Char­i­ty Girl

  • Review
By – February 24, 2012

Acclaimed writer Michael Lowenthal’s absorb­ing his­tor­i­cal nov­el tells the lit­tle known sto­ry of the treat­ment of young women sus­pect­ed of pros­ti­tu­tion dur­ing World War I. Sev­en­teen-year-old Frie­da Mintz finds her­self in an unbear­able domes­tic sit­u­a­tion with her dif­fi­cult moth­er fol­low­ing the death of Frieda’s father. Instead of mar­ry­ing an unpleas­ant man twice her age, per her mother’s wish­es, Frie­da heads out on her own into Boston where she becomes a bun­dle wrap­per at a depart­ment store. Frie­da soon meets hand­some U.S. Army pri­vate Felix Morse at a parade, and when they meet again, they spend a whirl­wind day and reck­less night together. 

Trag­i­cal­ly, Frie­da con­tracts a sex­u­al­ly trans­mit­ted dis­ease from the young sol­dier. Then to make mat­ters much worse, a rep­re­sen­ta­tive from the Com­mit­tee on Pre­ven­tion of Social Evils Sur­round­ing Mil­i­tary Camps,” a moral gov­ern­men­tal cru­sade, soon comes to the depart­ment store look­ing for her. Even­tu­al­ly this com­mit­tee cap­tures Frie­da and keeps her against her will in a gov­ern­ment deten­tion cen­ter, all in the name of pro­tect­ing the troops. The sto­ry that unfolds is a dis­tress­ing yet heart­en­ing nar­ra­tive of Frieda’s strug­gle to remain inde­pen­dent and safe in the midst of this ter­ri­ble cri­sis. Through his superb use of his­tor­i­cal details and acute real­ism, Lowen­thal por­trays this appalling point in Amer­i­can his­to­ry, when hun­dreds of young women were held with­out any sus­pi­cion of a crime. Lowen­thal deserves high praise for both the con­cep­tion of the project and for its remark­able, tight­ly woven, and utter­ly com­pelling result.

Phil Sandick is a grad­u­ate of the Uni­ver­si­ty of Penn­syl­va­nia and the Uni­ver­si­ty of Wis­con­sin-Madi­son. He has taught cours­es in lit­er­a­ture, com­po­si­tion, and cre­ative writ­ing since 2006. Phil is cur­rent­ly study­ing rhetoric and com­po­si­tion at the Uni­ver­si­ty of North Car­oli­na-Chapel Hill.

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