First Edition, 1984, Chatto and Windus,
Republished by Overlook Press, 2001
TIME OUT May 17, ’84 Matthew Hoffman
James Thackara has had the brilliant idea of treating the most
haunting topic of our time in the mode of classical epic storytelling.
In ‘America’s Children’, he has taken the well-attested
facts of Robert Oppenheimer’s life story - his early flirtation
with Communism; his leading role in the creation of the atomic bomb;
his later attempts to control the genie he had helped to let out
of the bottle; and his final downfall in the McCarthyite 1950s -
and written an absorbing and tragic meditation on the fall from
Thackara has thought deeply about the self-destructive consequences
of our discovery of nuclear weaponry. His first novel does for fiction
what part two of Jonathan Schell’s ‘Fate of the Earth’
does for non-fiction: it makes it worthy of handling the most serious
of modern concerns.
All that said, it must be admitted that Thackara has an uncertain
way with dialogue and exposition and a tendency to over-strained
lyricism; but as his book progresses, these trappings fall away,
and his imaginative portrait of Oppenheimer as the unique bearer
of the moral tensions of our civilisation takes on mythic force.