Absorbing but erratic portrait of a charismatic, little-known American who was the longest-serving journalist in the Soviet Union.
Edmund Stevens went to Russia in 1934 to work as a translator and writer for the Communist International’s publishing house; the idealistic American communist wanted to contribute to the Bolshevik cause. Fired during a 1937 Stalinist purge that saw most of the publishing house’s senior officials “repressed,” Stevens turned to journalism and became a correspondent for the Christian Science Monitor in 1939. He solidified the Monitor’s reputation as a leader in war reporting, and he won a Pulitzer in 1950 for his articles on Stalin’s purges. He died in 1992, but Heckler (English and Journalism/Miami Univ. of Ohio; Heart and Soul of the Nation: How the Spirituality of Our First Ladies Changed America, 1997) focuses on the World War II years. Stevens had no formal training as a journalist, she writes, but his uncanny ability to anticipate where the next big story would be took him to the frontlines in small, overlooked nations such as Finland, Norway, Lithuania and Ethiopia. He also boasted a memorable skill in summing up a place or situation with colorful, often humorous details. Documenting the day-to-day impact of the war on both soldiers and ordinary civilians, Heckler notes, Stevens could never maintain a stable home life, frequently abandoning his long-suffering wife to return to the front lines. Regrettably, Heckler’s clunky, distracting choice of format significantly detracts from the journalist’s riveting story. Excerpts from his unpublished memoir are interspersed at random intervals with observations from Heckler and other journalists, with little indication as to whether the material is contemporary or historical. Stevens’s fascinating recollections would have been better served by a series of detailed chapter introductions than by Heckler’s frequent, awkward interruptions.
A valuable resource for war-journalism buffs, who can only hope that Stevens’s memoirs will someday be published in full, unmarred by Heckler’s intrusive editing.