Waiting for Robert Capa by Susana Fortes

Title: Waiting for Robert Capa
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

Rating: L-o-v-e-d!!!!
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.

*** *** ***

GIVEAWAY!

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.

Comments

  1. I have heard very little about this book, but your enthusiasm for it makes me want to do a little more exploring. I love it when a book sucks me in and doesn't let me up for air until it's over, which is what sounds like happened with you. Great review today. I will be looking into this one soon!

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  2. I really was just captured by the story and language from the first page -- I failed to see the romantic appeal of Andre/Capa but I appreciated that Gerda was very much in possession of her own skills in this story (reflecting her real life talents). I know Carrie/Nomadreader didn't like this book and I think two other folks on the tour couldn't finish it! :/ There were commas at random points in the text that especially distracted me -- but it wasn't enough to get me to stop lovin' on this book!

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  3. I had the opposite reaction. I hated this book. To be fair, I think the story would have fascinated me if I could have gotten past the writing style.

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  4. You and your awesome 3 hour books :) Lately I have had time for 30 min here and there

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  5. you know, your review gets me more than this cover. must read ;-D

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  6. I definitely want to read this one. I love reading books from that era and love reading about war correspondents!

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  7. Oh, I was almost on the tour for this! It looks soooo good and I'm glad you enjoyed it. I'll definitely be reading it.

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  8. I haven't read too much about war correspondents, so this one interests me.

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  9. @Anna: It's not WWII but it features the revolution in Spain with Franco and I think you'd really enjoy it. I think -- you might be with the others and not dig the writing style but at least the setting seems totally you!

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  10. @Lola: I was nervous when I read your review. For whatever reason, it didn't bother me (and as you saw, I rather liked it!).

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  11. I'm so glad you loved this one! I couldn't get past the grammar and punctuation, which is a shame, because I know there is a great story in there. I've been fascinated by Capa for years but never knew much about Gerda. I'll be curious to hear if the finished copy is an improvement!

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  12. I SO want to read this now. And the cover is totally intriguing.

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  13. It is funny how one book can strike several readers in completely different ways. I'm SO GLAD that you ended up enjoying this one - I'm sure you were quite concerned after seeing those other reviews.

    Thanks so much for being a part of the tour.

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