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.
Someone has come for her someone is here! and gossip speeds so
readily through Ladies Undergarments that Frieda, in a twinkling, is
forewarned. (The elevator boy tells the stock girl, who tells her.) She grins,
but as the newest- hired wrapper at Jordan Marsh shes still minded awfully
closely by Mr. Crowley, so she struggles against the glee and keeps to work.
She snaps a box open and handily tucks its ends, crimps tissue around the
latest strangers buys: a nainsook chemise, a crêpe de Chine camisole. But
her fingers, as shes knotting up the package, snarl the string.
Shes been waiting for him to come again, conjuring. Every day this week, shes woken half an hour early to wash her hair and put herself together. On the modest black shirtwaist required by Jordans dress code gleams her only brooch: Papas gold seashell. Shes nibbled at tablets of arsenic to pale her face...
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).
Full Review (841 words).
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 ...
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