Monday, October 3, 2011

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.

*** *** ***


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.


  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!

  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!

  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.

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

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

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

  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.

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

  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!

  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!).

  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!

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

  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.