Waiting for Robert Capa by Susana Fortes
Author: Susana Fortes
Genre: Fiction (Historical / 1930s / Paris / Spain / Photography / Historical Figure Fictionalized)
Publisher/Publication Date: Harper Perennial (9/27/2011)
Source: TLC Book Tours
Did I finish?: Yes, another read I finished in about three hours.
One-sentence summary: Two Jewish refugees meet in Paris in 1935, and reinvent themselves as Robert Capa and Gerda Taro, war correspondents.
Reading Challenges: Eastern European, Historical Fiction, Paris: The Luminous Years
Do I like the cover?: I love it -- if my research is correct, it's an image of Gerda Taro from 1937.
I'm reminded of...: Penelope Fitzgerald, Michael Ondaatje, Jeanette Winterson
First line: It's always too late to turn back.
Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Buy, buy, buy (or borrow, at least, if you like literary historical fiction or Penelope Fitzgerald).
Why did I get this book?: I love war correspondents and this era. And women kicking butt and taking names.
Review: Shamefully, I had no idea who Robert Capa and Gerda Taro were when I started this book, but I now feel possessive and proud and affectionate toward Gerda Taro and I dare anyone to read this and not feel the same. In 1935, Jewish refugees Gerda Pohorylle and André Friedmann meet in Paris; André is a photographer who books Gerda's friend as a model for advertising images. Gerda becomes interested in the art of photography; her friend predicts a romance.
The novel is told through Gerda Pohorylle (mostly; the POV does shift to André/Capa at times, usually during sex) -- who later renames herself Gerda Taro -- but the story is really about the creation of Robert Capa and André's genius, temper, and passion. Robert Capa is an assumed name, created by Gerda as a way for she and André to make more money from his (and occasionally her) photographs.
I was pretty apprehensive about this one since a number of bloggers I trust didn't like this book, but once I started, I was surprised. I was immediately sucked in by the story -- Gerda is an amazing figure, and while I don't understand the appeal of André/Capa, I liked the way Fortes unfolded their romance and Gerda's education in photography. I was quite taken with the language and turn-of-phrase (like this, from page 3: "She preferred English poetry a million times over. One poem by Eliot can free you from evil, she thought. God didn't even help me escape that Wachterstrasse prison." Or this one, from page 6: "If sound waves travel through the ether, then somewhere in the galaxy there must also be the Psalms, litanies, and prayers of men floating within the stars.") and so I was surprised by the critiques that the writing/translation was problematic.
And then, I started to notice the weird grammar/punctuation issues. I'm not spectacular with grammar, yet I found now and then some really atrocious sentences and punctuation gaffes. Perhaps the result of my reading an uncorrected proof; perhaps this is a bad translation. Maybe something else entirely. But it didn't bother me enough to leave this book unfinished, and I think there is some really gorgeous language here and a heartbreaking, moving story. This is one that will stick with me (I'm still sighing over it to friends and colleagues) and I have no doubt this will be a frequent reread for me.
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I'm thrilled to offer a copy of Waiting for Robert Capa to one lucky reader! To enter, fill out this short form. Open to US/CA readers, closes 10/28.
For more info about Waiting for Robert Capa and to see the other blogs on tour, check out the TLC Book Tours webpage.