NPR logo 'A Fierce Radiance' And A Case For Historical Fiction

'A Fierce Radiance' And A Case For Historical Fiction

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HarperCollins

I admit it: I'm not so good at reading non-fiction. Save memoirs, which I am more drawn to, I read fiction at a great rate, and non-fiction, not much at all. Perhaps, as Jay Mathews at the Washington Post's Class Struggle blog might suggest, it's because I didn't read much non-fiction in grade school. Whatever the reason, I've never taken to it — in fact, I even took an American history through novels class in college, as a way of satisfying my history requirement without actually having to take on, you know, history.

We get a ton of books from publicists here at NPR, and recently, I picked up a galley copy of A Fierce Radiance by Lauren Belfer. It's a fictional story set in New York during WWII. Belfer's heroine, Claire, is a photojournalist for Life magazine. She's assigned to cover the testing of a potentially life-saving (and war-winning) new drug, penicillin. The story of Claire's first subject, a man who's brought back from the brink of death by the drug, whose health turns just as quickly when the drug runs out, drew me in immediately. Soon, by virtue of the fictional tale, I absorbed all kinds of details about the struggle between the government, anxious to get penicillin to the front lines, and the pharmaceutical companies, bound and determined to make a profit, if not off penicillin, then off the "cousins," or related antibiotics discovered in dirt and mold. It's a fascinating story, out in June.