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Mary Coin by Marisa Silver



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 photograph’s 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 won’t let go. A must-read for Silver fans that is sure to win over many new followers; the acclaimed author’s best work to date.”
Library Journal, STARRED REVIEW

“Marisa Silver’s transfixing new novel…deftly sprinkles historical fact into her fictional narrative…a raw and emotional tale that leaves readers with a lingering question: Do photographs illuminate or blur the truth?”
O, The Oprah Magazine

“Gorgeous … This narrative of mid-century hope, loss, and disenchantment is both universal and deeply personal. With writing that is sensual and rich, [Silver] shines a light on the parts of personal history not shared and stops time without destroying the moment.”Publisher’s Weekly, STARRED REVIEW

My Review

Behind a photo is a world unknown, a passage of time not witnessed by the observer.
The famous photo on the cover of this book represents the character that this story has been written of, Mary Coin takes center stage in this story.
Thanks to this author we have a snippet of life behind that photo. Her journey, her plight, her love, her marriage, her motherhood and her loss are all described well in this story of Mary Coin.
There are two great women at the heart of this story the photographer Vera Dare and Mary coin.

Thanks to writers including John Steinbeck and Woody Guthrie on telling the dust-bowl stories of bygone days and the journeying of people to California, they successfully cemented the plight of the people in peoples minds and hearts. The movie adaptation of Grapes of Wrath had proved to be a great success in the cause too.

Travel back in time with this novel with two great fighting souls, two women that could possibly remain with you in your memories for many a days, their struggle and their determination and hope would be remembered.

“Her face reminded Mary of the shape of a flower vase, the planes of her cheeks rising up at a gentle incline to her prominent cheekbones, bones Mary had inherited, although not her mother’s nut-brown Cherokee skin or her coal-black eyes. Mary wondered how long it would take to inherit her mother’s calloused hands and matching nature.”

“What right did she have to take photographs of strangers? But she knew these faces. Even if she had never seen a single one of these people before, something deep inside of her recognized them. These people had been mad to feel inadequate, abnormal. Their lives were disfigured by circumstances. She had to take their pictures because what she saw, what she saw, marked her as much as a limp or the fact that she was the only gentile in a school filled with Jews or that her father did not lover her enough to stay.”

“The story of history is the story of its telling and its retelling. There are truths lost to time and desire.”