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Showing 1-10 of 361 reviews(Verified Purchases). See all 423 reviews
on July 8, 2013
he book Mary Coin was a difficult one to read, not because the words or plot was complicated, but because the reality of the historical fiction story was devastating. I saw a review of the book in the newspaper, and what interested me was how the author choose to create a story based on a photograph taken during the great depression of a migrant worker and her children. I had used the picture many times when teaching 5th graders about the depression, never stopping to really think about the woman and her children. I never really wondered what happened to them. Marisa Silver creates imagery with her prose unlike many of today's authors. She has developed a realistic story of what could have happened to the woman in the famous picture. Although much of the story is made up, the wisdom of the words is breathtaking. Silvers writes "People always talked about the body betraying a person in illness, but Mary did not believe the body had intentions. It was just a thing that worked until it broke down." Marisa Silver has done a remarkable job with this very well written piece of literature. Much like Frank McCourt did with Angela's Ashes, the author tells a story about a time when we can't even imagine the hardships people were facing.
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on October 18, 2013
This is an intricate novel of the intersection of time - past, present, and future - in the lives of three American individuals, their families, and the private and public events that draw them together. The author's language is clean, direct, and laced with human emotion; her story takes leaps across time and space weaving a colorful tapestry of personal bits and pieces of American life in the 20th century. Silver's portrait of the Great Depression era is a vivid reminder of how quickly lives can be unbalanced by disaster and the cost people pay to reassert their basic fabric of everyday life; the iconic photograph on the book cover not only represents a critical incident in the narrative but symbolizes what people lose and gain in coping with immense hardship. The author's artful writing turns history into a resonant quality that echos down generational corridors of individual and community lives. This novel requires careful attention and deep reflection to mine its riches. For those readers with those inclinations, the rewards are great.
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on July 25, 2013
The cover of this book attracted me to it because the photo is so famous. Every time the author mentions it, though, she describes it as having children in it. I never did figure out if the woman on the cover was actually the character in the book. Read this for its story, which is quite intriguing, and its historical context. The narrative is very readable, if not particularly inspired. Don't read it if you want to either like the characters or identify with them. It is not great literature, but it's a nice way to pass the time.
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It's a bold concept: take one of the most famous photographs in U.S. history - Migrant Mother, the photo that defined the Great Depression - and reimagine the story of the subject, Florence Owens Thompson (called Mary Coin) and the photographer, Dorothea Lange (dubbed Vera Dare).

Whenever an author deals with "faction", the reader has a decision to make: view it from the prism of history or view it as a fictional creation of the author. I chose the latter. The skeleton facts are all there: the 32-year-old mother with six (or is it seven?) young children whose spirit remains strong even while the family is suffering hunger pains...and the photographer who wrestles with her ambition while making a different decision about her own two children. Add in a completely fictional character, Walker - a professor of cultural history who has his own reasons for pursuing his interest in this story - and you have three intriguing perspectives of the times.

This type of concept could easily have fallen into hagiography, but it doesn't. Marisa Silver does a great job of recreating the era and sketching her characters with enough attributes - both good and bad - to make them come alive.

And then she goes one step further to ask a vital question: when you see a photograph like Migrant Mother, do you look or do you truly see? How far does any photo go to capture the life of the subject rather than just a frozen moment in time? Are we all inadvertent historians? As Walker reflects: "It is the human fallacy to believe that we discover any single thing. It is only that we are slow to learn how to see what is in front of us."

There's only one reason I didn't give this book a fifth star: I never quite understood a key plot twist that resulted in Mary Coin's final pregnancy. To be more specific would be to create a spoiler, but the interaction did not seem organic and I did not fully understand the other character's motivation.

Nevertheless, Marisa Silver has written a fine novel, beautifully weaving imagination with historical fact. Her questions are solid: "Out of the billions of objects that were tossed into the trash bin of time, why did this one survive?" The answer tells us a lot about ourselves.
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on April 2, 2015
The book presents a very different view on femininity, on what keeps us going, and how much inner strength do some of us exhibit even when nobody can suspect anything of this kind in us. It is about human nature, about laws of attraction, and about following one's beliefs and vision. Mary with all her simplicity is a perfect example of true integrity and wisdom. Her beautiful and inspiring personality in a certain way changes everything around her to the better despite all the hardship. Vera on the other hand is somewhat detached. At the same time it is hard to imagine her existence without relying on the strengths of those surrounding her. It is as if Mary is the life itself and Vera is just a camera to take the images of this life. And in the end both are gone - one leaving descendants and the other leaving chronology.
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on May 3, 2017
Despite the occasions arrogant writing style... who says churlish parsimony in a sentence??? My heart both was filled and broken by this beautiful story. Best booI've read in a long time. I kept thinking that nothing changes and were still fine eating oranges picked by a migrant making slave wages. Sad.
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on July 28, 2013
I really like "God of War" but this book,which I finished because I do like her writing style,was a bit off course. I don't generally like books that go to the past and present through out the book. I also am not a fan of books with a lot of characters. This book had both and still kept my interest but didn't seem to go anywhere. I think over all I was a bit disappointed with the out come and was expecting more.
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on November 6, 2014
I would like to give this book a solid four-star recommendation. Author Marisa Silver is a gifted writer and has done some excellent research to create this interesting piece of historical fiction. My only problem with the book is that it is divided up into three stories devoted to Walker Dodge, Mary Coin and Vera Dare. In view of that, the reader is unable to fully grasp each character because there simply isn't enough story on each of them. Just when we think we're digging in deeper into their personality, we are switched to another character. The book goes back and forth between characters without any depth leaving each story more like a magazine article. However, the thread that binds them all together is very inventive and well thought out so that's why I give this book such high marks. Ms. Silver is clearly an awesome writer!
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on April 3, 2013
After a bit of a slow start, I found myself getting more and more pulled into this novel. There are really three stories being told here: the story of modern day Walker and his dysfunctional family, Vera the Depression era photographer and her shaky relationships, and the story of Mary Coin, the Depression mother as depicted in that famous photograph shown on the cover of the book. None of these characters are particularly likable; they all have some real character flaws, but all do what must be done in the circumstances.

At times, particularly in the sections telling Mary's story, I felt the writing was flowery. The writing style just didn't seem to fit the no-nonsense hard-scrabble life of Mary Coin. Although Mary did become alive to me, her husband, Tony, and the other men were much harder to envision and believe.

I did like how the three plot lines came together at the end. Maybe to some it might seem contrived, but to me, it was very believable.

I can't think of many Depression era novels (Steinbeck aside) that depict the life of women as well as this one did. The people were poor, uneducated, and often desperate. That doesn't make for an "attractive" heroine. I also felt the author did a good job in depicting Mary's family as grown children. In short, this was a good read and one that I would recommend to anyone interested in Depression era fiction.
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on April 8, 2013
Years from now when I look back on "Mary Coin," undoubtedly, what I will most remember is how much I loved reading it. Up until the last pages, I still wasn't sure exactly how different threads of the story would turn out.

Mary is the protagonist in this eponymous novel, but her story is interwoven with those of Vera Dare, the photographer who, in the 1930's, took Mary's photo and made them both recognizable and that of present-day college professor Walker Dodge who slowly pieces together Mary's life and its unexpected relation to his own. The tale is full of complex relationships and twists and turns as the plot develops primarily in the central California migrant farm camps during the Great Depression. All three characters are, at the core, good people who love their families and struggle with hard choices that they hope will ultimately turn out to be the best ones for their children. Like thousands of real-life Oakies, Mary is dealt a horrible hand of injustices and difficulties. Through it all, her unwavering goal is to ensure survival for her large brood and herself. Her strength even in the most desperate moments is a celebration of the beauty and goodness of the human spirit at its best.

A huge thank-you to Marisa Silver for a terrific, satisfying read!
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