Lynn: One important tenet of reviewing books is that you review the book you have not the book you WISH you had. I’m running aground a bit on staying with that in my consideration of Kip Wilson’s new verse novel, One Last Shot: The Story of Wartime Photographer Gerda Taro (Harper/Versify, 2023).
Wilson introduces readers to a young Gerta Pohorylle who has immigrated with her Jewish family to Germany. Gerta was a bright student who learned early to live two very separate lives, downplaying her Jewish faith, but keenly aware of a feeling of being “other.” Gerta was drawn early to oppose the growing repression of the fascism coming to power in the 1930s and worked actively for workers’ rights. After being arrested and held for 3 weeks by the Gestapo, Gerta and her family made the decision for her to leave Stuttgart and move to Paris. Struggling to survive, Gerta met and connected with other leftist young people, growing more and more involved with working against fascist regimes. It is during this time that she met and fell in love with Andre Friedmann. Andre sparked her passion for photography and the power of photojournalism and she practiced intensely with any camera she could borrow. It was during this period they adopted the names Gerda Taro and Robert Capa.
Wilson uses free verse to tell Taro’s story and the verse is wonderfully written. Vivid and evocative, it is written in present tense and provides snapshots of time, Gerda’s feelings, and reactions to the intensity of the events unfolding around her. Wilson does an excellent job of presenting Taro as a fierce, independent, and exuberant spirit determined to make her own way. She also provides the extremely complicated historical background of the time. Is there ANY period in history more convoluted than the Spanish Civil War??? I think Wilson gives teens an excellent grasp of the major issues of the period without slowing the pace of the narrative. So—I see real value in this book in that I think Wilson introduces an extraordinary talent to another generation and I hope they will be motivated to seek more information.
And here is where I veer from the path of reviewing. Wilson discusses in the back matter that while “sticking to the basic facts she has fictionalized Gerda’s thoughts, feelings, interactions, and correspondences.” For me, this emphasizes a perception of her spirit and the result is that so much is left unexplored or only briefly mentioned and those things are large in importance. Taro is pivotal in the development of modern photojournalism, she was a major talent in news photography and many of the philosophical decisions she and Capa made shape our view of photojournalism today. I would have liked to see this explored much more. And there is something missing when a book about a photographer contains no photographs!
I would like to suggest pairing this verse novel with the brilliantly written and documented book by Mark Aronson and Marina Buhos, Eyes of the World: Robert Capa, Gerda Taro, and the Invention of Modern Photojournalism (Henry Holt, 2017). Suggest this book to students wanting a deeper look at Gerda Taro, and some of her revolutionary photographs.