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Mary Coin

3.90  ·  Rating details ·  7,878 ratings  ·  1,154 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 resting
Hardcover, 324 pages
Published March 7th 2013 by Blue Rider Press
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Julie These are my favorite type of questions, because they use the book to get at larger truths.

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Average rating 3.90  · 
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 ·  7,878 ratings  ·  1,154 reviews

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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.

Apr 29, 2014 rated it it was amazing

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
Apr 12, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: audible, hf, arts, usa
Are you curious about some of the true facts about Dorothea 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 Dorothea Lange.


On completion:
Actual rating if I was going to judge this book based solely on its entertainment and readability would be 4 stars. But I'm only giving this book 1 star!!!

Bear with me while I try to explain this as I'm stepping away from my normal grading scale for this one because something REALLY got under my skin and I refuse to grade this book higher than the one star I need in order to review. (I'll explain that in a bit.)

This would be my review if judging this book only by its merit of the writing and the
Jun 12, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
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.


Chris Witkowski
May 19, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
Gary  the Bookworm
May 18, 2014 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Kristine Brancolini
Mar 19, 2013 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Aug 08, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
Oct 09, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I loved this book. It is my kind of book - historical fiction.

Set primarily in depression era California, Mary Coin tells the saga of three inter-related people:

Mary Coin whose haunting visage was preserved forever in the iconic photograph, Migrant Mother.

Vera Dare, the woman who photographed her.

Walker Dodge, a present-day professor of cultural history, who discovers a family mystery embedded in the picture.

Mary Coin really existed and her picture was really taken. However her real name is
Aug 19, 2014 rated it really liked it
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 the 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 at
Jan 07, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Apr 22, 2014 rated it it was ok
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
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
Oct 01, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, history
The cover art of this book is adapted from Dorothea Lange's iconic Depression Era photograph “Migrant Mother.” As that image suggests, author Marisa Silver has grounded her story in the before and after of that moment. The fictionalized Lange character is named Vera Dare; the fictionalized subject of the photography (in real life her name was Florence Thompson) is the eponymous Mary Coin. Silver adds a third, entirely fictional character, Walker Dodge, whose voice is, in part, the author's, ...more
Jan 25, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
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 ...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.
Marty Selnick
Jan 01, 2013 rated it really liked it
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.
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 ...more
Apr 06, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Jan 27, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2013-books
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
Sep 13, 2015 rated it it was amazing
My book club discussed this in October. Both NPR and the BBC chose it for a Best Book of 2013, and in its interwoven tale of three characters (one present-day) is a great introduction to the history of migrant laborers in California during the Depression.
Jun 29, 2013 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Sep 23, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
I was drawn into this book right away. It tells the imagined stories of the young migrant worker who posed for a now infamous photograph with her children during the depression, the photographer who took her photo, and the descendant of the farm where the photo was taken. I have always been interested in photography and enjoy historically based fiction. This type of book naturally appealed to me.

The women in the book - the migrant worker and the photographer - are described as young adults,
Mar 02, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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.)
Susan Kirk
Jul 26, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Fred Forbes
Aug 15, 2015 rated it it was amazing
A very familiar face stared out at me from the stack of trade paperbacks at the small independent bookstore in New Hampshire but I had not seen it cropped so tightly or in color for that matter. It was "Migrant Mother" a picture taken by Dorthea Lange of Florence Owens Thompson as part of the WPA project during the Depression and which really captured the terrible reality faced by the Okies displaced from their land to the California fruit orchards. If you are a fan of Steinbeck's "Grapes of ...more
Feb 27, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: recent-reads
The image on the cover of this book is iconic. I taught The Grapes of Wrath for several years and my students always mentioned this image as exemplifying the experience of the families of The Great Depression.

I did have some knowledge of Lange (as a photographer), but only a semblance of what actually happened to this woman as a result of the picture. Silver gives us a realistic storyline of what Coin's life could have become and the complicated feelings she would have had over this image
Charlene Intriago
Author Marisa Silver has taken Dorothea Lange's "Migrant Mother" photograph and given us a story about the woman in the picture and the woman behind the camera. She changes their names but we know who they are. We go back and forth between Oklahoma and California (two states I am pretty familiar with), with a poignant description of life for a poor family in Oklahoma in the 1920s and a description of an even harder life once the family moves to California. The Depression hits, the Dust Bowl ...more
Mij Woodward
Mar 02, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: hist-fiction
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.
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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
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“Tell me how you are."
"I'm fine, Mother."
"No one is fine. Fine is a placeholder.”
“A picture doesn't bring someone to life. A picture is a death of the moment when the picture is taken. Whenever you look at a picture, time dies again.” 3 likes
More quotes…