TWO MEN TEN SUNS
By Jeff Foltz
Maine Authors Publishing, 2012
327 pages, $17.95
ISBN 978-1-938883-10-1
 
Since the first atomic bomb was dropped in 1945, only two books have best described the unbelievable destruction and the moral and political dilemma of development and use of a nuclear weapon during World War II.

The first book is John Hersey’s 1946 classic, “Hiroshima,” and the second is this stunning novel by Camden author Jeff Foltz. 

“Two Men Ten Suns” is a historical novel of remarkable depth and scope, vividly describing the desperate race between Japan and the United States to build the first atomic bomb — a weapon each side believed would end the war.  And both sides intended to use it.

Foltz is also the author of the award-winning novel, “Birkebeiner:  A Story of Motherhood and War” (2011). His careful research and dramatic narrative here reveal just how close the Japanese were to building and deploying their own atomic bomb — “genzai bakudan” — and the ingenious plan for its transportation and attack on San Francisco.

He tells the story primarily through two men, their wives and key historical scientific, political and military figures. Admiral Shigeru Yamakota is tasked by Prime Minister Tojo to build the bomb’s delivery system and supervise the attack on the U.S.  Princeton physicist Chet Warren works closely with Dr. Robert Oppenheimer at Los Alamos, racing to build America’s bomb.

Both men are patriotic idealists, but clearly recognize the terrible power they are creating, awakening questions of morality versus necessity and expedience, tainted by racism and hatred. The story covers the years from 1941 to 1946, and readers know how it will end. But Foltz’s masterful plotting and storytelling creates palpable suspense and tension because the characters don’t know what will happen. This is Foltz’s best work so far.

However, when the atomic bomb is dropped, the world will be changed forever.
 

ISLAND SCHOOLHOUSE: ONE ROOM FOR ALL
By Eva Murray
Tilbury House Publishers, 2012
320 pages, $20
ISBN 978-0-88448-340-3
 
When folks from the big cities come to Maine and hear about one-room island schools they generally think — how quaint, how odd, how backward, obsolete, irrelevant. And they could not be more wrong.
“Island Schoolhouse” is Matinicus Island author Eva Murray’s fascinating description of Maine’s one-room schoolhouses today, revealing a solid, productive and engaging educational concept well-grounded in quality and technology.  And well worth preserving for the future vitality of remote island communities.

Murray has lived on Matinicus (20 miles offshore) for 25 years and was once the island’s teacher in its one-room school.  She is a gifted writer, author of the excellent non-fiction book, “Well Out To Sea:  Year-round on Matinicus Island” (Tilbury House, 2010).

This book doesn’t offer the level of humor or quirkiness of that first book; instead, it focuses on Maine’s rich history of one-room schoolhouses and their valuable place in today’s education:  “the one-room schools of Maine are ‘regular schools’ in every way that matters.”

Murray tells of Maine’s six remaining island one-room schools, showcasing the challenges and rewards of teaching in a multi-age, multi-level environment (K-8), with as few as three students or as many as a dozen, in small, insular, offshore communities.

She also dispels many myths about one-room schoolhouse education.  For example, island life is not idyllic (new teachers should bring a set of tools), teachers are certified by the state, curriculum is established by the state mandated “standards based education” and technology (computers, Internet, Skype) allows for collaboration with other schools through the Outer Islands Teaching and Learning Cooperative.

Learn why teachers apply for these unique jobs in the first place, about the business operations of a one-room island school and how imaginative and resourceful teachers fill every student’s day with fun, useful and educational activities.

— Bill Bushnell lives and writes in Harpswell.