James Thackara
Home The Author Human Rights Books Contact
The Book of Kings
America's Children
Times Literary Supplement
The Economist
The Boston Globe
Links to other reviews
Ahab's Daughter

America's Children
First Edition, 1984, Chatto and Windus, London
Republished by Overlook Press, 2001

Times Literary Supplement Reivew

Times Literary Review Ashley Brown March 14, 2003

America’s Children, which was first published in Britain in 1984 and in the US last year, is a proudly ambitious and aggressive novel, reminding the reader of the power and scope that fiction can attain. James Thackara’s story follows the enigmatic Robert J. Oppenheimer and his supporting cast of European physicists from their gathering in the Mexican desert to create an atomic bomb to their post-war fate during the nuclear armament and HUAC investigations. While these eccentric characters may be the focus of the novel, their prominence in it is matched by Thackara’s insistence that we grasp the greater, more fundamental philosophical questions that tormented them in their life-work.

Thackara expects quite a lot from the reader. The novel is full of the names of historically significant European scholars, their various teacher-student connections before they fled Europe and their competing ideas on the newest scientific theories. The characters are highly intelligent, and their banter reflects the “membership mentality” of intellectual equals in academic circles. Conversation are peppered with intellectual witticisms and references to shared friends and past political experiences. Such detail, however, can leave the reader feeling slightly alienated as if on the periphery of an exclusive group speaking a cryptic language. And Thackara’s expansive and highly dramatic prose can prove tiresome. While the story’s historical setting and the characters’ fear of a possible Armageddon warrant an extreme emotional response, at times the novel reads melodramatically. Characters constantly (and “suddenly”) experience moral clarity or confusion, profound guilt or elation. Each one seems hyperaware of his or her raw, innermost emotions.

But Thackara masterfully conveys Oppenheimer’s longing to help those suffering under totalitarian regimes, his frustration at being distanced from their struggle, his desire for knowledge to become action, and his guilt when his own knowledge and action become irrepressible power in the hands of the government. America’s Children is a novel with big themes - were these men Frankensteins and Prometheuses? - but the story is not formulaic and James Thackara presses us to understand the complexity of the situation and the varied passions inspiring the men who created the most destructive weapon on earth.

America's Children paperback
Buy the book from amazon.co.uk
Buy the book from amazon.com
website contents © James Thackara 2007 - disclaimer - photo credits web design: pedalo limited