Beautiful Exile

“Beautiful Exile” by Carl Rollyson is a biography of legendary author and journalist Martha Gellhorn. Gellhorn wrote novels, travel and other books but is primarily remembered for her wartime reporting and reporting on various human rights abuses. Being one of the first and most widely read female war correspondents, her reporting spanned the Depression, the Spanish Civil War, World War II, Vietnam War, Arab-Israel conflicts, and abusive governments across the globe. Her visit to the concentration camp at Dachau made her a live-long supporter of Israel although she was generally liberal in her politics. She accomplished all of this in a field that was lukewarm to women at the time by using her beauty to manipulative the men she encountered. Along with her feminine wiles she proved tough, resourceful and brave in getting stories including coming under fire in battle zones several times. She had relationships with both Presidents Roosevelt and Kennedy and a particularly close bond with Eleanor Roosevelt.

A difficult women at times, she was often bored unless in the middle of a war or a public controversy. She always wanted order and cleanliness around her and often got irritated with people who did not measure up in this or other ways. She dressed very fashionably, even somehow in the midst of war zones. Ernest Hemingway said of her – “that woman loves humanity, but can’t stand people.” Gellhorn spend eight years with the famous writer, including five as his wife, and this is the period of her life that the book concentrates on which is a flaw in my opinion. Endless gossipy details are given about their relationship, probably because today, outside journalistic circles, she is remembered mostly for her marriage to him. However, the interesting parts of Gellhorn’s life lie outside this relationship in her passion for abused people across the globe, her resourcefulness in getting the story, her intelligence and at the same time her tendency to be so difficult and unappreciative at times of people she met in her day to day life. Gellhorn died in 1998 at the age of 90. In 1999, the “Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism” was established in her honor to be given for the kind of reporting that distinguished her – “The view from the Ground”.

This biography is rather brief and uneven giving much detail on certain subjects, such as Hemingway, but less satisfactory detail about such subjects as her relationships with Presidents Roosevelt and Kennedy. A newer official biography by Caroline Moorhead is now out which gives a more detailed, and apparently better written account of Gellhorn’s life and probably is a better recommendation for those interested in reading about her. Having said that, “Beautiful Exile” gives a reasonable overview of the life of this immoral but otherwise interesting women, who is still a legend to some in the journalistic world.

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