory that would explain their presence, but with a forceful, hyper-energetic and overbearing Szilard taking the lead, decide to go public, prove their identity and speak out for world peace and nuclear disarmament. From then, the plot follows that path downward that parallels the scientists travels around the world to Japan and the Pacific Islands, and then back to the US for a cross-country road trip toward Washington with a growing entourage.
But those first pages are so good, this was still worth my time:
p. 34: "Once a few particles can exterminate people by the billions, never again can it be argued that small and trivial are in the same family."
p. 61: "These people, the ones I've never been able to stand, she thought, these people are the normal background noise of the world. They are a guarantee. She thought: It is wrong but even not liking them, even not being able to stand them, all of a sudden I feel grateful."
p. 77: "Time travel? This is like science fiction?" "I make no claims as to genre." (this is clearly the author's voice addressing without answering a question every reader will have about this book)
p. 78: "There is a real world, of course. This just isn't it." (one of the scientists trying to explain their presence)
p. 86: "Love of knowledge can draw on its credit indefinitely."
p. 95: "'When I died I was older,' said Szilard. '--You see?'"
p. 101: "There have always been alarmists, mused Oppenheimer with his library books spread out in front of him on the hotel room table, those Chicken Littles who believe the end times are upon us, the apocalypse is nigh, the world is coming to an end. But that does not mean that it won't."
p. 122: "In my day there was ignorance too: ignorance is timeless. But at least we were ashamed of it."
p. 130: "Because finally all the most obsessive work in the world is done not for profit but for pure devotion."
p. 148: "They had raised her with high hopes of social status and she had turned out to be a librarian."
For a grounding in more realistic, if no less idolizing, historical viewpoints, go to
109 East Palace: Robert Oppenheimer and the Secret City of Los Alamos The Making of the Atomic Bomb
Thought Provoking Read Aug 14, 2008
I had read a two sentance recommendation of this book some time ago, and as such, it had landed on my reading list. I'm glad it did.
This is a thought provoking look at three scientists responsible for the creation of a weapon of immense danger as they see the full power of their creation and its aftermath. The displacement of the scientists from 1940s America to 2003 America is a great means to reflect on modernity.
Contrasting the displaced scientists are Ann, a librarian and her husband Ben. Their relationship with each other and with the scientists speaks to celebrity, the cult of personality, marriage, and life.
Throw in a touch of fundamentalist rapture, a looking for something to believe in bazillionare, a fascinating look at the American nuclear program along with some gentle humor, and you have a worthwhile read.
what a concept Apr 18, 2008
the premise of this book is HUGE. who wouldn't want to return to the future and atone for the consequences of their decisions. Ms Millett presents us with the the inventors of the atomic bomb returning to see the legacy of the Manhattan project. The characterizations are faithful to the personalities of the scientists and their interactions with the disparate personalities and politics of the late 20th century are at times comic and tragic. I recommend this book highly and perhaps our current politicians could take note and consider their legacy.
Not a bad-looking book Jan 24, 2008
This book is solid and well-proportioned. It may seem a bit big, but I didn't have a hard time reading it on the subway.
Without the nuke-kitsch dust jacket, this one would be a nice addition to your shelf. The canvas is a nice, deep red, and the lettering on the spine is gold.
The paper has a good weight to it, too.
I might have given it an extra star, but the spine is a little creaky, which made me cringe every time I opened it.
Not so pure a book Jul 20, 2007
Interesting. Very interesting premise. And Ms. Millet can write well. OK, so far so good. Then I began to skim near the last third of the book. This is the thing: all those wacko creatures showed up and sabotaged this book. 50 pages of wackos could have been cut without anyone noticing, much less caring. Writers say that sometimes characters and events just simply present themselves, show up uninvited as it were. Well that's what seems to have happened here. And they all but trashed any meaning or message in this book which may have been lurking, radiant maybe, or even pure.