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Summary

A dazzling novel of one of America’s most celebrated photographers, Dorothea Lange, exploring the wild years in San Francisco that awakened her career-defining grit, compassion, and daring.

“Jasmin Darznik expertly delivers an intriguing glimpse into the woman behind those unforgettable photographs of the Great Depression, and their impact on humanity.” (Susan Meissner, bestselling author of The Nature of Fragile Things)

In 1918, a young and bright-eyed Dorothea Lange steps off the train 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, The Bohemians shows how 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 figure we know from history - the artist whose iconic Depression-era photographs like “Migrant Mother” broke the hearts and opened the eyes of a nation.

©2021 Jasmin Darznik (P)2021 Random House Audio

Critic reviews

“If you loved Song of a Captive Bird like I did, you will want to read the latest creative historical biography by Jasmin Darznik. Featuring the photographer Dorothea Lange in 1920s San Francisco, Darznik paints an illuminative portrait of the photographer and the woman.” (Ms. Magazine, Most Anticipated Reads for the Rest of Us 2021)

“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.” (Booklist)

“You’ll never look at a Dorothea Lange photograph the same way after reading Jasmin 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.” (Fiona Davis, New York Times best-selling author of The Lions of Fifth Avenue)

What listeners say about The Bohemians

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  • Richard
  • 17-06-21

Pleasure to read

Very well done insights into an era, a culture, social issues of racism, all in addition to the story of a wonderful photographer. If your interests include San Francisco or photography, this is a must read. For everyone else it’s just a delight

1 person found this helpful

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  • dory f
  • 06-10-21

Loved this - great storytelling

Fascinating history of San Francisco woven together by the story of the artists who lived there. The author takes you back in time so you understand what SF was like after the 1906 earthquake, during the Spanish Flu pandemic and through political and cultural changes. The parallels to our current times are astounding. Read it for book club and was loved by all!

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  • Claudio Salusso
  • 01-10-21

Fascinating time, people and place

All put together in a story that feels kind of frivolous. I continually wished I was reading biography instead of historical fiction. These people must have been more interesting than their portrayal in The Bohemians.

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  • SDT
  • 27-08-21

Timely Read during Pandemic

This book beautifully describes the life of an amazing woman and the incredible people that intersected her life, during a time in history that is replaying itself again today.

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  • B. Johns
  • 02-07-21

Reading it probably would have been better

I was really drawn to the premise and tried really hard to get into it. Ultimately, the narrator put me off to the extent that I had to give up.

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  • Damarys Reyes Geronimo
  • 09-05-21

Excellent read

I couldn't stop listening! The descriptions made you feel like you were there at that time.

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  • Lynn Hall
  • 09-05-21

Excellent

This is my 1st book for May...looking forward to it! 4⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Update: while I knew a little of the photographs of Dorothea Lange...this book brings them to life with a velocity of vision! The collective relationship between the artists of early 1900’s SanFransisco and their shared creativity exploded with the expansion of women in the community...the one thing that is expressed throughout the book is the concept of: if we don’t learn from the past we are doomed to repeat it!!!