Synopses & Reviews
In her first novel since The God of War,
the 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 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.
“Mary Coin is quite simply one of the best novels I have read in years. 'You'll know who you are when you start losing things,' says one character, and the story burns in this quietly emphatic way, only to erupt in moments of excruciating pain and beauty. In her portrayal of a time in American history when survival was often a day-to-day thing, Silver drills down to the absolute essentials: family, love, loss, the perpetual uncertainty of life. Again and again I found myself wondering: How does she know that? Silver's wisdom is rare, and her novel is the work of a master." Ben Fountain, author of the 2012 National Book Award finalist Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk
“Marisa Silver renders the soul of an iconic image, giving it moving life. Mary Coin is a soaring work of imagination, dedication and history.” Mona Simpson, author of My Hollywood and Anywhere But Here
“An extraordinarily compassionate and wise novel, Mary Coin imagines the life of Dorothea Lange's iconic 'Migrant Mother.' What emerges, in Silver's nuanced, resonant telling, is a poignant exploration of a single life that touches many others, and a powerful, moving portrait of America during the Great Depression. Silver is one of those preternaturally gifted writers who can with the lightest of touches make the reader enter a world that feels as fully real as the one around us.” Meghan O'Rourke, author of The Long Goodbye
“Inspired by Migrant Mother, the iconic Depression-era photograph snapped by Dorothea Lange in 1936, Silver reimagines the lives of both the photographer and the subject...this dual portrait investigates the depths of the human spirit, exposing the inner reserves of will and desire hidden in both women....The luminously written, heart-wrenching — yet never maudlin — plot moves back and forth through time, as history professor Walker Dodge unpeels the layers of the photographs hidden truths.” Margaret Flanagan, Booklist
“[A] superb new novel....Silver's acute observations and understated style are evident here as are her matter-of-fact, unapologetic characters....mesmerizing...Silver has crafted a highly imaginative story that grabs the reader and wont let go. A must-read for Silver fans that is sure to win over many new followers; the acclaimed authors best work to date.” Library Journal, Starred Review
In her decades-spanning new novel, Mary Coin, acclaimed author Marisa Silver (The God of War) gives us a brilliant reimagining of the anonymous woman pictured in Dorothea Lange’s iconic “Migrant Mother” photograph.
In 1936, in the midst of the Great Depression, photographer Dorothea Lange took a photograph for the Federal Resettlement Program that would become the most iconic image of that unforgettable time in American history. Her subject was Florence Owens Thompson, a thirty-two-year-old Native American and mother of seven, whose arresting face became the defining symbol of American poverty. Mary Coin
is a novel inspired by that photograph.
Three vibrant characters anchor Mary Coin: the migrant mother herself; Vera Dare, the young photographer wrestling with ambition and the lingering effects of childhood Polio, who is forced to abandon her own children in order to work; and Walker Dodge, a present-day professor of cultural archeology, who discovers a secret to his family history in the picture. In luminous, exquisitely observed prose, author Marisa Silver deftly weaves the few known facts of the famous photograph and its subject with a captivating plot and multigenerational narrative, and burnishes this remarkable fiction with profound explorations of memory and identity. Though we want to believe a great photograph will capture the essence of its subject, an image, in the end, only scratches the surface of the truth.
About the Author
Marisa Silver is the author of the novels The God of War (a Los Angeles Times Book Prize finalist) and No Direction Home; and two story collections, Alone With You and Babe in Paradise (a New York Times Notable Book and Los Angeles Times Best Book of the Year). She lives in Los Angeles.