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.
"Starred Review. 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." - Publishers Weekly
"Inspired by Migrant Mother, the iconic Depression-era photograph snapped by Dorothea Lange in 1936, Silver reimagines the lives of both the photographer and the subject....this dual portrait investigates the depths of the human spirit, exposing the inner reserves of will and desire hidden in both women....The luminously written, heart-wrenchingyet never maudlinplot moves back and forth through time, as history professor Walker Dodge unpeels the layers of the photograph's hidden truths." - Margaret Flanagan, Booklist
"Starred Review. [A] superb new novel....Silver's acute observations and understated style are evident here as are her matter-of-fact, unapologetic characters....mesmerizing...Silver has crafted a highly imaginative story that grabs the reader and won't let go. A must-read for Silver fans that is sure to win over many new followers; the acclaimed author's best work to date." - Library Journal
"Marisa Silver's transfixing new novel...deftly sprinkles historical fact into her fictional narrative...a raw and emotional tale that leaves readers with a lingering question: Do photographs illuminate or blur the truth?" - O, The Oprah Magazine
"Mary Coin is quite simply one of the best novels I have read in years. 'You'll know who you are when you start losing things,' says one character, and the story burns in this quietly emphatic way, only to erupt in moments of excruciating pain and beauty. In her portrayal of a time in American history when survival was often a day-to-day thing, Silver drills down to the absolute essentials: family, love, loss, the perpetual uncertainty of life. Again and again I found myself wondering: How does she know that? Silver's wisdom is rare, and her novel is the work of a master." - Ben Fountain, author of the 2012 National Book Award finalist of Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk
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Rated of 5
The Truth Behind the Photograph
This well-written novel teaches the reader the importance of looking behind the photograph, removing the layers to discover the truth. The iconic photo by Dorothea Lange is the heart of the novel. Mary Coin brings to mind The Dollmaker by Arnow and The Grapes of Wrath by Steinbeck, as well as The Girl with the Pearl Earring. Highly recommended for book groups.
Marisa Silver is the author of the novels The God of War (a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize), and No Direction Home. She made her fiction debut in The New Yorker when she appeared in the inaugural Debut Fiction issue. Her collection of stories, Babe in Paradise, was a New York Times Notable Book and a Los Angeles Times Best Book of the Year. Silver's work has been included in Best American Short Stories and the O. Henry Prize Stories. She lives in Los Angeles.
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