Nora Gallagher’s elegant debut novel is a love story set in Los Alamos in 1945, in the shadow of the creation of the first atomic bomb.During the last summer of World War II, in the beautiful high desert of New Mexico, a young painter, Eleanor Garrigue, discovers a delirious man lying by the river. She takes him in and cares for him, not knowing that he is Leo Kavan, a physicist who has fled Los Alamos after a deadly radiation accident. Eleanor herself has left New York to escape a stifling marriage and to renew her painting in the pure desert light. As the two reveal themselves to each other, their pasts and the present unfold in tandem, taking us from the heady New York art world to Einstein’s Berlin, from English bomb labs to the hidden city of Los Alamos. As their enemies close in, they find temporary solace together, connected and changed in unexpected ways by the brutal radiance of the war and their fierce love.
A painter takes a Czechoslovakian scientist into her home and then into her in Gallagher's sober and lyrical first work of fiction. (Her nonfiction includes Things Seen and Unseen and Practicing Resurrection.) Successful New York painter Eleanor Garrigue flees to the New Mexico desert to arouse her muse and escape from her cold marriage to her mentor. Leo Kavan, a Jewish physicist who escaped Europe in the nick of time, lands a spot as a researcher on the Manhattan Project. But after witnessing a colleague's death from radiation poisoning, a deeply distraught Leo goes AWOL from Los Alamos and turns up, delirious and fevered, near Eleanor's house. Eleanor, whose brother is a prisoner of war, finds Leo and nurses him back to health. As Leo recovers, the two find in one another reprieve from the war and their tormented pasts. Eleanor and Leo are marvelous characters-damaged but not prone to melodrama-and through them Gallagher touches on themes of loss, independence and intractable morality. Despite a sluggish start and some weak storytelling moments-Gallagher tends to pile on description, and some science-heavy passages could be better massaged-Gallagher's first foray into fiction distinguishes itself as an intriguing and spiritual tale.