Thousand Oaks Reads
One City, One Book
Marisa Silver, the acclaimed author of Mary Coin, recreates and re-imagines the moment when photographer Dorothea Lange, at the behest of a federal government working to overcome the ravages of The Great Depression, takes a photo of a migrant woman: resting at the edge of a California pea field, the young mother wears a lightweight sweater, frayed and dusty, and gazes into an unknowable horizon.
Her children, all grimy fingers and tangled hair, lean into her, their faces hidden from the lens.
We know the photograph. We all know the photograph, for it became an enduring image that captured what poverty looks like, and what it means to be poor in America. But at the time, little information is exchanged and neither woman has any way of of knowing that together they have created what will become the iconic image of the Great Depression.
Three vibrant characters anchor the narrative of Mary Coin. Mary, the migrant mother herself, emerges as a woman with deep reserves of courage and nerve, with private passions and carefully-guarded secrets. Vera Dare, the crippled photographer wrestling with her creative ambitions and family devotion. And Walker Dodge, a present-day professor of cultural history, who discovers a family mystery embedded in the picture.
In luminous, compelling 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.