The Bohemians by Jasmin Darznik

Dear Fellow Reader,

Dorothea Lange

We have been on a ride through genres lately right? We’ve hit non-fiction, Christian self-help, and romance in the last three weeks.

This week we are venturing into historical fiction. Yes, that genre that just keeps coming. Most of my trouble with historical fiction is that so much of what I have read centers around WWI, the time between the wars, or WWII. I am a bit tired of that time frame.

So let’s pick a different time. How about 1918 in San Francisco? That’s different, right? And interestingly, this author’s last book was about 1950s Tehran. The one thing I would say was the  common element in her books is that she finds fascinating woman characters to write about. In her earlier book, she wrote about Forugh Farrokhzad, an Iranian poet. (My review of Song of a Captive Bird can be found at

In The Bohemians, the central character is Dorothea Lange. While you may not recognize the name immediately, you are familiar with some of her work. As usual, when I started reading the book, I didn’t remember what about the book had intrigued me. I had liked Ms Darznik’s last book (I remembered it., which is saying something.) and so I accepted this book. (I received the book in advance of publication in exchange for an unbiased review.)

Dorothea (Dorrie) arrives in San Francisco in 1918 at the age of 23. The first thing that happens is that she loses all her money to a pick pocketer. She ends up spending her first night on the beach because she didn’t have money to get a place to sleep. The next morning, she hocks her most prized possession, her camera. And then she meets Carolyn Lee. Carolyn is half Chinese and is kind to Dorrie. She takes her to an inexpensive restaurant and then shows Dorrie her apartment in Monkey Block. (Monkey Block was an area in San Francisco where many artists lived. It was the bohemian heart of the city.)

Carolyn is quite sure that someone that lives in or is around Monkey Block can help Dorrie. With Carolyn’s help, Dorrie meets many of the famous and infamous artists in San Francisco. Dorrie and Carolyn form a close friendship that helps both of them.

The politics of the time play into the story. In that era in San Francisco, the Chinese were looked down upon and treated very poorly. They were not allowed to hold good jobs or live outside of certain districts. (Timely reading with our current issue with Asian hate crimes) Since Dorrie’s close friend was Chinese American, Dorrie sees the prejudice experienced by her close friend.

Dorrie has also suffered from polio as a child and as a result, has a limp. That influences how she views herself thought her life.

One of the people Dorrie meets is Maynard Dixon, the painter. Carolyn warns Dorrie to avoid him that he is trouble. Dorrie finds out quickly that he is fascinating, and that Carolyn was right. Dorrie also becomes friends with Ansel Adams.

Dorothea Lange’s famous photo

Dorothea Lange is known for her photojournalism, but she started out as a portrait photographer and that is how she made a living most of the time in San Francisco. It was interesting to read how she started and how her life changed.

  I enjoyed the book and am happy to suggest that you read it. The people and the times are interesting. Dorthea Lange was an exceptional woman. She has been brought to life in an interesting fashion in the book.

My only quibble with the book is at the very end. The last chapter skips ahead 10 years. Dorrie suddenly has major life changes that are given without much information. I understand why it was done but at the same time, it was a sudden shift. I did like the Epilogue and the Author’s Notes and the Historical Notes. Don’t skip them. There is interesting information there. The Historical Notes section gives a historical synopsis of the famous main characters.

Maynard Dix Painting “Thunder Over Ship Rock

Thanks for reading!

About Carol Early Cooney

I love to read. I love to share my thoughts on books and hope to hear what you think also. Looking to see what books I read beyond those I write about? Check out my Goodreads!
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