Monday, September 9, 2013

The Face of the Great Depression

We all have probably seen the iconic photo, Migrant Mother, snapped in 1936 by Dorothea Lange, who worked for the government agency known as the Farm Security Administration.  The woman in the photo was Florence Owen Thompson, a 32 year old mother of seven children, who worked as a pea picker in California.  It is this famous and haunting photo that is the inspiration for Marisa Silver's new novel Mary Coin, which weaves together the fictionalized versions of Lange and Thompson, as well as a modern-day history professor who has the feeling that his own passed is tied somehow to the woman in the photo.  In simple, lush, and beautiful prose, Silver illuminates these three lives.  Walker Dodge's family owned the Dodge farm, where Mary Coin was employed many years ago as a migrant worker.  This is an interesting and satisfying novel.  It would be an interesting companion read with Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath, which is also set in California and highlights the living conditions of those who worked the fields,  and James Agee's Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, which depicts and describes the conditions of sharecroppers in the South also during The Great Depression. 

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