Thursday, 5 December 2019

Book review: The Face of War, Martha Gellhorn (1987)

The publishing history of this book needs some explanation to start out with. Gellhorn was in Spain in 1936 during the civil war that served as a prelude to WWII. Her stories were published in the US. Then she was in other parts of Europe to cover the end of the larger conflict. The latter parts of this book involve coverage of war in Israel and also conflicts in Vietnam and in Nicaragua. So, 50 years of writing from war zones. There are a couple of articles about the meetings that wound up WWII as well.

In all of her articles, Gellhorn is scrupulously honest and candid although she also betrays her own biases when furnishing material for the stories. This is unfortunate but hardly surprising, given the nature of what she witnessed. Her method is to deploy colour in the style of literary journalism, and she carries it off with aplomb. You see and hear things that would otherwise, in the hands of a less engaged journalist, be elided or obscured. She is very concerned to report on the lives of women and children.

Looking at the past through this kind of lens is educational, and so this book can be recommended for anyone who wants to know how today’s political – and geopolitical – domain compares to what existed in the past. I really enjoyed reading this book and I took my time with it. The book has a “Gleebooks” sticker on its back, so that is where I bought it. I hadn’t read it through before now, but it was on a shelf in my library waiting for its chance to reveal things about the 20th century that many have forgotten, or that they never knew.

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