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Mary Coin by Marisa Silver
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Mary Coin (2013)

by Marisa Silver

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3682741,798 (3.87)38

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I love the old saying, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” In Silver’s case, a picture is an opportunity to tell the story behind the iconic “Migrant Mother” photograph of subject Florence Owens Thompson, taken by photographer Dorothea Lange and published in 1936. Bringing to life the Dust Bowl Depression of the 1930’s, the story Silver weaves is told from the point of view of three fictionalized narrators: Depression-era migrant worker Mary Coin, photographer Vera Dare and in the modern day, social historian Walker Dodge. Written more like a series of connected stories and using biographical details as a starting point, this is squarely a work of speculative fiction. The thoughts, feelings and emotions of the characters are all creations by Silver. The portrayal of the era is stark and powerful. Silver does not try to sugar coat what was a very difficult time for so many people. Relying on broad themes of identity and survival, each of the three narrators face their own unique struggles. Under Silver’s hand, Mary and Vera are rigid, almost unyielding and it is only later in the story where we get to see glimpses of the compassion and uncertainty that lies beneath the surface. Favorite quote: “Because answers are inert things that stop inquiry. They make you think you have finished looking. But you are never finished. There are always discoveries that will turn everything you think you know on its head and that will make you ask all over again: Who are we?” Through Mary Coin, Silver attempts to follow this line of reasoning. Does she succeed? I think she does, as this story has opened my eyes to more closely scrutinize and ask questions about the images I encounter. ( )
  lkernagh | Jun 21, 2018 |
Many of the reviews for this book praise Silver's prose for its beauty. There were a few passages I found particularly striking, but for the most part I thought the language was very natural and easy to read. I wasn't constantly disarmed by the beauty of it, but it didn't slow me down either.

I liked this book. I didn't like it at first. For the first 150-200 pages, I struggled to empathize with the characters. Mary was flatly rigid for most of the book, but she came alive for me toward the end. Vera was similarly flat, but with a slightly different personality. I found the most touching parts to be the characters' grappling with their histories. Their lives were interesting, but there wasn't much during the narration of events that grabbed hold of me. ( )
  jantz | Jan 1, 2017 |
Marisa Silver brings new life to a famous photograph of a worn out woman and her 3 small children in a shack during the depression - she tells 3 intertwining rich stories that take place over the course of the 20th century - a photographer doing her job capturing images of poverty and pain to give legislators a picture of the suffering of migrant workers - mary is that migrant mother with 7 children to feed and some difficult decisions to make - a third, more minor character is a history professor enthralled with old photos and compelled to learn more about Mary -

I loved listening to this audiobook - the 3 narrators were excellent, and the story was engrossing and simply yet beautifully presented. ( )
  njinthesun | Aug 5, 2016 |
3.5 really.
( )
  CydMelcher | Feb 5, 2016 |
3.5 really.
( )
  CydMelcher | Feb 5, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 27 (next | show all)
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Epigraph
If you stand right fronting and face to face to a fact, you will see the sun glimmer on both its surfaces, as if it were a cimeter, and feel its sweet edge dividing you through the heart and marrow, and so you will happily conclude your mortal career. Be it life or death, we crave only reality.
- - Henry David Thoreau
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For Henry and Oliver
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There is something grippping to Walker about a town in decline.
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Everyone wants to be known. Perhaps the ones who conceal themselves most of all. The question is: Who is foolhardy enough to go in search of them?
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0399160701, Hardcover)

In her first novel since The God of War, 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 singular 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 has any way of knowing that their chance encounter has produced 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 observed prose, Silver creates an extraordinary tale from a brief moment in history, and reminds us that though a great photograph can capture the essence of a moment, it only scratches the surface of a life.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:25:02 -0400)

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. - from cover p.[2]… (more)

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