Charity Girl examines one of the darkest periods in our history, when patriotic fervor and fear led to devastating consequences. During World War I, the U.S. government went on a moral and medical campaign, quarantining and incarcerating young women who were thought to have venereal diseases. Most were called charity girls, or working-class girls who happened to have had relationships with infected men. Through the eyes of one fictional charity girl, this novel explores an astonishing time.
Frieda Mintz, a Jewish seventeen-year-old bundle wrapper at Jordan Marsh in Boston, spends one impulsive night with an infected soldier. Soon after, she is tracked down and sent to a makeshift detention center, where she is subject to invasive physical exams, poor living conditions, and a creeping erosion of all she thought she knew about herself. Buoying her, though, is a cast of women as strong as they are diverse, and they soon teach one another about dependence, and eventually independence.
Charity Girl lays bare an ugly part of our past, when the government exercised a questionable level of authority at the expense of its citizens rights. The book casts long shadows and explores the most important, urgent questions of desire, freedom, and identity.
The particular moment in history that Lowenthal explores will be news to most, but the tale of governments overruling the rights of those without the influence to defend themselves is familiar .... Of course, this is all in the past, something like this couldn't happen in America today, could it? (Reviewed by BookBrowse Review Team).
The Washington Post - Anita Shreve
That few readers of Lowenthal's deserving novel will ever have heard of the detention of the "charity girls" is astonishing. That Lowenthal has made us aware of them is nothing short of a gift.
The San Francisco Chronicle - Jesse Berrett
It's a measure of the author's success that you keep hoping for a fairy-tale ending even when every clue hints that nothing similar is remotely possible.
Booklist - Marta Segal
This is an interesting, if flawed, fictional introduction to a disturbing part of our history.
Lowenthal ably captures the transformation of a naïve adolescent into a woman in his provocative story.
Starred Review. Harrowing yet inspiring,...rich in period detail, swift-paced prose and deserved political outrage.
Recent Reader Reviews
Rated of 5
by Barbara Charity Girl I found Charity Girl a very enlightening novel. It covers a period that is not commonly found in literature from a unique perspective. Of course, we have heard of the "studies" on mental patients and the disabled during World War II and this... Read More
Michael Lowenthal is the author of
the novels Charity Girl (2007), Avoidance (2002)
and The Same Embrace (1998). His
short stories have appeared in Tin House, the Southern Review,
the Kenyon Review, and Witness, and have been widely anthologized. Three of
his stories have received "Special Mention" in Pushcart Prize anthologies. He
has also written nonfiction for the New York Times Magazine, Boston
Magazine, the Washington Post, the Boston Globe, Out,
and many other publications.
Before becoming a full-time writer, he worked as an editor for
University Press of New England, where he founded the Hardscrabble Books
imprint, publishing such authors as Chris Bohjalian, W.D. Wetherell, and Ernest
Hebert. He studied English and comparative religion at Dartmouth College, from
which he graduated in 1990 as class valedictorian.
He now lives in Boston, where he
teaches creative writing at Boston College and in the low-residency MFA program
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