Over the past week I have been able to dip intermittently into A Fierce Radiance, by Lauren Belfer. I am just about a hundred pages into this wonderfully rich and interesting novel. Its mounting tensions are easing the book into more epic proportions as it follows photojournalist Claire Shipley in pursuit of a story on potential wonder drug made from green mold, penicillin. I was chatting on Twitter with Julie from Booking Mama and we both agree that the story gets better as it goes along – and she has me very excited to finish it as she did yesterday morning!
I attended the reading with Allie. Belfer shared that she didn’t know anything about penicillin when she first began work on this project, and that she pored over the journals, memoirs, and autobiographies of scientists to begin her learning process. She heard stories about the deaths that had occurred in the World War II era (when the book was set) that prompted her to start extensive research through newspapers and other periodicals of the day.
Viewed from a 21st century lens, what took place just 70 years go seems fantastical. Both in her novel and in her reading, Belfer gives examples of people dying after falling and scraping a knee playing tennis, getting a blister from their shoe, or being scratched by their pet. It seems amazing that people died from things like this. Now I think I have had all of those things happen to me, and have survived without taking antibiotics, but it is nice to know that they are now there if I need them.
Another of the interesting and eye-opening discoveries that Belfer made in her research were the newspaper articles that support the fact that Americans were aware of the devastation of the Holocaust while it was happening, and the fear that the country, and New York City in particular, was going to be bombed. I am just getting to the parts of the novel where this is coming more into play, so I am looking forward to learning more as events continue to unfold in the book.
I have all these other books that I really need to finish first, but I sneak and give A Fierce Radiance some time each day!