cover image The Bohemians

The Bohemians

Jasmin Darznik. Ballantine, $28 (352p) ISBN 978-0-593-12943-2

Darznik returns after Song of a Captive Bird, about Iranian poet Forugh Farrokhzad, with another portrait of a historical creative woman, this time photographer Dorothea Lange. As things open in 1918, Dorothea has left her native New Jersey at 23 with the intention to travel to Mexico, but gets stranded in San Francisco after being robbed. There, she quickly establishes herself as a portraitist, taking photographs of San Francisco’s rich and powerful while befriending members of the city’s artistic class. Darznik’s primary aim is to reclaim the figure of Lange’s Chinese assistant, whose name has been lost to history. Here, she’s Caroline Lee, a passionate fashion designer who introduces Dorothea to other artists and supports her work. Lee’s increasing vulnerability to post-WWI xenophobia open Dorothea’s eyes to a variety of injustices, and eventually Dorothea schemes with another photographer to help Lee. 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 (at least until they marry). Less successful are the novel’s largely superfluous closing chapter and epilogue, which gloss over the following decades of Lange’s life and more familiar photographic work. Still, Darznik’s rich and rewarding introduction to Lange’s early milieu makes this worthwhile. (Apr.)