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Charity Girl

by Michael Lowenthal

Charity Girl
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  • First Published:
    Jan 2007, 336 pages
    Paperback:
    Jan 2008, 336 pages

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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 year is 1917, America has recently joined the War in Europe. Fun-loving Frieda is out on the town catching a few minutes downtime from her tedious job as a "bundle wrapper" in a department store, a job she has taken relatively recently after fleeing her mother's house to escape marriage to the deeply unattractive and hairy-eared widower Pinchas Hersch, who is twice her age and sees marriage to her as a cheap form of childcare for his odious children.

Young and fun-loving she might be, but she's not reckless. She knows just how far she's prepared to go for a few drinks and the occasional gift, but the balance changes when she catches sight of Private Felix Morse. A romance ensues and Frieda, believing this to be the "real thing", allows Felix to go further than she has been with any other man. As it happens her beau is not only handsome and apparently ...

The Story Behind The Book: Charity Girl was inspired by a line in Susan Sontag’s AIDS and Its Metaphors, in which she likens the incarceration of American women during World War I to the internment of Americans of Japanese ancestry during World War II. Lowenthal says, "The latter historical episode I had, of course, heard about, but not the first . . . I immediately had two thoughts: (1) how awful, and (2) what a great basis for a novel."

During World War I about 30,000 American women were rounded up on suspicion of carrying a venereal disease, of which about 15,000 were incarcerated in reformatories and detention homes—often for months at a time, with no charge of a crime, no trial, no legal recourse—while they received forcible medical treatment for venereal disease (keep in mind that the rights of women have changed dramatically in the past 100 ...

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