Monday, March 7, 2011

Loving Frank

Long travel day today gave me enough time to finish Loving Frank, by Nancy Horan, the Book Babes March pick.

The novel is historical fiction, based on the facts surrounding Frank Lloyd Wright's and Mamah Cheny's scandalous affair in the early 1900s.

This is before women got the right to vote, when divorce was only just becoming an option, and Frank was establishing his reputation.

After their trip to Europe in 1907, they returned to build Taliesen in Wisconsin, a beautiful home nestled into the landscape.


Although this is Horan's first novel, she has earned her living as a journalist and previously published a garden book.  She grew up in Oak Park, the suburb where Wright honed his Prairie Houses and first met Mamah.

There's a great scene where Mamah asks Frank to collaborate on a translation of Goethe.  I like it because it helped me understand the essence of what separates a brilliant translation from a stiff or mediocre one:

Frank looked skeptical. "But my entire vocabulary is nein and ja."
"That's not true.  You know gutan Morgen."
"It doesn't matter.  I'll tell you the literal words, and we'll figure out together how to say it best.  It's important that you're a good writer in your own language.  You happen to be a great writer.  And the poem is about nature."
"Is that how it works, translating?"
"Well, it's a little bit of alchemy, I think.  It helps enormously to understand the culture you are translating from, and then the one you are taking it into."

Mamah also translated the works of Swedish philosopher Ellen Key, a strong proponent of what was known at the time as the 'Woman Movement'.   Her ideas of love and marriage were ahead of her time in many ways.   She wrote "Love is moral without legal marriage.... but marriage is immoral without love."  Key believed in women's suffrage, and although childless herself, she also preached that a woman's true calling was to raise children; they should be paid and properly esteemed for this work. 

I did not see the end coming, I wasn't aware of the tragic, brutal facts.  I still can't believe it all really happened.  Lionsgate has optioned the film rights, but it doesn't look like it has hit production yet.

Here the author tours Oak Park and the house that was designed for the Cheneys:

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