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Charity Girl Paperback – January 8, 2008

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Focusing on a little-known WWI-era government campaign to imprison women who'd contracted "social diseases," Lowenthal (The Same Embrace; Avoidance) follows the travails of a 17-year-old Boston girl as she's put through the system's wringer. Frieda Mintz is a bundle wrapper at a department store living on her own when she meets Felix Morse, an army private. After a date at a Red Sox game, they sleep together. Not long after, Mrs. Sprague from the "Committee on Prevention of Social Evils Surrounding Military Camps," hounds Frieda at her workplace because Felix, during an inspection that uncovers he has an infection, names Frieda as his "last contact." After her case of "the whites" flares up and she loses her job, Frieda follows Felix to Camp Devens, where she's arrested and put into quarantine. Behind bars, she befriends Flossie Collins, and the two are sent to a detention camp, where they undergo crude medical treatment and perform mandatory manual labor alongside a host of other quarantined women. As her body heals and conditions worsen at the detention center, tensions rise to a wrenching climax. Lowenthal ably captures the transformation of a naïve adolescent into a woman in his provocative story. (Jan.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

In 1918, thousands of U.S. women were detained on suspicion of having venereal diseases. It was thought that these women would infect U.S. soldiers and thus harm the war effort. Lowenthal's novel imagines the plight of one such woman, 17-year-old Frieda Mintz. Frieda has left her repressive mother and an arranged marriage to an older man for the glamour of the big city. One impulsive night with an infected soldier costs Frieda her job and eventually her freedom. Once imprisoned, she meets a somewhat stereotypical cast of women, including fast-talking prostitutes and a manipulative lesbian who misuses her authority in an attempted seduction. Although an appended author's note draws parallels between this little-known chapter in American history and the present wars on terror and AIDS, the connections are not implicit in the text. This is an interesting, if flawed, fictional introduction to a disturbing part of our history. Marta Segal
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Mariner Books; Reprint edition (January 8, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0618919783
  • ISBN-13: 978-0618919789
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (48 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,383,934 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

25 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Bruce J. Wasser on February 27, 2008
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
During World War I, American authorities indiscriminately arrested and incarcerated over 30,000 women, most of whom committed no crime. Jailed for dressing provocatively, walking without escorts or prostitution, over half of the arrested women were detained for months while receiving treatment for venereal disease. Whipped-up by war frenzy and encouraged by the progressives' desire to cleanse and perfect society, this little-known assault on women's freedom stands as a terrible stain on civil liberties. Through the experiences of an imagined protagonist, Freida Mintz, Novelist Michael Lowenthal effectively personalizes history. "Charity Girl," a euphemism for a woman who has consensual sexual relations with a man, is an engrossing, compassionate and provocative novel, one which examines the consequences of repression dressed-up as national security. In this light, Lowenthal has crafted a work that adroitly links the past to the present.

The daughter of two indigent Russian-Jewish immigrants, Freida Mintz comes of age at a time of extraordinary national transformation. Chafing at the restrictions imposed by her embittered mother and mourning the loss of an ebullient, loving father, Freida rejects an arranged marriage and, like many other young women, sets out to create herself in an urban setting. She labors as an underpaid service worker in a Boston department store, stretching her savings and savoring independence unknown to her immigrant predecessors. Befriended by Lou, an irrepressible force, "unlike any other girl Freida had brassy, so lavishly alive," Freida plunges headfirst into life. The waters of this newfound freedom are choppy, and Freida's sexual liaison with a soldier leads her on a path of personal discovery and extreme pain.
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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Duckadoo on February 4, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Congratulations to Michael Lowenthal on this impressive work. There is more to this book than the story of a horrifying episode in American history. The growth of the main character, and the complexities of her relationships, hold the reader's interest throughout. It is also a credible glimpse into wartime America, with the "support our boys" mentality, contrasted with the country's passion for such stress-relievers as baseball games and dance halls. The author's meticulous research combines with a clear, colorful writing style, resulting in a remarkable novel. This book is an excellent choice for a book club, as it provides a wealth of material for discussion. I look forward to Michael Lowenthal's next book.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By B. Johnson on January 8, 2007
Format: Hardcover
This is a thoroughly engrossing read, both entertaining and informative.

Lowenthal recreates the era masterfully, providing interesting historic detail

which he supplements with appropriate dialogue and phrases ("gone to freckles").

Yet the historic background never overpowers the well paced plot and the

thoroughly credible characters. Both Frieda, the young protagonist, and her

mother are skillfully developed, as is much of the supporting cast. The reader sympathizes with Frieda's struggle to "stop letting `want to be' trump `is' " and marvels at her capacity for self-deception.

The narration is a thorough interweaving of introspection, dialogue and action.

The strongest scenes involve Lowenthal's explorations of the mind-set of the Charity

Girls and, more importantly, the attitudes of their "wardens" and the prevailing culture. The motifs behind the wheel of the car and on the

baseball field work splendidly.

Charity Girls is a novel you don't want to miss.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Christina Lockstein on February 9, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Charity Girl by Michael Lowenthal covers a dark period in American history. In WWI 15,000 women were detained by the government because they suffered from sexually transmitted diseases and were determined to be a threat to American soldiers and therefore to national security. Freida Mintz falls head of heels in love with soldier Felix Morse, but their one night of love leaves her jobless, sick, and soon in a detention home. Freida befriends the other girls in the home and learns a great deal about herself and life. That's the short summary, but this book is so much more complex than that. Freida struggles with feelings of betrayal by Felix, anger toward her mother, and guilt at her own actions. Lowenthal does an amazing job of portraying all of the characters as truly human. No one is purely good or bad, and the inconsistent actions by Freida are all too real. Felix writes beautiful love letters to Freida, but never makes the attempt to rescue her, and ultimately his actions leave her alone. This book is extremely timely with its discussion of how far the government will go in curbing citizens rights to protect national security. The intentions were good, but the procedures destroyed people's lives. Lowenthal is alternately graphic and modest is his depictions of sex, but the point he makes about the importance of sexual education rings true. The book is never preachy; it's just a well-written story with some of the most human characters I've found.
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12 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Amy Goldman on January 1, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Another excellent book by Lowenthal!! Charity Girl provides a riveting glimpse into an important historical topic that has not been dealt with much in American literature. Lowenthal has a keen eye for character, plot, and detail. I very much enjoyed the book and would highly recommend it.
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