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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Waiting for Robert Capa

Susana Fortes

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To purchase Waiting for Robert Capa

Title: Waiting for Robert Capa
Author: Susana Fortes
Genre: Novel
Written: 2009 (Eng. 2011)
Length: 198 pages
Original in: Spanish
Availability: Waiting for Robert Capa - US
Waiting for Robert Capa - UK
Waiting for Robert Capa - Canada
Waiting for Robert Capa - India
En attendant Robert Capa - France
Istantanea di un amore - Italia
Esperando a Robert Capa - España
  • Spanish title: Esperando a Robert Capa
  • Translated by Adriana V. López
  • Waiting for Robert Capa is being made into a film, directed by Michael Mann and due for release 2012

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Our Assessment:

B- : historical fiction that's interesting history, but a bit thin and sappy as fiction

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Publishers Weekly . 22/8/2011 .

  From the Reviews:
  • "Though illuminating in its depiction of the conflicting artistic, social, and political currents rocking the Old Continent in the 30s, the prose plods, with Fortes frequently resorting to name-dropping in lieu of narrative" - Publishers Weekly

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Waiting for Robert Capa is centered not so much on photographer Robert Capa but on Gerda Taro. They met in Paris in 1935 and eventually traveled together to Spain, to cover the Spanish Civil War; in 1937 she died there.
       Like 'Robert Capa', 'Gerda Taro' is an assumed name; she was born -- and first met André Friedmann (Capa's Frenchified real name) -- as Gerta Pohorylle. Both were Jews, she from Germany, he from Hungary. Gerta fled the encroaching Nazi threat and came to Paris, where she met the photographer, and the novel chronicles her life from her arrival in Paris the year before to its violent end.
       When Gerta and a friend first go out with Capa her friend warns, "Watch, you'll wind up sleeping with him", and Gerta protests: "Not for all the money in the world"; naturally, this is the sort of novel where the characters (quickly) wind up very, very close. Since it is historical there's little surprise here about that either, but fortunately there was considerably more to their relationship, as Capa taught Gerta how to snap pictures, and Gerta realized that, talented though he was, Capa needed some help -- and figured out exactly what he needed: "I'm going to be your manager", she decided.
       Of course, this is also the sort of novel where Fortes embellishes this with explanations such as:

I'll save you, she thought. I can do it. It may cost me and you might not deserve it, but I'm going to save you. There isn't a more powerful sensation than this. Not love, piety, or desire. Though Gerta still hadn't learned this, she was too young.
       Gerta turns out to be a good manager -- "Operation Image Makeover had its immediate results". In particular, she understood that image is nearly everything -- and not the photgraphic image, at that. The use of a pseudonym was a masterstroke, and from the first she demanded much higher rates than the poor Hungarian émigré could ever have dared ask for, understanding that: "An air of success begets success". Of course, it did help that Capa was a great photographer.
       Gerta proved quite adept, too, and soon was making a bit of money with her own photography as well. And when the Spanish Civil War became the center of all attention they both wanted to get in the middle of the action. As a woman, Gerta had more prejudices to work against -- at one local bar they tell her they don't serve alcohol to women (though they eventually do serve the foreigner) -- but she wouldn't be stopped (until that tank got her, that is).
       Based closely on fact -- "All of the episodes that have to do with the Civil War are real, and are documented", an Author's Note assures us -- Waiting for Robert Capa is an odd mix of documentary novel and fictional embellishment. Sticking so close to the reality-script hamstrings Fortes -- no more obviously so than when she feels compelled (as she frequently does) to (rather pointlessly) name-drop:
     "It's Man Ray," he said. "He's always surrounded by writers. The man beside him with the tie and hatchet face is named James Joyce. A strange character. Irish. But he's worth listening to when he's very drunk."
       But Fortes also tries to embellish what's known, suggesting, for example, the story behind Capa's The Falling Soldier and the toll of having taken that picture -- including the guilt that came with the fame. Some of this works quite well; other parts -- not so much.
       The material Fortes has to work with is compelling -- this is a great and tragic story -- and it could be manhandled much worse and still be compelling. But Waiting for Robert Capa also shows the difficulty and danger of trying to write historical fiction, the limits it puts on the writer's imagination painfully obvious here. It does a disservice to reality too, leaving it blunted.
       The novel's tragic, inevitable end looms large: readers know what's coming (even those not familiar with Gerda's story, since Fortes alludes to the what happens several times along the way), and this can get the better of her. By the end Fortes is offering passages such as:
     Each time they'd risk their lives more. But because they were so young and good-looking and with a confident sportsmanship quality about them. Nobody ever thought to worry. They had a godlike aura around them. The soldiers would turn hopeful when Gerda arrived, as if her presence served as a talisman.
       It's such a powerful real-life story that one can almost get away with the occasional passage like that -- but Fortes lays it on a bit too thick too frequently.
       As a quick, readable glimpse of the fascinating lives of Robert Capa and Gerda Taro Waiting for Robert Capa is just fine -- but little more.

- M.A.Orthofer, 15 October 2011

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Waiting for Robert Capa: Reviews: Robert Capa and Gerda Taro: Susana Fortes: Other books by Susana Fortes under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Spanish author Susana Fortes was born in 1959.

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© 2011 the complete review

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