By Michael Lowenthal
(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Hardcover, 9780618546299, 336pp.)
Publication Date: January 2007
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Frieda Mintz is a seventeen-year-old Jewish bundle wrapper at Jordan Marsh in Boston; she struck out on her own in the wake of her mother's determination to marry her off to a wealthy man twice her age. Then she spends one impuslive night with "a mensch, a U.S. Army private, ready to brave the trenches Over There." Unfortunately, Felix Morse leaves Frieda not just with vivid memories but with an unspeakable disease. Soon after, she is tracked down and sent to a makeshift detention center, where she suffers invasive physical exams, the discipline of an overbearing matron, and a painful erosion of self-worth. She's buoyed, though, by the strong women around her -- her fellow patients and a sympathetic social worker -- who, in depending on one another, seek to forge a new independence.
In smart, unusually determined Frieda Mintz, Michale Lowenthal has deftly created a most winning heroine through which to tell this troubling tale. Charity Girl lays bare an ugly part of our past when the government exercised a questionable level of authority at the expense of some of its most vulnerable citizens; it also casts long shadows, exploring timely questions of desire, identity, and the balance between the public good and individual freedom.
MICHAEL LOWENTHAL is the author of the acclaimed novels Charity Girl, Avoidance, and The Same Embrace. He has written for the New York Times Magazine, the New York Times Book Review, the Washington Post Book World, the Boston Globe, the San Francisco Bay Guardian, and many other publications. He teaches writing at Boston College and Lesely University. Charity Girl was inspired by a line in Susan Sontag's AIDS and Its Metaphors, in which she likens the incarceration of American women during World War I to the internment of Americans of Japanese ancestry during World War II. Lowenthal says, "The latter historical episode I had, of course, heard about, but not the first . . . I immediately had two thoughts: (1) how awful, and (2) what a great basis for a novel."