Michael Lowenthal

  • 2007
  • Houghton Mifflin
  • ISBN 0618546294
  • Hardcover, Paperback, Kindle
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Charity Girl

  • A New York Times Book Review "Editors' Choice"
  • A Washington Post "Top Fiction of 2007" selection

Charity Girl examines a dark period in our history, when fear and patriotic fervor led to devastating consequences. During World War I, the U.S. government waged a moral and medical campaign, incarcerating and quarantining 15,000 young women who were found to have venereal disease.

Frieda Mintz is a Jewish seventeen-year-old bundle wrapper at Jordan Marsh in Boston; she's 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 impulsive 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, Michael 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.

Praise for Charity Girl

"Lively and illuminating ... [Lowenthal] has accomplished the difficult feat of marrying the facts of history with the details that make a fictional life come alive. That few readers of Lowenthal's deserving novel will ever have heard of the detention of the 'charity girls' is astonishing. That Lowenthal has made us aware of them is nothing short of a gift." Anita Shreve for Washington Post

"Lowenthal's narrative style is perfect for a heroine who suffers but remains a survivor, striking just the right mix of dark and light, worldly and innocent... A convincing portrait of a long-lost world." New York Times Book Review

"Expect to be drawn into this absorbing page-turner." USA Today

"Engaging historical page-turner ... Lowenthal grasps the brash, unlettered, raucous and messy spirit of the times vividly. It's a measure of the author's success that you keep hoping for a fairy-tale ending even when every clue hints that nothing similar is remotely possible." San Francisco Chronicle

"Charity Girl tells a deeply disturbing story with compassion and sly cleverness." Boston Globe

"Harrowing, yet inspiring, this historical novel explores a shameful secret. ... Rich in period detail, swift-paced prose, and deserved political outrage." Kirkus (Starred Review)

"[Lowenthal] uses the historical footnote as a backdrop for a lively, emotion-laden novel of an irrepressible young woman's punishment for rebelling against upbringing and society, and how imprisonment and calamity brings out hidden strengths." Philadelphia Inquirer

"Captivating ... memorable ... Lowenthal writes in a tempo that keeps this a spirited and exciting story. Recommended for all public libraries." Library Journal

"Lowenthal ably captures the transformation of a naive adolescent into a woman in his provocative story." Publishers Weekly

"A harrowing story." New York Daily News

"Well-told, finely detailed ... manages to both illuminate and entertain. It's a real find." The Buffalo News

"Through the hardships of a fictional girl at a detention camp, Lowenthal skillfully lends voice to these women, while raising issues that feel relevant and immediate today." Boston Magazine

"One of the pleasures of reading historical fiction is discovering forgotten or little-known figures or campaigns of the past. In Charity Girl, Michael Lowenthal has unearthed a doozy and brings it ringingly to life with a contemporary resonance." Hartford Courant

"Charity Girl establishes [Michael Lowenthal] as one of the country's finest authors ... A resplendent, unforgettable novel." Bookslut

"The author uses spiraling tension and haunting imagery as he traces Frieda's journey from awkward adolescent into full-fledged womanhood ... Lowenthal fans will snap this one up." BookPage

"Sensitive ... A haunting reminder of the perils of punishment." Out Magazine

"Engaging ... vividly rendered." The L Magazine

"Even while capturing the great sweep of the period, Charity Girl celebrates most the depth of the characters' lives and the immediate energy of Boston circa World War I. Never opting for simplistic political parallels, Michael Lowenthal evokes empathy in unpredictable and touching ways through his crisp, charming prose. Highly accomplished, Charity Girl is a gift to all readers of quality historical and literary fiction." Matthew Pearl, author of The Dante Club and The Poe Shadow

"This is a deeply affecting and important novel. With Charity Girl, Michael Lowenthal at a stroke establishes himself as a significant voice in American fiction. All good historical novels mirror the past in ways that interpret the present, and this novel does just that. It's a vivid story about a shameful chapter in U.S. history, and one that has obvious implication for the current political crisis. I was thoroughly engaged by Frieda Mintz, and her life and predicament will stay with me for years to come." Jay Parini, author of The Last Station and The Apprentice Lover