March 2013

Famous Depression-era photograph inspires a remarkable novel

By Marisa Silver
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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.

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Mary Coin

Mary Coin

By Marisa Silver
Blue Rider Press
ISBN 9780399160707

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