*A BBC Best Book of 2013*
In her first novel since "The God of War, " the critically acclaimed author Marisa Silver takes Dorothea Lange's "Migrant Mother" photograph as inspiration for a breathtaking reinvention--a story of two women, one famous and one forgotten, and of the remarkable legacy of their chance encounter. Read more...
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*A BBC Best Book of 2013*
In her first novel since "The God of War, " the critically acclaimed author Marisa Silver takes Dorothea Lange's "Migrant Mother" photograph as inspiration for a breathtaking reinvention--a story of two women, one famous and one forgotten, and of the remarkable legacy of their chance encounter.
In 1936, a young mother resting by the side of a road in Central California is spontaneously photographed by a woman documenting the migrant laborers who have taken to America's farms in search of work. Little personal information is exchanged, and neither woman has any way of knowing that they have produced what will become the most iconic image of the Great Depression.
Three vibrant characters anchor the narrative of "Mary Coin." Mary, the migrant mother herself, who emerges as a woman with deep reserves of courage and nerve, with private passions and carefully-guarded secrets. Vera Dare, the photographer wrestling with creative ambition who makes the choice to leave her children in order to pursue her work. And Walker Dodge, a present-day professor of cultural history, who discovers a family mystery embedded in the picture. In luminous, exquisitely rendered prose, Silver creates an extraordinary tale from a brief moment in history, and reminds us that although a great photograph can capture the essence of a moment, it only scratches the surface of a life.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2013-02-25
- Reviewer: Staff
Three characters whose lives span 90 years form the core of Silver's gorgeous third novel (after The God of War). Social historian Walker Dodge, as he sorts through the last items of his nearly empty childhood home, discovers a familial link to a famous photograph. Here, a real-life photo taken by Dorothea Lange in 1936 becomes a fictional photo taken by Vera Dare of Mary Coin. Silver fills in the untold story behind Lange's photo by revealing Vera and Mary's lives in vivid detail. Neither woman can reconcile herself with the Depression-era photo, yet they are intimately linked: each has children, husbands who leave them, and battles with cancer. This narrative of mid-century hope, loss, and disenchantment is both universal and deeply personal. Mary's problem with the truth of history and the stories told through objects leads her to make the hardest decision of her life, one confronted by Walker 75 years later. Silver has managed the difficult task of fleshing out history without glossing over its ugly truths. With writing that is sensual and rich, she shines a light on the parts of personal history not shared and stops time without destroying the moment. Agent: Henry Dunow; Dunow, Carlson & Lerner Literary Agency. (Mar.)
Famous Depression-era photograph becomes a remarkable novel
From acclaimed short story writer and former Los Angeles Times Book Prize finalist Marisa Silver comes her latest (and perhaps most astounding) work, Mary Coin. This exquisitely written novel, Silver’s third, re-imagines the life of Dorothea Lange, the famous Depression-era photographer who shot the iconic “Migrant Mother” photograph in 1936. Silver’s tale weaves in and out of the life of not just the photographer but also her subject, binding these two women together in more ways than one.
Silver follows the lives of three pivotal characters: Mary, the migrant mother; Vera Dare (a pseudonym for Lange); and Walker Dodge, a present-day history professor whose focus is less on his troubles within his family and more on the mystery of his family’s legacy after the death of his reticent father. Silver effortlessly takes her readers from the desolate fruit orchards of Northern California to the eclectic hills of San Francisco, capturing the excess of America’s wealth before the Great Depression struck the country.
Stoic Mary is a mother of seven fighting to feed her kids on the impossibly low salary of a migrant worker; Vera, a once polio-stricken artist, struggles with her philandering husband, her physical handicap and her ability to balance being both a mother and a artist. Readers will find themselves drawn to both women, despite the massive economic bridge that separates them, and will want to research the photographer and subject to see how closely Silver hewed to the truth of their intertwined lives. Fans of historical fiction will not be disappointed.