“To take a truly good picture you need to learn to see, not just look.”
In 1918, a young and bright-eyed Dorothea Lange arrives in San Francisco, where a disaster kick-starts a new life. Her friendship with Caroline Lee, a vivacious, straight-talking Chinese American with a complicated past, gives Dorothea entrée into Monkey Block, an artists' colony and the bohemian heart of the city. Dazzled by Caroline and her friends, Dorothea is catapulted into a heady new world of freedom, art, and politics. She also finds herself unexpectedly falling in love with the brilliant but troubled painter Maynard Dixon. Dorothea and Caroline eventually create a flourishing portrait studio, but a devastating betrayal pushes their friendship to the breaking point and alters the course of their lives.
The Bohemians captures a glittering and gritty 1920s San Francisco, with a cast of unforgettable characters, including cameos from such legendary figures as Mabel Dodge Luhan, Frida Kahlo, Ansel Adams, and D.H. Lawrence. A vivid and absorbing portrait of the past, it is also eerily resonant with contemporary themes, as anti-immigration sentiment, corrupt politicians, and a devastating pandemic bring tumult to the city—and the gift of friendship and the possibility of self-invention persist against the ferocious pull of history.
As Dorothea sheds her innocence, her purpose is awakened and she grows into the artist who would create pictures—like her iconic Depression-era photograph, Migrant Mother—that would break the hearts and open the eyes of a nation.
Dorothea Lange once famously said, "art is an act of total attention." Jasmin Darznik's breathtaking novel THE BOHEMIANS accomplishes that and more. Not only did it have me riveted from start to finish, through her words, history powerfully speaks to the present moment.
You’ll never look at a Dorothea Lange photograph the same way after reading Darznik’s compelling portrait of the trailblazer who carved a glorious path through 1920s San Francisco. Darznik doesn’t flinch when confronting the parallels to today, whether racism or anti-immigrant sentiment, yet her impeccable research grounds the story firmly in the heyday of the Jazz Age. A superb read.
A beautiful literary portrait of the one and only Dorothea Lange. Jasmin Darznik expertly delivers in this an intriguing glimpse into the woman behind those unforgettable photographs of the Great Depression’s and their impact on humanity. Highly readable and utterly relevant to our times. I was transported.
In her riveting and resonant new novel, Jasmin Darznik captures San Francisco’s heyday through the eyes of one of its most iconic residents. By exploring how Dorothea Lange witnessed her troubled and momentous times, Darznik speaks directly to our own.
"It's an odd thing, but anyone who disappears is said to be seen in San Francisco."
A new city can change you, in the way a friend can change you, and there are moments in life where both happen at once. San Francisco was such a point of intersection for Dorothea Lange.
The Bohemians focuses on a time when she wasn’t yet an icon, but rather a young woman finding her way forward through life. In writing it, I wanted to think about what had made her who she became. I wanted to explore the beginnings of her career, her start as a photographer at a time when photography wasn’t commonly thought of as art or documentary. I wanted to trace how her training as a high-society portrait photographer prepared her for what came next: her life’s work documenting ordinary and often unseen people. And I wanted to explore the ways that San Francisco, and California more broadly, transformed her sense of herself as both a woman and a photographer.
"I let my hands drop to my sides and looked at my reflection more closely. The dress was a low-necked cocktail gown, robin’s egg blue. Voluptuous, rich, intoxicating. Silk—it had to be. The dress was a bit loose in the chest and I’d never worn anything like it, not by a mile. Not by ten miles. But it was very beautiful and, anyway, didn’t I want a change? Wasn’t that the point of leaving home in the first place?"
“You’ll never look at a Dorothea Lange photograph the same way after reading Darznik’s compelling portrait of the trailblazer who carved a glorious path through 1920s San Francisco. Darznik doesn’t flinch when confronting the parallels to today, whether racism or anti-immigrant sentiment, yet her impeccable research grounds the story firmly in the heyday of the Jazz Age. A superb read.”
Fiona Davis, New York Times bestselling author of The Lions of Fifth Avenue