Past Tense

Historical Fiction to Follow Up Oppenheimer

Hi historical fiction fans!

How is everyone weathering the heat and being post-Barbenheimer? I’ve been staying indoors as much as possible and enjoying all my houseplants that make me feel a little bit closer to nature when it’s pushing 100 degrees outside. Speaking of Oppenheimer, though, we’ve got some books on the Manhattan Project and Hiroshima this week in addition to our usual parcel of new releases. Whether you’ve seen the movie or not, I think you’re really going to appreciate these books.

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New Releases

Evergreen Book Cover

Evergreen by Naomi Hirahara

In this follow up to Clark and Division, Aki Ito and her family continue to navigate life after WWII and their time in the Manzanar detention center alongside other Japanese Americans. Finally allowed to return to California, though with no house or belongings to return to, she finds work as a nurse’s aide at the Japanese Hospital in Boyle Heights. But when a possible case of elder abuse forces her to question her husband’s closest friend, she must look for answers before her husband becomes ensnared in a murder investigation.

The Keeper of Hidden Books Book Cover

The Keeper of Hidden Books by Madeline Martin

A clandestine book club in the midst of Nazi-occupied Warsaw brings comfort to Zofia and her friend Janina who are trying to save whatever books they can from destruction. But it’s not only books, but people and culture they must secret away and try to save, especially when Janina herself is forced into a ghetto.

For a more comprehensive list of new releases, check out our New Books newsletter.

Riot Recommendations

As I was thinking about what books to cover for this week’s newsletter, I remembered some of the reviews of Oppenheimer I’ve seen coming in. Although I haven’t seen the movie, the history of the atomic bomb and the bombings are something well worth preserving and remembering, lest history repeat itself. These three historical fiction books give a glimpse into both the leadup and aftermath of the Manhattan Project and its outcome.

The Atomic City Girls Book Cover

The Atomic City Girls by Janet Beard

Oak Ridge, Tennessee is a city that doesn’t officially exist. There, in a city that has been created in the course of months, young women like June work massive machines that they know play some role in the war effort. But what exactly they’re doing, they don’t know. Security is everywhere. Secrecy is paramount. It’s only when the bombs fall in Hiroshima and Nagasaki that June will realize the role she’s played. Now, confronted with the truth, she’ll have to reckon with the costs of unquestioned patriotism and war.

The Last Cherry Blossom Book Cover

The Last Cherry Blossom by Kathleen Burkinshaw

This is a book for middle grade readers, but I wanted to include it both because I’m a firm believer that good books transcend their target audience and also because it tells an important story, from a perspective often lacking in historical fiction. Loosely based on the memories of her mother, who survived the bombing of Hiroshima, Burkinshaw shares a glimpse into Japanese culture and life during WWII as well as the horrors that befell Hiroshima and Nagasaki through the eyes of a 12-year-old girl.

Black Rain Book Cover

Black Rain by Masuji Ibuse, translated by John Bester

First serialized in 1965, Black Rain recounts the devastation of the atomic bombs through the eyes of historical accounts. Told through the eyes of an uncle worrying about his niece’s prospects one year after the bombings, Shigematsu sets out to disprove the rumors she was in Hiroshima on the day the nuclear bomb was dropped on the city. Her diaries from those days, recounting the horrors of the explosion and nuclear fallout, will either cement her prospects or ruin her chances of marriage forever.

That’s it for now, folks! Stay subscribed for more stories of yesteryear.

If you want to talk books, historical or otherwise, you can find me @rachelsbrittain on Goodreads, Instagram, and Litsy (my favorite bookish social media).

Right now I’m reading Land of Milk and Honey by C Pam Zhang, who wrote one of my all time favorite historical fiction books, How Much of These Hills is Gold. What about you?