Set during the Cold War, Who We Were is an intimate and powerful love story about trust, obsession and the truth itself.
It is 1938, and Annabel’s dream is to be a scientist. Falling in love is not part of her plan. But when she meets Bill Whitton, a medical student, she believes that they are destined for each other.
She has to wait for him to come back from the war. Then, the newlyweds emigrate to New York. They are at once captivated by fellow immigrants Frank, an ex-Communist from Hungary, and his playwright wife, Suzy. It’s the 1950s and the Cold War is in full swing. Frank, Annabel and Bill find work on weapons projects, experimenting with lethal infectious diseases.
Annabel’s whole being is anchored in her ardour for Bill and their work together. But other forces—suspicion, paranoia and deceit—are at play…
Who We Were emerged from a long process of writing and re-writing.
As a veterinary student, I took part in a Cornell Leadership Program for veterinary students interested in scientific research. As part of this program, I visited the United States Army Medical Research Institute in Infectious Diseases in Maryland, where biological weapons research was carried out during the Cold War.
I was interested in how it affected scientists to be engaged in weapons projects: how they dealt with the ethics of their work. The experience of visiting the labs gave rise to the idea for the novel, but the writing of the book involved extensive research into Cold War-era American society, the persecution of suspected communists and infectious disease research. Alongside reading histories about the time, I had to work out who my characters were and their story: whether their love for each other could withstand their doubts about their work and the atmosphere of the time.
Listen to an interview with Lucy Neave about Who We Were (Zed Book club).
Praise for Who We Were
‘A love story turns into a Cold War thriller: a beautifully, tautly written novel…I could not put it down.’Joan London
‘Who We Were is a tale told simply with great poise and assurance. Neave has a strong narrative sense and a gift for the evocation of time and place.’Weekend Australian
‘A tense and cooly assured debut novel.’Adelaide Advertiser
‘A very restrained sort of thriller…A dark, sad tale about taking risks, making allowances and justifying the unjustifiable…Well-written, the prose is gentle, almost dream-like in tone.’NZ Weekend Herald
‘Neave’s elegant, assured prose turns a run-of-the-mill love story into an intense and intriguing narrative that builds into a Cold War thriller…This is a first-class debut novel that crosses the literary and commercial divide.’Herald Sun
‘Neave has written a powerful novel set in an intriguing time, with interesting Melbourne and New York—and a mysterious twist in the tale—woven in for good measure.’Melbourne Weekly Times