Wednesday, April 6, 2022

"Atomic Anna"

Rachel Barenbaum's debut novel, A Bend in the Stars, was a Boston Globe bestseller, a New York Times Summer Reading Selection and a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Selection.

Barenbaum is a prolific writer and reviewer whose work has appeared in the LA Review of Books, the Tel Aviv Review of Books, LitHub, and DeadDarlings. She is an Honorary Research Associate at the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute at Brandeis University and is a graduate of GrubStreet’s Novel Incubator. She is also the founder of Debut Spotlight and the Debut Editor at A Mighty Blaze. In a former life she was a hedge fund manager and a spin instructor. She has degrees from Harvard in Business and Literature and Philosophy.

Barenbaum applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Atomic Anna, and reported the following:
Atomic Anna is a novel that tells the story of three generations of women who work together to build a time machine that they use to stop the Chernobyl accident and save their family. The women are Anna, Molly and Raisa and they are grandmother, mother and daughter. Page 69 jumps right into the middle of one of Anna’s first jumps in time. She travels from the Soviet Union in 1975 to America in 1991 and finds her daughter, Molly, only Anna hasn’t seen Molly in decades. She gave Molly up for adoption and sent her to America for a better life. In the scene on page 69 Anna finds Molly’s adopted mother and learns that Molly has had a hard life, that she’s a recovering addict – that Anna can’t just jump into the future and ask her daughter to help. Family isn’t that easy. She will have to work to save them, and to gain their trust so they will help her with the time machine.

The Page 69 Test works perfectly for Atomic Anna because it reveals that while my characters time travel, the book is really about their love for one another, family, and relationships. The section shows Anna confronting Yulia, the woman who adopted Anna’s child – the woman who was also Anna’s first love. It reveals Anna is rattled by seeing Yulia and also by learning that her daughter struggled with drugs and with America. Even more, it shows how Anna created an imagined life for Yulia and Molly in her mind, but that all she’d imagined was wrong. She thought they would live happily ever after, and on this page she learns that wasn’t the case. It stops her and makes her realize her journey won’t be as easy as she had thought it would be.

On the surface it’s easy to say Atomic Anna is about science and the quest to build a time machine but the true heart of the story revolves around Anna learning about her mistakes and trying to fix them – and that’s exactly what we see in this section. These aren’t mistakes around her work or time travel, they are mistakes in her personal life, with the people she loves. On this page, we see her understanding of the past shift, and how much it hurts her to see she’s failed her family. We also learn about two men who have intersected with the women in this book – Viktor and Yasha – and that they are unwelcome. It makes us wonder what happened and where they are and what Anna intends to do next.

The passage leaves us hoping Anna, Molly and Yulia will be OK but not knowing how or what might happen. To learn more, we have to keep reading and continue time traveling.
Visit Rachel Barenbaum's website.

My Book, The Movie: A Bend in the Stars.

The Page 69 Test: A Bend in the Stars.

--Marshal Zeringue