Friday, December 13, 2013

Mary Coin by Marisa Silver

This book has steadily gained in popularity at our library, and I’ve just ordered more copies to keep up with demand. A great read, and I suspect catching on with book discussion groups.

It is a beautifully written piece of fiction, based on a true story. Real life photographer Dorothea Lange was commissioned by the U.S. government to take photographs of migrant workers during The Great Depression. The photos and their captions were used to educate the public and legislators about the real conditions people suffered through during The Great Depression, in the hope of bringing awareness and much needed funding to better the living conditions of the poor.

Lange’s iconic photo of Florence Owen Thompson, a destitute migrant worker with two of her seven children, brought Lange her greatest acclaim. Thompson, seeing her image in newspapers and magazines, contacted Lange and asked that she be recompensed.

Author Marisa Silver does an outstanding job of telling the story of the photographer, renamed Vera Dare in this book, as she struggles with the challenges of her own life, while working to earn a living under difficult circumstances. Silver’s portrayal of Mary Coin (based on Florence Thompson) brings to life the poverty and stark conditions of the migrant worker. The story of Mary and her family, and her determination is remarkable.

Marisa Silver’s writing is descriptive, immediate, and evocative, reminding me of some of my favorite books: Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner, My Antonia by Willa Cather and Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier.

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