To read this book today is an unsettling reminder of just how much history repeats itself ... It is in this historical moment that Darznik aims to show us how Dorrie from New Jersey becomes the famous Farm Security Administration photographer Dorothea Lange. She doesn’t do a very good job at it. The author is strongest at describing Lange’s often horrific childhood, but as the book progresses, it feels more and more like historical fiction lite ... Though Lange would ultimately go on to take some of the most arresting images of Depression-era America, that part of her life isn’t covered in The Bohemians. Darznik never manages to get into the mind of Lange, who I am reasonably sure never said something as banal as 'to take a truly good picture you have to learn to see, not just look' ... It’s far too common for female protagonists in historical fiction to come off as wide-eyed and plucky heroines, even if they’re not ... I was waiting for writing that would bring the area, its history and its denizens to life. We never get a sense of what had to be a notoriously lawless and rowdy place. It all feels oddly sanitized, as if Darznik’s book had been censored by San Francisco’s then-Mayor James Rolph, who infamously crusaded against prostitution, alcohol and homosexuality.
... succeeds on all levels ... Lange’s background—her upbringing, devastation by polio, and painful marriage—and the effect on her photography are likewise engrossing ... 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. Lange would be proud.
Historical fiction readers will treasure this engaging story peppered with notable figures from Lange’s circle of friends, including D. H. Lawrence, Ansel Adams, Maynard Dixon, and Frida Kahlo. Darznik deftly depicts Lange’s transformation into a renowned photographer, as well as the blatant prejudice that Caroline encounters because of her Chinese lineage.