By Frank Waters
I learned fairly soon that the big secret was the making and testing of atomic bombs. The beauty of the southwest setting and the quiet local people is a stark contrast to the dry scientific nature of the terrible project. The horrific potential looming, the shock of people when they found out what was going on, the ridiculous festiveness they brought to the test sites when it was revealed to the press. The characters are a study in contrasts too- the anthropologist a spoiled, passionate headstrong girl, her mother so calm and knowing, understood by few. I really didn't get a clear picture of what the legend was that grew around her; even though it was stated numerous times that the locals came to respect then revere her, including her in their sacred ceremonies. I liked how real these characters seemed- complex people each with their own reasons, each of them had something that appealed to me or I could in some way relate to.
Yet I had to force myself thorough to the end, even though I really wanted to like the book. It has a very slow start. The writing can feel rather jumbled; the descriptions of the scientific work was completely unclear to me and the narrative is interspersed with odd present-day snippets showing different individuals reminiscing about the events of the story, as if interviewed by the author. I didn't get it. I didn't quite get the spirituality that unfolded with Helen, although I liked the glimpses into Navajo culture and faith. But once again, that was not very well-explained and it was only a bit familiar to me because I've read a few other books featuring pueblo groups in the southwest.
It reminded me in some ways of Fire on the Mountain.
Rating: 2/5 314 pages, 1966
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