Solana Beach author releases latest historical thriller

Ona Russell

Solana Beach author Ona Russell is releasing her latest work of historical fiction, “Son of Nothingness,” about a Chicano who struggles with his familial and cultural identity, as well as a rare condition that makes him feel like his leg isn’t quite real.

The protagonist, Andrew Martin (aka Andrés Martinez), was also a character in Russell’s novel “Rule of Capture.”

“He is conflicted about his place in the world, who he is and has memories of his father, who abandoned him,” said Russell, who has lived in Solana Beach for more than 20 years.

“Son of Nothingness” takes place in Los Angeles in 1949. The story follows Martin, who is an attorney, on an investigation into former Nazis employed by the U.S. government to spy on communists.

“He discovers more about himself than he ever realized,” said Russell, who is from Los Angeles originally and holds a Ph.D. in literature from UC San Diego. “That journey ends up being kind of a false start for him, because it’s through a series of other sorts of events that he comes to know who he is, and in the end has some enlightenment and some redemption.”

The cover of “Son of Nothingness”

Cultural assimilation, gender identity, and coming to grips with our personal and societal histories are some of the prominent themes in the novel.

The Nazi component of the plot is based on little-known U.S. history. In the aftermath of World War II, the U.S. government brought about 1,600 German scientists, including many Nazis, to America to gain an edge over the Soviet Union in the Cold War and the space race. The effort was dubbed Operation Paperclip.

“I love being in the archives,” Russell said of the history she weaves into her stories. “I love spending time there and I also feel quite dedicated to getting historical facts right when I am writing fiction.”

Russell added that some of the writers who have influenced her are Elizabeth George, Hilary Mantel and Anne Perry. She also said she appreciates 19th century writers such as Edith Wharton, whose careers took place during the period of time that her literature studies were focused on.

“I’m very interested in the relationship of history to current events, and looking at the correspondences between them.”

Russell noted that, “Since my first novel, O’Brien’s Desk, in which I introduced Sarah Kaufman—a real but unsung 1920s civic leader I adopted as my fictional sleuth—I have continued to create works that reposition the marginalized, turning them into the main event.”

Russell also said her own mother inspired her to write Son of Nothingness.

“She spent time in the home for unwed mothers portrayed in the story and, as a Jewish woman, was marginalized even more than her so-called disgraced roommates. The real Sarah Kaufman, advocate for many Jewish and other minority causes, was inducted into the Toledo Civic Hall of Fame as a result of O’Brien’s Desk. This is the honor in my writing career about which I’m the most proud. Sarah devoted her life to the notion of tikkun olam, a calling to repair the world. In giving voice to those like Andrés and my mother, I do what I can to follow her lead.”

Russell has earned several awards for her books: Rule of Capture (Silver Medal winner, 2015 IPPY Awards); The Natural Selection (Finalist, 2009 California Commonwealth Club Book Awards, San Diego Book Awards, Next Generation Indie Awards); and O’Brien’s Desk (Pen/Faulkner nominee). She has also written a number of essays, academic articles and other works. In addition, Russell lectures throughout the west coast on her interdisciplinary course, Literature and the Law.

For more information about Russell and how to purchase “Son of Nothingness,” visit