A grand journalist and feminist emerges from Papa’s shadow in this high-toned—but oh-so-juicy—life by veteran biographer Moorehead (Dunant’s Dream, 1999, etc.).
Mention Martha Gellhorn these days, and when she’s remembered at all—though she died in 1998—it’s often only as one of Ernest Hemingway’s long-suffering wives. But Gellhorn was much more: a combat correspondent who wrote enduring sketches of battle during some of the fiercest fighting of WWII (“Hemingway was not pleased when he heard that Martha had landed on Omaha Beach”), a leftist critic of American foreign policy and governments in general (“After a lifetime of war-watching,” she wrote in the first days of the Reagan ascendancy, “I see war as an endemic human disease, and governments are the carriers”), and a model to journalists, particularly women, throughout much of her long career, one who thumbed her nose at “all that objectivity shit” but who produced some of the best literary journalism ever tapped out, and usually from some smoky hotel room in some out-of-the-way town. Moorehead ably captures these aspects of Gellhorn’s life and work, though she adds to the icon plenty of human foibles, from her long string of affairs with men scarcely able to keep up with her to her legendary disputes with editors great and small, including the legendary Max Perkins, whom she seems to have scared a little. A good chunk is given over, of course, to Gellhorn’s short marriage to Hemingway, born in the Spanish Civil War and effectively over by Pearl Harbor; of the whole business Gellhorn remarked, “A man must be a very great genius to make up for being such a loathsome human being.” But Moorehead devotes much more room to Gellhorn’s independent adventures, from casual flings to episodes showing her extraordinary grace under pressure—as when, in Vietnam in 1966, she chided young American officers for being so ungallant as to duck when mortar shells began to land around them.
A tough woman and marvelous writer gets her due.