2007: 25. A Stricken Field 

“From this height the Rhine looked narrow, sluggish, and unimportant.  When they were over Germany everyone leaned close to the windows, staring out as if they hoped to see something special.  But the land looked the same as when they flew across France, summer green and rich, with the pompons of the trees, and the white roads, and the farm houses.”

A Stricken Field, Martha Gelhorn

This is a novel written by a journalist in the early days of World War II.  It is a fictionalized version of her experiences in Prague, after Munich, and how despair dropped over the country as the Nazis (unnamed in the story, but clearly them) took over.  It tells of good people with nowhere to go, of well meaning journalists who have no way to help, and of the tragedy of refugees.  It talks of the cruelty of the Nazis and it serves as a snapshot of just how nefarious “Peace in our Time” turned out to be.

This is also a novel written by Martha Gellhorn, who was a famous female journalist, the subject of a recent biography entitled Gellhorn (it’s quite good, though like so many biographies leaves you between pity and dislike for the subject), and oh, Ernest Hemingway’s wife.  She was married to him at the time she wrote this, I think, and his style couldn’t be more evident in the prose.  It makes the prose seems somewhat affected, although the Hemingway style of short, declarative sentences works well for this story, where the truth is so unbelievable that flowery prose would only distract from the pure, unadulterated horror of just what men do to each other.

I didn’t love this book, by any stretch of the imagination.  As I said, I found the prose affected and stilted, and the story hard to read (the Martha character is somewhat of a Mary Sue, for example - the only one journalist who tries to do something and help).  But Gellhorn captures the historical snapshot of what it was like to be in Prague after the Western world turned its back on the Czechoslovakians, and makes the reader feel like he is there during that dark time, which is a true accomplishment.  I’m glad I read it.

Recommended for:  Students of World War II; people who want to understand the ways in which fascism and violence crush the human spirit - and how some people manage to fight it; Hemingway lovers.

Date/Place Completed: 2/20/07; D.C.

Categories: Fiction; Virago Modern Classic




© Carrie Dunsmore 2017