Friday, July 23, 2010

Fierce Radiance: Book Review

A Fierce Radiance
By Lauren Belfer

The novel  opens during the start of the attack of Pearl Harbor. It is about a single working mother, Claire Shipley, a photojournalist for Life magazine.  She was married and had a daughter several years ago. But her daughter died from Septicemia, a blood infection.  During this time her marriage falls apart. She is left with her own devices of raising her young son by herself.

Top researchers and scientists are on the verge of a discovery of Penicillin. the mad dash development at the Rockefeller Institute. The story opens a gentleman is very ill, and Claire is on this assignment,  and the research of Penicillin.  He is given Penicillin he gets better. But then there is a rebound, and he is unable to bounce back because there isn't any penicillin left.  He unfortunately passes away. Life magazine decides to kill the story.

 Researchers are racing to find the medicine for soldiers fighting in the field dying from a amputation, shrapnel etc. Also children, men, and woman, young and old died from a scratch on the knee.

Claire is on assignment for Life magazine. While she is on assignment she meets Tia, a Mycologist and James Straton, scientist Tia's brother.   In the meantime Jamie's sister, Tia  has mysteriously fallen off a cliff and died. Is it suicide, or did she fall? This is the question that is posed reading Fierce Radiance.

The novels delves into the development of finding the cure for bacterial infection.. Growing the mold in the lab in glass milk bottles which is very basic. The politics, and the pharmaceutical business tycoons of Merck and Pfizer.  The development of penicillin and the cousin drugs. But unfortunately, Penicillin can't be kept with ample supply.  The  Penicillin is strictly for the production and development of the federal government to be given for the military.  It is not to be shared with the pharmaceutical tycoons. But shared with the scientists and researchers. They are not to work on the "cousin" of penicillin, until penicillin is found first. Because this will slow down the development of Penicillin.

In the meantime Claire and Jamie fall in love.  Jamie is a naval scientist. he is sent to Europe to look at the effect of infection during the war. At the time, a bomb goes off at the medical unit. Claire at home in the US suspect that Jamie died. He comes back later in about 6 months.  They continue their relationship.

While this is happening her father, Edward Rutherford wants to get into the action. He thinks he will make millions if he makes he's own pharmaceutical company.  We later learn that there is a cover up. Claire's father had something to do with Tia's death.

Spoiler-Don't read on if you intend to read A Fierce Radiance

Nick, Tia's fellow doctor and was romanticly involved with Tia.He finds the discovery Tia was working on. He remembers as a young boy:  " His Grandmother was from a small village in the Dolomite mountains of Northern Italy. When Nick was very young three or four. She still kept a loaf of stale bread on the kitchen counter, as her own mother had, as everyone in the village had. The bread was moldy. He was trying to tell Tia this while he was courting her. When anyone in the family had a cut or a scrape. He's grandmother would slice off the bread, press the moldy side against the wound, and wrap a bandage around to hold the bread in place for a few days. No one in their family ever developed a wound infection. The mold was Penicillium. This was old country medicine, and the modern world never took it seriously. At first it was purely innocent but then as the detective digs deeper he realizes that Nick Caruso stole the secrets of the discover of Penicillin and sold it to Rutherford, Claire's father.

Claire's son becomes gravely ill with Pneumonia. Rutherford asks to get the penicillin that has not been tested. Unfortunately Charlie becomes deaf, a side effect of the drug.

Claire starts investigating about the Japanese detainees being tested.  . Many Japanese that are detained at camp, becoming guinea pigs for the testing of the cousin drug. Many of them die or become blind and deaf.

At the end of the novel we find that Penicillin has helped the medical world. During WW2 Penicillin became worthless because it was over produced for the armed forces. Every military personnel that fought over there had penicillin in the knapsack.  But the "cousins" to Penicillin-sulfur drug is worth millions.

Claire discovers and suspects that her father has committed murder. She coincidentally bumps into her ex-husband, a reporter.  She eggs him with the story. He starts to digging and finds out there is something fishy.  When he digs too deep he is found dead off the train.

I enjoyed reading A Fierce Radiance, Especially after reading The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.
The book was full of intrigue, and was very compelling  The book was not a typically historical novel. Usually are filled with one dimensional characters.  A Fierce Radiance had many aspects of the characters.  There was mystery, a murder, suspense, historical, military involvement during the development of antibiotics.  I could not put it down.  I am a nurse so this book brought the historical aspect of the development of Penicillin and other antibiotics home for me.  I usually don't read a book longer than 350 pages.  But this book did not stop me from reading and loving it. I would recommend this to anyone.
Unfortunately, I have not found many book reviews on this novel but I posted a link on a couple of professional book reviews that I thought interested me.

The New York Times has a review here
Barnes and Noble review

If you would like to read what my fellow blogger said:
Booking Mama

Thank you Ms. Drucker for allowing me to review A Fierce Radiance.
Here is a link that I found about the discovery of Penicillin and other antibiotics. Very interesting article.

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