Synopses & Reviews
During World War I, seventeen-year-old Frieda Mintz secures a job at a Boston department store and strikes out on her own, escaping her repressive Jewish mother and marriage to a wealthy widower twice her age. Determined to find love on her own terms, she is intoxicated by her newfound freedom and the patriotic fervor of the day. That is, until a soldier reports her as his last sexual contact, sweeping her up in the governments wartime crusade against venereal disease. Quarantined in a detention center, Frieda finds in the Homes confines a group of brash, unforgettable women who help her see the way to a new kind of independence.
Charity Girl is based on a little-known chapter in American history that saw fifteen thousand women across the nation incarcerated. Like When the Emperor Was Divine, Lowenthals poignant, provocative novel will leave readers moved - and astonished by the shameful facts that inspired it.
Lively and illuminating . . . marr[ies] the facts of history with the details that make a fictional life come alive.”Anita Shreve The Washington Post
Even while capturing the great sweep of the period, Charity Girl celebrates most the depth of the characters lives.”Matthew Pearl
Charity Girl examines a dark period in our history, when fear and patriotic fervor led to devastating consequences. During World War I, the U.S. government waged a moral and medical campaign, incarcerating and quarantining fifteen thousand young women who were found to have venereal disease.
Frieda Mintz is a seventeen-year-old Jewish bundle wrapper at Jordan Marsh in Boston; she struck out on her own in the wake of her mother's determination to marry her off to a wealthy man twice her age. Then she spends one impuslive night with "a mensch, a U.S. Army private, ready to brave the trenches Over There." Unfortunately, Felix Morse leaves Frieda not just with vivid memories but with an unspeakable disease. Soon after, she is tracked down and sent to a makeshift detention center, where she suffers invasive physical exams, the discipline of an overbearing matron, and a painful erosion of self-worth. She's buoyed, though, by the strong women around her -- her fellow patients and a sympathetic social worker -- who, in depending on one another, seek to forge a new independence.
In smart, unusually determined Frieda Mintz, Michale Lowenthal has deftly created a most winning heroine through which to tell this troubling tale. Charity Girl lays bare an ugly part of our past when the government exercised a questionable level of authority at the expense of some of its most vulnerable citizens; it also casts long shadows, exploring timely questions of desire, identity, and the balance between the public good and individual freedom.
About the Author
MICHAEL LOWENTHAL is the author of the acclaimed novels Charity Girl, Avoidance, and The Same Embrace. He has written for the New York Times Magazine, the New York Times Book Review, the Washington Post Book World, the Boston Globe, the San Francisco Bay Guardian, and many other publications. He teaches writing at Boston College and Lesely University. 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."