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Love and photography bring two young exiles together in this based-on-fact real-life tragic romance.

When two young refugees meet in Paris in 1935, the world seems to be falling apart. Both Gerta Pohorylle and André Friedmann are Jews, exiles from the expanding Nazi regime (she is German, he Hungarian). Both are scraping by, enjoying a wild bohemian last gasp as the city fills with other penniless refugees and the native Parisians turn increasingly hostile, and their alliance is at first one of survival. She takes him on as a project, dressing him for success as a photojournalist. He, in turn, teaches her his art: " 'You have to be there,' he'd say, 'glued to your prey, lying in wait, in order to be able to shoot at the exact moment.' " They become lovers and adopt new names, and as Gerda Taro and Robert Capa travel to Spain to document what is becoming a brutal civil war. In that harsh land, they both blossom as artists and war journalists, their bohemian principles made flesh, before war catches up with them. In this short historical novel, Spanish novelist Fortes captures the complexity of pre–World War II Europe. Anarchists and Dadaists bond and then fall out, as various groups scramble for scraps and young people try to have fun. The personalities of the two main figures are fully imagined, rooted in existing biographical works, as are many of their peers. The burgeoning war also comes alive in poetic terms: "In the distance, Madrid was a white rabbit at the mercy of the hunting hounds." At times, however, the need to reassert the journalistic reality of these characters interferes, as awkward identifications disrupt the prose ("Gerda could still see the writer Gustav Regler's face as he was being carried out of the rubble"). Still, this vivid novel gives us a snapshot of a continent falling into chaos.

Flawed but striking, this short novel shines a light on artists in times of love and war.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-06-200038-5
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Perennial/HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1st, 2011