Learning to See: A Novel of Dorothea Lange, the Woman Who Revealed the Real America by Elsie Hooper
I received a free copy of this book from the publisher (William Morrow) in exchange for an honest review.
Prior to reading this book, I had never heard of Dorothea Lange but after finishing, I’m sure I won’t forget. In fact, I was motivated to do some research on her work as a documentary photographer.
Lange, an ambitious woman, knew exactly what she wanted and went after it. She established a successful portrait studio, fell in love with a much older man, Maynard Dixon, a famous artist and has 2 sons. Life seems picture perfect but Lange starts to see life differently. In the face of the Great Depression and World War II, Lange decided to use her photography to tell the story of people, in dire straits, to be their advocate, so that people could SEE what was going on in the world around them. Lange chose not to ignore what was happening and her work as a photographer captures candidly the honest reality of a world in turmoil.
As I read this book, I was reminded of other books that discuss similar periods of American history, The Grapes of Wrath (John Steinbeck), Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet (Jamie Ford), and Snow Falling on Cedars (David Guterson). Through the lense of Lange’s work, I could SEE another dimension to the pain and suffering of so many people.
Lange’s enthusiasm for her work took an emotional toil on her family. Her and her husband sepereate and eventually divorce, her sons live with foster families because Lange felt this was the best way to ensure her kids didn’t face homelessness or starvation. Her her oldest son Don struggled with his mother’s decisions and openly rebels, but by the time the book ends, I feel both of them have developed a sort of empathy for the other, and have learned to SEEthings from the others perspective.This historical fiction account of her life was very good and I’d recommend it. I’d like to read some of the non-fiction books the author includes in her sources and maybe I’ll start with Dorothea Lange : A Life Beyond Limits by Linda Gordon.
Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand
“Though all three men faced the same hardship, their differing perceptions of it appeared to be shaping their fates. Louie and Phil’s hope displaced their fear and inspired them to work toward their survival, and each success renewed their physical and emotional vigor. Mac’s resignation seemed to paralyze him, and the less he participated in their efforts to survive, the more he slipped. Though he did the least, as the days passed, it was he who faded the most. Louie and Phil’s optimism, and Mac’s hopelessness, were becoming self-fulfilling.”
At the urging of a friend who was listening to this book on audio (and telling me about the movie, which I’ve seen part of the old one but a new one is out soon/now), about the true story of Louie Zamperini, I decided to pick it up too. The beginning of the book was fairly easy to read, Louie is a rambunctious sort but under the tutelage of his brother Pete, he learns to challenge that energy, developing a remarkable talent as an athlete, a runner. When Louie goes to the Olympics in Berlin and competes there, he meets Jesse Owens, a famous black runner. I thought back to a report I completed about Owens when I was a kid and thought how great it would be to meet him.
As the book progresses, we follow Louie as he joins the military as an airman during WWII. One tragedy after another befalls Louie culminating in his capture by the Japanese as a POW for over 2 years. The conditions were horrifying and I had to take breaks from reading. The book shows the resilience and endurance of the human spirit in the face of tragedy.
Have you read either one of these books? What do you think about these mini reviews? Does either one of these books remind you of something you’ve read recently and can recommend for me?