In Jasmin Darznik’s brilliant historical novel, we join Dorothea Lange in 1918 as she arrives in San Francisco—destitute, friendless, and with only one valuable possession, her camera. She soon meets a talented Chinese woman who, in a time of hideous anti-Chinese campaigns, becomes Dorothea’s friend, mentor, and business partner. Together they open a photography studio, an unheard of enterprise for women. Jasmin Darznik brings Dorothea Lange, her friends, her lovers and her times into perfect focus.— From Elaine & Luisa's Picks: Spring 2021
A dazzling novel of one of America’s most celebrated photographers, Dorothea Lange, exploring the wild years in San Francisco that awakened her career-defining grit, compassion, and daring.
“Jasmin Darznik expertly delivers an intriguing glimpse into the woman behind those unforgettable photographs of the Great Depression, and their impact on humanity.”—Susan Meissner, bestselling author of The Nature of Fragile Things
In 1918, a young and bright-eyed Dorothea Lange steps off the train in San Francisco, where a disaster kick-starts a new life. Her friendship with Caroline Lee, a vivacious, straight-talking Chinese American with a complicated past, gives Dorothea entrée into Monkey Block, an artists’ colony and the bohemian heart of the city. Dazzled by Caroline and her friends, Dorothea is catapulted into a heady new world of freedom, art, and politics. She also finds herself unexpectedly falling in love with the brilliant but troubled painter Maynard Dixon. Dorothea and Caroline eventually create a flourishing portrait studio, but a devastating betrayal pushes their friendship to the breaking point and alters the course of their lives.
The Bohemians captures a glittering and gritty 1920s San Francisco, with a cast of unforgettable characters, including cameos from such legendary figures as Mabel Dodge Luhan, Frida Kahlo, Ansel Adams, and D. H. Lawrence. A vivid and absorbing portrait of the past, it is also eerily resonant with contemporary themes, as anti-immigration sentiment, corrupt politicians, and a devastating pandemic bring tumult to the city—and the gift of friendship and the possibility of self-invention persist against the ferocious pull of history.
As Dorothea sheds her innocence, her purpose is awakened and she grows into the figure we know from history—the artist whose iconic Depression-era photographs like “Migrant Mother” broke the hearts and opened the eyes of a nation.
About the Author
Jasmin Darznik’s debut novel, Song of a Captive Bird, was a New York Times Book Review “Editors’ Choice,” a Los Angeles Times bestseller, longlisted for the Center for Fiction Prize, and awarded the Writers’ Center’s First Novel Prize. Darznik is also the author of the New York Times bestseller The Good Daughter: A Memoir of My Mother’s Hidden Life. Her books have been published in seventeen countries. She was born in Tehran, Iran, and came to America when she was five years old. She holds an MFA in fiction from Bennington College, a JD from the University of California, and a PhD in English from Princeton University. Now a professor of English and creative writing at California College of the Arts, she lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her family.
“In her riveting and resonant new novel, Jasmin Darznik captures San Francisco’s heyday through the eyes of one of its most iconic residents. By exploring how Dorothea Lange witnessed her troubled and momentous times, Darznik speaks directly to our own.”—Anthony Marra, author of A Constellation of Vital Phenomena
“Dorothea Lange once famously said, ‘art is an act of total attention.’ Jasmin Darznik’s breathtaking novel The Bohemians accomplishes that and more. Not only did it have me riveted from start to finish, through her words, history powerfully speaks to the present moment.”—Lara Prescott, author of The Secrets We Kept
“A beautiful literary portrait of the one and only Dorothea Lange. Jasmin Darznik expertly delivers in this intriguing glimpse into the woman behind those unforgettable photographs of the Great Depression’s impact on humanity. Highly readable and utterly relevant to our times. I was transported.”—Susan Meissner, bestselling author of The Nature of Fragile Things
“You’ll never look at a Dorothea Lange photograph the same way after reading Darznik’s compelling portrait of the trailblazer who carved a glorious path through 1920s San Francisco. Darznik doesn’t flinch when confronting the parallels to today, whether racism or anti-immigrant sentiment, yet her impeccable research grounds the story firmly in the heyday of the Jazz Age. A superb read.”—Fiona Davis, New York Times bestselling author of The Lions of Fifth Avenue
“Historical readers will treasure this engaging story . . . Darznik deftly depicts Lange's transformation into a renowned photographer.”—Library Journal
“A powerful novel about a woman who shuns convention to follow her passion.”—Kirkus
“Darznik is adept at depicting Dorothea’s evolving worldview as well as San Francisco a decade after the earthquake, a “world of raw possibility,” especially for women artists.”—Publishers Weekly
“Modern echoes abound in a city under a pall of economic turmoil and racial disharmony advanced by politicians for their own ends as well as the global influenza pandemic. Darznik has created an arresting portrait of two women set before an illuminating backdrop.”—Booklist
“If you loved Song of a Captive Bird like I did, you will want to read the latest creative historical biography by Jasmin Darznik. Darznik paints an illuminative portrait of the photographer and the woman.”—Ms. Magazine
“Lange's story begins when she arrives in 1918 San Francisco . . . spinning into an all-too relevant tale of a woman dealing with a pandemic, rising anti-immigration sentiment, and a tumultuous political climate.”—PopSugar