Rachel Barenbaum’s ambitious second novel Atomic Anna moves seamlessly through time and space, from the Russian Revolution to late-20th-century Philadelphia. It’s propulsive and intimate and surprisingly relevant to these past two years, when time has so often felt sharp and amorphous all at once ... Barenbaum doesn’t linger. Time is precious ... This novel triples down on the author’s ability to see history through the lens of the fantastic as much as the human, to go, like her characters, 'beyond what logic dictates.' It’s a leap, and she lands it ... The story moves with precision and purpose between timelines and characters ... The language moves with elegant urgency. Decades pass in a paragraph, but the prose never feels rushed; it is precise, lyrical, and imbued with emotional clarity ... Moments between characters are achingly intimate without being sentimental or slowing the pace ... With Barenbaum’s care and focus, Atomic Anna is about moving through uncertainty and navigating trauma as much as it is about moving through time.
One of the many wonderful things about Atomic Anna, a book about Chernobyl, yes, but also about comic books, the power of math, finding one’s truth, and love, both biological and found, is the core group of women who ground it ... The novel is masterfully plotted — one has to imagine an enormous whiteboard was involved as the author charted out what any given move might set in motion, each outcome with its own stack of connected dominoes.
At times, the novel is experimental ... The story could’ve easily been told in graphic form (and indeed, comics play a large part in the story) and would make quite a film ... Atomic Anna ultimately offers a utopian vision of salvation, but it does require slow and careful reading to get there. Big chunks of the novel fit together and then split apart. Hold on tight, as the space-time ride is challenging ... Just as the romance of epic literature is timeless, Atomic Anna’s demonstration of what may be learned about the human heart is also outside of time, and certainly beyond the ordinary.
Barenbaum burnishes her reputation as an up-and-coming talent with this audacious time travel story ... The threads build toward a deeply satisfying denouement, and the author uses the sci-fi plot device to explore parent-child relationships and questions about the morality of changing the past. Barenbaum dares greatly, and succeeds.
In Barenbaum’s skillful hands, a complex concept and structure work beautifully, as the novel is slowly constructed one painstakingly detailed chapter at a time. The book is an incredible achievement with a heartfelt human theme: It’s never too late to let go of psychological baggage and heal past wounds ... As ambitious as a Greek tragedy and just as lyrical and unflinching.