Mary Coin
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Mary Coin

3.88 of 5 stars 3.88  ·  rating details  ·  3,693 ratings  ·  674 reviews
*An NPR Best Book of 2013*
*A BBC Best Book of 2013*
In her first novel since The God of War, the critically acclaimed author Marisa Silver takes Dorothea Lange’s “Migrant Mother” photograph as inspiration for a breathtaking reinvention—a story of two women, one famous and one forgotten, and of the remarkable legacy of their chance encounter.

In 1936, a young mother resti...more
Hardcover, 336 pages
Published March 7th 2013 by Blue Rider Press (first published January 1st 2013)
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Jeanette  "Astute Crabbist"
Sorry folks. Once again I feel like the skunk at the picnic, but I have to be honest.

IMPRESSIONS AFTER 100 PAGES: Marisa Silver has some admirable writing skills. However, this story began to feel like a fictionalized recitation of the life of Florence Owens Thompson, the lady in the 1936 Dorothea Lange photo "Migrant Mother." (The photo has been cropped and colorized for the novel's dustjacket.) Furthermore, the addition of Walker, the modern-day historian, is distracting and superfluous.

Are you curious about some of the true facts about Dorothy Lange's 1936 iconic photo "Migrant Mother" of Florence Thompson Owens? More photos were taken. Who were these people? Check out this link: If you are unacquainted with Lange look here:

A photograph can say so much, but how much is really true?

In this book of fiction, Mary Coin is Florence and Vera Dare is Dorothy Lange.


On completion:

Mary Coin, a novel by Marisa Silver, is one of my favorite novels. Silver takes base elements like poverty, homelessness,dust storms and love and transforms them into a valued amalgam.

Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos
Mary is part Cherokee, all Okie and tough.. Her claim to fame as a child is a newspaper picture of her grandfather, an accused murderer, who walks into a burning building rather than face the authorities. Mary learns many lessons from her mother, but the greatest is how to build a foundation. Silver takes us in Ma...more
Gary the Bookworm
We've all heard someone say that pictures don't lie -- which has always been a distortion of the truth. The earliest photographers learned how to manipulate an image to convey various messages. Pictures can be cropped, colored, or airbrushed to hide or highlight elements of the "truth" and the viewer's perception often depends on factors that go far beyond the factual circumstances of the subject matter. When Dorothea Lange snapped some pictures of a migrant family stranded on the roadside in 19...more
Chris Witkowski
In a haunting and heartbreaking novel that spans nearly 90 years, Marisa Silver imagines the back story behind the iconic photo, Migrant Mother, taken by Dorothea Lange in 1935. After the death of his beloved, but quite elusive father in 2010, Walker Dodge is left with the task of clearing out the family home, a onerous job for sure, but one that may finally provide some answers to the questions that have always percolated in his mind about his father's background. Why was the old man so secreti...more
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...more
Kristine Brancolini
I read an article on Marisa Silver in the LA Times and ran out to buy this book. Earlier this year I read Eight Girls Taking Pictures, based on the lives of lesser-known woman photographers, but Dorothea Lange and her photo Migrant Mother have always intrigued me. This beautifully-written book offers a fictional exploration of the lives two women that touch very briefly but with consequences for both women. The third main character, history professor Walker Dodge, is completely fictional and mor...more
I wish Silver had included an afterward detailing the parts of her story that are based on fact and the parts that came from her imagination. That said, if Walker is her invention and not based on a real person, I would have preferred the novel without him as he has little to do with the story other than the fact he’s an historian. Introducing him as a current day tie-in to the famous photograph only made for disjointed story-telling.

Silver writes about the two women during the Great Depression...more
Oh, but this was a hugely satisfying read. Speculative fiction? I adore thee.

Based on Dorothea Lange's famous photo Migrant Mother, Marisa Silver sets out to imagine the who of both the migrant in the photo and the photographer. The passage of time is so beautifully paced in this story that I think it is damn near perfect. Both women are exceptional- in their struggles, in their self-determination, and in their survival.


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...more
The story of the photograph of “The Migrant Mother” as told by author Marissa Silver absolutely fascinated me. I knew it was a fictionalized account, but I was willing to accept it as quite possibly true. The issues of motherhood and enduring extreme poverty are worthy of a long discussion.

At first, the only thing that bothered me was the jumping around of time periods. I wanted to know how old each character was at the time of the various events and the author made me figure that out on my own....more
OMG. Just finished this stunning beautiful fiction by Marisa Silver. Publishes in March but I was graced with an advanced reading copy. Her best yet and the book that will surely catapult her into national recognition. If the National Book Awards gave their award to beautiful fiction, instead of quirky fiction, this would at least capture a nomination. Gorgeous prose. Fantastically insightful observations on the human condition. Believable and moving characters. A beautifully structured story th...more
Book Concierge
In the depths of the Great Depression photographer Dorothea Lange was hired to capture the toll on American citizens. Her many photos were sent to Washington in the hopes that politicians would take action to help. Amid all the images of bread lines and field workers, one stood out; Migrant Mother showed a woman holding her baby, two other children clinging to her. That woman wasn’t named but she was Florence Owens Thompson. The power of the image was evident; within weeks of its publication mon...more
I would venture that most of us of an age of 40 or more are aware of the Dorothea Lange 1936 photograph called “Migrant Mother" who was actually Florence Owens Thompson. It has become an iconic image of the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression and the migration westward of the families driven from their homes at that time. The photograph, used as the cover of this book, immediately drew me to it.
Marisa Silver has imagined the lives behind this image and has drawn a unique vision of that era. Cas...more
Mary Coin is a fictionalized account of the lives of Florence Owens Thompson and Dorothea Lange, the subject and photographer behind the 1936 Migrant Mother photograph. Silver's novel involves us in the three stories: Walker Dodge (a purely invented character), a modern-day college professor and dissatisfied son and father; Vera Dare, a polio survivor struggling to find herself as an artist and a mother; and Mary Coin, a woman with much more basic struggles as the widowed mother of seven during...more

As is my custom, I will not give a complete synopsis of this book, but some discussion of the background should suffice. The photo on the front jacket is familiar to many of us. It is a view of a
woman of the depression era, a long- suffering, hard- toiling migrant worker. Of interest, the novel is actually inspired by this woman, Florence Thompson, who was “discovered” by photographer, Dorothea Lange.

Silver has related this tale by basing it on the difficult existence of Mary Coin, who married...more
Every once in awhile, I pick up a book, read the first couple of pages, and instantly know I am going to love it. That is certainly the case with Mary Coin. I was hooked from the very first page.

Author Marisa Silver's inspiration for this novel is Dorothea Lange’s iconic depression-era “Migrant Mother” photograph. Silver paints a fictional portrait of the photographer (renamed Vera Drake) and her subject (the Mary Coin of the title, standing in for the actual subject, Florence Owens Thompson.) W...more
Susan VanKirk
While reading books about how terrible life was for migrants in The Depression often depresses me, I gritted my teeth and started into this one. It is an amazing story, but more than that, it poses questions about the relationships between photographs, history, and truth.

The entire premise revolves around Dorothea Lange's "Migrant Mother" photograph from the Depression. Silver's fictional woman, Mary Coin, is the woman in the photograph and her life and what she endured during that time is the t...more
Mij Woodward
Thorouthly enjoyed this book!

Was so drawn into the stories of Mary Coin, and Vera Dare. Riveting. So beautifully imagined.

Gained perspective and curiosity about all the topics dealt with in this novel--how it must have felt to be a migrant worker in the '30's in California, how it might have felt to live with a disease like polio.

Loved the ending. Loved the way the lives of these people intertwined.

I do agree with some of the readers who felt that the character of Walker was not necessary. Howev...more
Jan 22, 2013 Diana rated it 5 of 5 stars
Shelves: 2013
I was thrilled to receive an advance copy of this book from I love really good historical fiction: the kind that sheds light on the time in which the book is set and gives the reader a deeper understanding of the lives and motivations of the people in it. Silver took a picture everyone knows and created an intricate, compelling back story peopled with believable and sympathetic characters. I love the way she pulled the stories of three people from completely different backgrounds...more
Maybe halfway through this book, I scanned a few Goodreads reviews, trying to figure out why it came so highly rated and recommended. But the review that resonated most with my experience reading it ended thusly: "This book is fine for people who enjoy chewing sawdust." OK! Not just me then!

The premise is interesting. It's a fictionalized version of the story behind the famous photograph "Migrant Mother." Silver invents a character behind the unknown-to-us mother, the photographer, and other pla...more
This is an excellent book, one of the best three or four novels I'll read this year. Marisa Silver has crafted a first rate story out of what I would have thought was a slim and rather daft idea, basing a novel on an iconic Depression-era photograph. But ideas come from who-knows-where, and as long as there is passion and talent behind them, a lot can achieved. That's what happens with Mary Coin.

Silver has constructed a triptych based on two real lives - the photographer Dorothea Lange and the s...more
4 1/2 stars: This work of fiction was inspired by the photograph “The Migrant Mother”. The photograph was taken by the Dorothea Lange when she was hired by the government to record what was happening to the migrants during the dust bowl in the 1930’s. The subject of the photograph, Florence Owens Thompson, was a mother of 7 children who happened to be at the side of the rode that Lange drove by. Silver changes their names to Vera Dare (photographer) and Mary Coin (subject). This is novel is a st...more
MARY COIN by Marisa Silver **1/2 ---2/7/13

This novel is inspired by a depression era photograph by Dorothea Lange, a portrait that went on to become a symbol of American poverty. Using this photo as it’s focus MARY COIN follows three story lines. Walker Dodge, an historian in present day California, and two characters in the 1920’s and 1930’s, Mary Coin the subject of the photo and Vera Dare the fictional photographer. The final point of this tale seems to be every ending is a new beginning. But...more
Gerri Leen
Some books meander around, jumping time and introducing characters that seem to have little to do with each other. This can be frustrating and I've been known to leave a book if it seems to jump too much or I can't see the threads. With this book, the journey was such a pleasure, the writing so sure, I didn't care. I figured the threads would join up eventually and in the meantime, I would just…trust. I'm not big on trust, so this is a rather large statement about the book and the author's skill...more
The cover of this book shows one of the most famous photographs . It was taken during the Dust Bowl Era during the Great Depression. The photograph, "Migrant Mother" was taken by photographer Dorothea Lange (Vera Dare in the book) of a 32-year old widowed mother of seven children as part of a project for the Federal Government, Farm Security Administration. Her purpose was to show the need of migrant workers for food, clothing, shelter. Lange never knew the name of the subject of what would beco...more
I found this novel to be a compelling read. The author's creative idea of imagining the lives of two women, based on the famed photographer, Dorothea Lange and one of her subjects, the woman in the iconic Depression Era photo, "Migrant Mother, Florence Thompson Owens. In the novel, the characters are named Vera Dare, and Mary Coin, respectively.
My only minor disappointment, as some others have noted, is the insertion of the character, Walter, a historian, who seems unnecessary to the storytellin...more
"The picture had been effective because every single person who looked at it had to decide whose side he was on. But over time it had been so reproduced, so co-opted, so burdened with the obligation to represent an entire era, that it had become something both more and less than the image she had taken that day," Marisa Silver writes. But the story she tells undoes that. There is no side here, so obligation any more. It's the story of a person who seems real and strong and imperfect. Dorothea La...more
Author Marisa Silver uses Dorothea Lange’s iconic “Migrant Mother” photograph as the base for this novel about three lives that intersect over the course of 90 years. Mostly, though, it’s the fictional account of two women: one, a photographer who is sent out by the government to document how the Depression is affecting everyday people; and two, “Mary Coin”, the migrant worker whose face comes to represent the poverty-stricken migrant workers of the 1930’s and eventually becomes one of the most...more
Lyrical and powerful fictionalized account of the famous Dorthea Lange photograph from the California migrant camps during the depression. Silver weaves together a beautiful story of three people and the intersections of their lives through a photograph. It is about maternal love and what some women will do (or won't do) to protect and take care of their children. It is about single parenthood (Mary, Vera and eventually Walker) as depicted in a variety economic conditions from dire poverty throu...more
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Marisa Silver is the author of the New York Times bestselling novel, Mary Coin (published by Blue Rider Press, March 7th, 2013).

Marisa Silver directed her first film, Old Enough, while she studied at Harvard University. The film won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance in 1984, when Silver was 23. Silver went on to direct three more feature films, Permanent Record (1988), with Keanu Reeves, Vital Si...more
More about Marisa Silver...
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“the sorrow she carried around that made her smile come a second too late and made her ears grow dull so that her children would have to call her three or four times before they could get her attention.” 2 likes
“Tell me how you are."
"I'm fine, Mother."
"No one is fine. Fine is a placeholder.”
More quotes…