Eight Girls Taking Pictures
This captivating novel opens in 1917 as Cymbeline Kelley surveys the charred remains of her photography studio, destroyed in a fire started by a woman hired to help take care of the house while Cymbeline pursued her photography career. This tension— between wanting and needing to be two places at once; between domestic duty and ambition; between public and private life; between what’s seen and what’s hidden from view—echoes in the stories of the other seven women in the book. Among them: Amadora Allesbury, who creates a world of color and whimsy in an attempt to recapture the joy lost to WWI; Clara Argento, who finds her voice working alongside socialist revolutionaries in Mexico; Lenny Van Pelt, a gorgeous model who feels more comfortable photographing the deserted towns of the French countryside after WWII than she does at a couture fashion shoot; and Miri Marx, who has traveled the world taking pictures, but also loves her quiet life as a wife and mother in her New York apartment. Crisscrossing the world and a century, Eight Girls Taking Pictures is an affecting meditation on the conflicts women face and the choices they make. These memorable characters seek extraordinary lives through their work, yet they also find meaning and reward in the ordinary tasks of motherhood, marriage, and domesticity. Most of all, this novel is a vivid portrait of women in love—in love with men, other women, children, their careers, beauty, and freedom.
As she did in her bestselling novel How to Make an American Quilt, Whitney Otto offers a finely woven, textured inquiry into the intersecting lives of women. Eight Girls Taking Pictures is her most ambitious book: a bold, immersive, and unforgettable narrative that shows how the art, loves, and lives of the past influence our present.
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PART 1: AMERICA
The Third Fire Lit by Mary Doyle, 1917
The kitchen smelled like burnt wood and water. Cymbeline closed her eyes and imagined that she and Leroy were breaking camp on a cool morning in the Olympics, the carried river water flooding the remains of the breakfast fire before they set out for a day of photography and... see more
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Reading Group Guide
This mesmerizing novel reimagines the public and private lives of eight groundbreaking female photographers and illuminates their shared dreams and struggles. Eight Girls Taking Pictures offer a fascinating portrait gallery of spirited, creative women across time and against the backdrop of some of the twentieth century’s most momentous events. Eight Girls Taking Pictures is about women and the tension they experience—between wanting a private life or a public life; love or passion; art or domesticity; children or creative freedom. Each of these women comes from different circumstances and live at different times in history, yet, they all struggle with similar desires, dreams, and aspirations.
Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. Eight Girls Taking Pictures spans the greater part of the twentieth century. How did the roles of women in society change during this time? How about women artists specifically? What might 21st-century women be able to learn from the novel’s main characters?