Book review (sort of): Martha Gellhorn, journalist/novellist, kicking ass and taking names.

Posted by Bel. The time is 4:38pm here in Wellington, NZ.

Many fruitless times I have typed The Face of War into the Wellington City Library computer and have had zero results come up. I couldn't just skip a title that is on The List, so I decided I would 'read around' Martha Gellhorn instead.

I found some of her fiction in stack and a travel memoir on the shelves. As I'd managed to figure out that The Face of War was a collection of journalistic essays, I went with Travels With Myself And Another as the next best thing and a good place to start.

And what do ya know, folks, we have not just another instant winner great read, but a bona fide heroine to add to the Bona Fide Heroines list.

Martha Gellhorn reading documentation on how smoking is evil.

Travels With Myself And Another starts off with a funny, dry and decidedly non-PC tone that only gets more funny and less PC as the book goes on.

Gellhorn opens by saying that no one really wants to hear about anyone's travels. The moment you mention the sights you seen, their eyes glaze over. But travel disaster stories are a whole other thing, to be traded and devoured and relived in a thrilling way unimaginable at the time. This book is her collection of "horror journeys", where her indefatigable adventurous spirit lead to disasters in various foreign forms.

Covering various continents and decades of her life, some of the most entertaining anecdotes come from Gellhorn's resolute spirit butting up against, well, against pretty much everyone.

This covers from a camp East African guide who refuses to drive her anywhere when they go on safari, to the terrible travelling companion that her partner of many years Ernest Hemingway was while they traipsed through pre-industrial China.

Gellhorn with a local and "U.C.", short for 'the Unwilling Companion'.

After devouring these well-crafted tales and being filled with wanderlust, I needed to know more about Martha. Her wikipedia page only filled me with awe, as it breezily listed her career which careened from the Spanish Civil War, to being among the first to arrive at Dachau, to covering the conflict in Vietnam and even in her 80s still reporting from the front line. It is no surprise that this determined woman chose to take her own life when her health began to fail in her 90s.

You can imagine my JOY when I stumbled across Caroline Moorehead's definitive biography Gellhorn: A Twenty-First Century Life, in my favourite Wellington secondhand bookstore, Arty Bees.

I am only up to chapter three and already she has met and interviewed Diego Rivera and Sergei Eisenstein - this is aged 21 years, after dropping out of college and moving to Paris, striking up an affair with Colette's stepson.

Her dramatic life may yet make it to the silver screen. Variety reported last year that a biopic was planned, as Gillian Anderson's production company had bought the rights to Caroline Moorehead's biography. With a female writer/director attached, this could be promising - especially considering that Scully won't have to go all Oscar-bait to play the role:

[anything] by[/about] Martha Gellhorn. Highly recommended (durrr).
Published 1934 - 1988. Set in pretty much everywhere.
#43 from 'The List'

2 thoughts on “Book review (sort of): Martha Gellhorn, journalist/novellist, kicking ass and taking names.”

  1. Ahhhh arty bees... that place!! Really it leaves you lost for words. A shame I can't afford any books right now. Sigh.

    Back onto a different subject, as discussed with Ms Lou when I was in London you and I should meet for a coffee sometime B. Afterall, shucks and tarnation, we live in the same city!!! Chuck me an email sometime.

    I am now a dedicated convertee of Martha Gellhorn too btw. Gotta love Wikipedia. Happy Mondays! :-)

  2. Arty Bees is a dangerous, dangerous place. I have a tendency to wander in there just to kill time - forgetting that I will wind up wanting to spend my rent money on something AMAZING and ESSENTIAL without fail...

    Welcome once again to our fair land - a celebratory coffee sounds like a good plan :)