Atomic Anna

Photo of Rachel Barenbaum's Atomic Anna hardcover with husky

Atomic Anna by Rachel Barenbaum

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Publication Date: April 5, 2022
Genres: Historical Fiction, Science Fiction

Book Review

In 1986, nuclear physicist Anna Berkova awakens in the Soviet Union, at the exact moment Chernobyl’s reactor malfunctions. She is suddenly, temporarily transported to 1992. There she discovers her estranged daughter, Molly. Molly has been shot and is dying. With her dying breath, she tells Anna to save Raisa, Molly’s daughter, Anna’s granddaughter. Now with the knowledge that she has the ability to time travel, Anna must grapple with how to use this new technology. The more she travels, the more increasingly apparent it becomes that she must choose between her family and preventing one of the greatest nuclear disasters in history.

Part historical fiction, part science fiction, Atomic Anna asks the question how far would you go for the ones you love. The story opens with the Chernobyl disaster and jumps around the 20th century from 1930 to 1992 as it shows the three distinct yet interwoven narratives of Anna, Molly, and Raisa.

Anna is a scientist who grapples with her involvement in the Chernobyl disaster. Her research on nuclear energy was instrumental in building the facility. Now that she knows a disaster will occur, she is struggling to determine how to right her past wrongs.

Molly is Anna’s daughter who she gave up at birth. She is being raised in Philadelphia by Anna’s friends. Molly loves to draw and create comic books but struggles to adapt to the blend of American lifestyle and Soviet traditions. Her form of escape is creating a comic book called Atomic Anna, which depicts her nuclear physicist mother and her saving the world.

Raisa is Molly’s daughter. She loves math. When her mother Molly is convicted of a crime and sent to jail, Raisa is sent to live with her adopted grandparents in Philadelphia. She struggles to fit in given that she is quite the math prodigy and longs to meet her scientist grandmother, Anna.

More than anything this is a family saga, following three generations of women through their struggles with identity and acceptance. I loved the seamless blend of historical events with time travel. It’s such a gorgeous and fascinating story. I struggled to put it down, and once I finished, I desperately wanted more.

I highly recommend Atomic Anna to fans of multi-generational family sagas and historical fiction!

Thank you to Grand Central Publishing for the review copy! All opinions are my own.

Synopsis from Goodreads

Three brilliant women.
Two life-changing mistakes.
One chance to reset the future.

In 1986, renowned nuclear scientist, Anna Berkova, is sleeping in her bed in the Soviet Union when Chernobyl’s reactor melts down. It’s the exact moment she tears through time—and it’s an accident. When she opens her eyes, she’s landed in 1992 only to discover Molly, her estranged daughter, shot in the chest. Molly, with her dying breath, begs Anna to go back in time and stop the disaster, to save Molly’s daughter Raisa, and put their family’s future on a better path.

In ‘60s Philadelphia, Molly is coming of age as an adopted refusenik. Her family is full of secrets and a past they won’t share. She finds solace in comic books, drawing her own series, Atomic Anna, and she’s determined to make it as an artist. When she meets the volatile, charismatic Viktor, their romance sets her life on a very different course.

In the ‘80s, Raisa, is a lonely teen and math prodigy, until a quiet, handsome boy moves in across the street and an odd old woman shows up claiming to be her biological grandmother. As Raisa finds new issues of Atomic Anna in unexpected places, she notices each comic challenges her to solve equations leading to one impossible conclusion: time travel. And she finally understands what she has to do.

As these remarkable women work together to prevent the greatest nuclear disaster of the 20th century, they grapple with the power their discoveries hold. Just because you can change the past, does it mean you should? 

About the Author

Rachel’s debut novel is A Bend In The Stars. It has been named a New York Times Summer Reading Selection and a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers selection. It is also a Boston Globe Bestseller. Rachel 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 has been 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.

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