I’ve just finished reading one of my Christmas books from my Mum – A Fierce Radiance by Lauren Belfer. Having really enjoyed City of Light by the same author (see my previous blog), I had been wanting to read her second novel.
It has lots in common with City of Light. It’s drama and intrigue is set around a story of innovation, this time the commercial development of Penicillin for use in World War Two. It is excellent at recreating the historical period and has extremely well written characters, including pioneering women forging their way in a man’s world.
The main character Claire is a photojournalist in New York City and this aspect of the book alone would make it fascinating and worth reading. She becomes involved in documenting the development of Penicillin and embroiled in the lives of those developing ways of commercially producing the drug and in the government secrecy that surrounded it. How the life-saving drug which we still so rely on today went into mass production is also a fascinating story, fictionalised here but based on painstaking historical research.
The endnotes to the book contain an interview with the author where she talks about the research behind the story, and tricks such as reading newspapers from the time on microfiche rather than online really pay off, as the adverts around the stories really help her to re-create everyday life at the time.
The story itself is great and she is not tempted to create a satisfying ending, but instead leaves you caught with the characters in the turmoil and uncertainty of war.
It’s a pleasure to read such a well-written book as this, which keeps you intrigued until the end, bringing to life the stories of the people involved in such a great and fascinating innovation.