Wednesday, January 25, 2012

"Waiting for Robert Capa," by Susana Fortes

Gerda Taro was a pearl with no oyster in which to enfold herself.

She's the one "Waiting for Robert Capa," a Hungarian photographer named Andre who she coddled, loved, and turned into an international artistic product.

Taro herself was one of those strong and independent women in a time when her gender was allowed no such prerogative and those who chose to exercise it were left on the vine to dry and die.

"Waiting for Robert Capa," is the story of their brief, youthful, and productive love affair. It is, in her case, a holocaust story because she is a displaced Polish Jew who does not survive the Nazis and Fascists of her time.

And it is mostly Gerda's story. That of a woman whom watching evoked, "an Angora cat hunt down a mouse with the street smarts of a stray," someone, author Susana Fortes tells us, who was "automatically loved. It's something you're born with, like the way you laugh as you tell a joke in a low voice."

The couple meet in Paris after being chased from their respective homelands. Fortes' strongest contribution may be her depiction of how suffocating and terrifying Fascism had become for the average person in the European street.

The portrayal suggests the couple were happier in a war zone, where they could be free, where utility outranked pedigree, and where they could confront the enemy earlier than most.

Fortes puts these characters into Spanish Civil War action at the places history knows they had been: the defense of Madrid, the refugees' flight from Malaga, the exiled government in Valencia, and the fateful battle of Brunete.

She peppers her text with the names of forgotten poets and International Brigadists in the style of Mexican writer Elena Poniatowska.

But mostly Fortes imagines the internal and emotional lives of her subjects, the lovers Gerda and Capa, although these inner personalities are not put into "play" very often. Rather the author tells us what they are thinking about themselves and one another, mixes said feelings with politics, Jewish identity, and their zest for life into an interesting, if low-volume literary affair.

Although the players in action took more work, and despite the fact "Waiting..." is situated in war time, the author favors the internal dialogues and, as such, this book is mostly a projected mapping of these two peoples' emotional souls.

This is a European romance of the old-fashioned kind that continues the ongoing effort to recuperate the memories of remarkable people forgotten, because they were losers in a chapter most critical to modern history.

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