Mary Coin by Marisa Silver

Publisher: Blue Rider Press (Imprint of Penguin Group)
Publication Date: March 2013
Categories: Literary, Historical, Great Depression
Source: Blue Rider Press via Netgalley

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 chance 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 woman has any way of knowing that they have produced what will become 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 rendered 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.

About the Author

My Thoughts:

As soon as I started reading Mary Coin I was transported to another place and time. I knew within the first few pages that I would enjoy this novel. The sections featuring Mary Coin and her children
especially impressed and haunted me. That family won’t soon be forgotten by this reader.

The big question I have is why Marisa Silver didn’t use the real names and real stories of the very real people behind the photo “Migrant Mother”? I understand that this is an imagined history of the photo and the photographer. Maybe this is just my WANT TO LEARN EVERYTHING quirk coming out? (Silver somewhat explains her thought process here)

Even though I wish this was more of an authentic history of “Migrant Mother” I highly recommend this admirable and engaging book.

In case you’re interested (which you totally SHOULD be) here is a link to the story behind the iconic series of photos taken by Dorothea Lange.

22 thoughts on “Mary Coin by Marisa Silver

  1. You're not alone, I would want the authentic history too!I still think this book sounds interesting, though. I knew nothing about the Great Depression until recently, so I'll look out for this one.


  2. I immediately started singing Tom Joad (in my head)while reading this. This book sounds amazing. Everything I know about the era is from Grapes of Wrath, Woody Guthrie, and Carnival (HBO). And that photo – you can read a thousand worries in that woman's posture and expression.


  3. I'm with you there, the real story would be better given that there is one and likely just as interesting; I'll have to read the author's comments on that. Still I suppose fiction allows for new interpretations.


  4. I will definitely be picking this one up after I get through my current stack of library reads. I see the author's point about basing it on the women instead of writing about them, but I think you can work within the facts too…I guess I will reserve judgement until I read it!


  5. I've been seeing this everywhere so happy to see a review. The picture is so striking! Thanks for adding the link to the story behind the photos– so fascinating. I'll have to put this one on the TBR.


  6. It bothers me that it bothered me, lol. The book is GREAT, it really is. I think it bugged me because I'm such a nut job for the true tales behind history? I don't want to put anyone off this book. It's a good one and it deserves a lot of readers 🙂


  7. This is very interesting, about the photo and the people on it. I wanted to say that this photo has been included in the cover of a Spanish edition of The grapes of wrath, and I think it fits very well there too because of the story.This book has really made me want to know more about the photo!


  8. Thanks so much for sharing that link! I had never read the original story about Migrant Mother. I added this book to my wish list as soon as I saw you post about it but I agree, the real story would have been so much better!Great Review!Rebecca @ The Key to the Gate


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