Walker’s tacked-on connection to the photograph seems a calculated attempt to add sexual intrigue to what is otherwise a...

MARY COIN

The fictionalized lives of photographer Dorothea Lange and the Native American farm worker behind her famous Depression-era portrait “Migrant Mother.”

While adhering closely to the facts of the real women’s lives, Silver (The God of War, 2008, etc.) renames them—Lange becomes Vera Dare; her subject, Florence Owens Thompson, becomes Mary Coin—and frames their stories within a wholly fictional conceit: Social historian Walker Dodge is grappling with his role as a divorced father when he begins researching the history of his family, successful California fruit growers, after the death of his uncommunicative father. Walker, who coincidentally teaches college students how to look at photographs, opens and closes the novel in 2011, but the real focus is on the two women. Mary grows up on an Oklahoma farm, raised by her tough but loving Cherokee mother after her alcoholic white father’s death. At 17, she marries Toby Coin, and they head to California where he works in sawmills and she has one baby after another. By 1929, a fire has burned down the mill and their home. After Toby dies, Mary picks fruit to support her children. After an affair with a farm owner’s son, she has another baby that she is nursing near her broken-down car the day in 1936 when Vera Dare takes her picture. Vera, who still limps from the polio she suffered as a child, has spent the 1920s in San Francisco as a society photographer. Her financial security has collapsed by the early 1930s, along with her marriage to a flamboyant, womanizing painter. By the time she runs across Mary, Vera has farmed out her two sons to travel the countryside taking pictures to document rural poverty for FDR’s Resettlement Administration. When she photographs Mary, Vera has no idea the image will take on a life of its own.

Walker’s tacked-on connection to the photograph seems a calculated attempt to add sexual intrigue to what is otherwise a disappointingly plodding account that sheds no new light on either the photographer or her subject.

Pub Date: March 7, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-399-16070-7

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Blue Rider Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 16, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2013

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The writing is merely serviceable, and one can’t help but wish the author had found a way to present her material as...

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THE TATTOOIST OF AUSCHWITZ

An unlikely love story set amid the horrors of a Nazi death camp.

Based on real people and events, this debut novel follows Lale Sokolov, a young Slovakian Jew sent to Auschwitz in 1942. There, he assumes the heinous task of tattooing incoming Jewish prisoners with the dehumanizing numbers their SS captors use to identify them. When the Tätowierer, as he is called, meets fellow prisoner Gita Furman, 17, he is immediately smitten. Eventually, the attraction becomes mutual. Lale proves himself an operator, at once cagey and courageous: As the Tätowierer, he is granted special privileges and manages to smuggle food to starving prisoners. Through female prisoners who catalog the belongings confiscated from fellow inmates, Lale gains access to jewels, which he trades to a pair of local villagers for chocolate, medicine, and other items. Meanwhile, despite overwhelming odds, Lale and Gita are able to meet privately from time to time and become lovers. In 1944, just ahead of the arrival of Russian troops, Lale and Gita separately leave the concentration camp and experience harrowingly close calls. Suffice it to say they both survive. To her credit, the author doesn’t flinch from describing the depravity of the SS in Auschwitz and the unimaginable suffering of their victims—no gauzy evasions here, as in Boy in the Striped Pajamas. She also manages to raise, if not really explore, some trickier issues—the guilt of those Jews, like the tattooist, who survived by doing the Nazis’ bidding, in a sense betraying their fellow Jews; and the complicity of those non-Jews, like the Slovaks in Lale’s hometown, who failed to come to the aid of their beleaguered countrymen.

The writing is merely serviceable, and one can’t help but wish the author had found a way to present her material as nonfiction. Still, this is a powerful, gut-wrenching tale that is hard to shake off.

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-06-279715-5

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 17, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2018

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A deeply satisfying novel, both sensuously vivid and remarkably poignant.

THE UNSEEN

Norwegian novelist Jacobsen folds a quietly powerful coming-of-age story into a rendition of daily life on one of Norway’s rural islands a hundred years ago in a novel that was shortlisted for the 2017 Man Booker International Prize.

Ingrid Barrøy, her father, Hans, mother, Maria, grandfather Martin, and slightly addled aunt Barbro are the owners and sole inhabitants of Barrøy Island, one of numerous small family-owned islands in an area of Norway barely touched by the outside world. The novel follows Ingrid from age 3 through a carefree early childhood of endless small chores, simple pleasures, and unquestioned familial love into her more ambivalent adolescence attending school off the island and becoming aware of the outside world, then finally into young womanhood when she must make difficult choices. Readers will share Ingrid’s adoration of her father, whose sense of responsibility conflicts with his romantic nature. He adores Maria, despite what he calls her “la-di-da” ways, and is devoted to Ingrid. Twice he finds work on the mainland for his sister, Barbro, but, afraid she’ll be unhappy, he brings her home both times. Rooted to the land where he farms and tied to the sea where he fishes, Hans struggles to maintain his family’s hardscrabble existence on an island where every repair is a struggle against the elements. But his efforts are Sisyphean. Life as a Barrøy on Barrøy remains precarious. Changes do occur in men’s and women’s roles, reflected in part by who gets a literal chair to sit on at meals, while world crises—a war, Sweden’s financial troubles—have unexpected impact. Yet the drama here occurs in small increments, season by season, following nature’s rhythm through deaths and births, moments of joy and deep sorrow. The translator’s decision to use roughly translated phrases in conversation—i.e., “Tha’s goen’ nohvar” for "You’re going nowhere")—slows the reading down at first but ends up drawing readers more deeply into the world of Barrøy and its prickly, intensely alive inhabitants.

A deeply satisfying novel, both sensuously vivid and remarkably poignant.

Pub Date: April 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-77196-319-0

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Biblioasis

Review Posted Online: Jan. 13, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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