Recently, while PBS was airing the documentary The Dust Bowl by Ken Burns, I bought Mary Coin by Marisa Silver. I simply bought it because of the image on the cover which was in the film and which I had seen hundreds of times before – the photo of a worried, careworn woman with her children and baby, refugees from the 1930s Dust Bowl in the USA. That bony face, that might have been attractive once, the grimy children with their thick hair and backs to the camera, the bundle of rags on her lap that is her baby. The obvious hunger and hopelessness in her that have driven her beyond caring or embarrassment.
I always wondered how that photo came about. Who was that woman? This novel answers both questions – imagined answers, but even so pretty close to the truth. It is fiction, but the two main characters, the mother and her photographer, are based on the real people; Florence Owens Thompson, the “Migrant Mother” made so famous in the photo, and Dorothea Lange, the photographer, who became as famous as her subject. (Continue reading…)