By Melanie Light, Photographed by Ken Light
Heyday, $40.00, 176 pages

Through short essays and more than 100 dramatic black-and-white photographs, Valley of Shadows and Dreams explores the dark corners of California’s Great Central Valley. With a foreword by Thomas Steinbeck, Ken and Melanie Light’s new book documents the continuing struggles of the laborers in America’s fruit basket, and the progressing decimation of the land they farm.

This book has many positive aspects. It presents a plethora of thought provoking information, aggressively brings to light frequently ignored social issues and is aesthetically sumptuous to boot. Unfortunately, the omission of the personal interviews conducted with the laborers who populate the book’s photographs leaves the volume feeling incomplete. Melanie Light’s essays are relevant and informative, but without personal accounts as counterbalance, her voice quickly overwhelms the subject. Also, even though each page explores the damage done to the valley by human apathy and greed, only two paragraphs offer any suggestions as to how the reader can positively affect the situation. Perhaps if the profits of this beautiful and expensive volume were being donated to assist the laborers and land it features, it would be more compelling.

Reviewed by Elizabeth Goss