Friday, September 17, 2010

Oh Pure and Radiant Heart

Lydia Millet
Oh Pure and Radiant Heart

Soft Skull, 2005

Ann, an odd librarian, one night has a dream: in the desert in New Mexico, a man falls to his knees, and on that background there is an explosion of the atomic bomb. Sleep does not bode anything abnormal: Ann and her husband Ben, working as a gardener, live in Santa Fe, near the spot where in 1945th were the first tests of nuclear weapons, and Ann is well aware of who is the man in a dream - father of atomic bomb, Robert Oppenheimer. However, the dream does not leave it up until on the street she meets the man she unerringly recognizes by the photos, available in all the history books. Oppenheimer and two other scientists who worked on the atomic bomb - Enrico Fermi and Leo Szilard – are replaced in our time right after the first test explosion in New Mexico. Each of them feels that he is transported in time not alone, but all three, so they quickly find each other. Ann tracks and finds them, too. She tells them that she had a dream about a man in the desert. Each of the scientists has some money, but money is out, and the inventors of the atomic weapons transported in our time need somewhere to live. Anne offers the three of them to stay at their (with her husband) home. Scientists agree.

They eagerly start to absorb information about themselves, about how nuclear weapons were used after 1945, and how in general the world has changed over the years that followed their sudden transfer in time. They make excursions into the desert where the tests were passed, then all together fly to Japan to look at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. There they get acquainted with the son of one of the richest people in the world, and opens to him the secret of the three scientists. Shortly after returning to the States around the trio a cult has been created.

This Lydia Millet’s novel is both hilarious satire on all in the world and in the same way a completely serious novel. Those who are inclined to reading this book as a satire will find here a large-scale ridicule of modern religion (Christian fanatics see Oppenheimer as Christ), intelligence, science fiction, politics. This is indeed a very funny book: Szilard surfs the Internet, uses teen slang, Oppie smokes marijuana, Fermi closer to the end of the novel differs little from autist - but not with his language. Millet has a very lyrical style; some chapters without exaggeration are finished poems in prose.

The book is written very even: not in the sense that it is not able to awaken the senses (it is able), but that throughout its length the novel does not sag, nor drops into to patter, does not slow down like a train before the station; plot is not stalled.

This can be called a collage-novel, too. Chapters, moving a story, interspersed with chapters, telling about real events: about scientists, the bomb, the U.S. foreign policy. So Millet combines facts and fiction in a wonderfully poetic book.

The author is also a delightful portraitist: each of the heroes of the book is described with love. Also in the background of thinking on God, history and loneliness heroes of the book are not lost, each of them is very memorable character.
«Oh Pure and Radiant Heart» acts with the effect of the atomic bomb: First, the book blows off and tears, like an explosion, and then left a long aftertaste, like radiation. After reading this book it is quite possible to become Hibakusha.

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