Wednesday, March 5, 2014

And the Mountains Echoed VS The Girls of Atomic City: Dubuque Tournament of Books, Round One

This week we'll be posting the judges' decisions for the first round of the 2nd Annual Dubuque Tournament of Books. To see an overview of the judges and contestants, check out this blog post.

Judge: Marie
 http://www.dubuque.lib.ia.us/DocumentCenter/View/742
Spanning more than six decades and covering three continents, And the Mountains Echoed primarily tells the story of a brother and sister whose love for one another more than made up for what they lost, and the repercussions of great sacrifice in the pursuit of greater good.  Khaled Hosseini proficiently draws the reader into the lives of each character, evoking empathy in even the most trying of situations.  His reputation as an amazing storyteller is well-earned.

The Girls of Atomic City, written by Denise Kiernan, is a retelling of the lives and efforts of a select group of women during World War II.  These women traveled from homes all across the United States to take part in a secret government project.  Not allowed to discuss their work, not even with one another, they were left in the dark about the true effect and risks of the work they were undertaking. Ms. Kiernan took pains to capture the voice of the era and this, more than anything else, is what shines through.  Coupling recounted stories are photographs, both of the principal players during present day and, as they were when they worked in Oak Ridge. 

Perhaps I should not have read And the Mountains Echoed before The Girls of Atomic City, but that action cannot be undone.  I could not imagine, after finishing Khaled Hosseini's latest novel, how any other work could best it, and The Girls of Atomic City certainly did nothing to persuade me otherwise.  While the subject matter of The Girls of Atomic City is one that fascinates me, I found Ms. Kiernan's writing so colloquial and simplistic as to be off-putting.  The feeling of the book was that of an historical fiction and not as an in depth recording of past events.  And the Mountains Echoed, on the other hand, was masterfully written.  While the core of the novel is the relationship between a brother and sister, the adjacent story lines are just as enthralling and necessary.  I wish I could expound further, but it seems a Sisyphean task to try to contain a full review of this magnificent book in such a small amount of space.

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