NOBODY SAID NOT TO GO by Ken Cuthbertson


The Loves, Life, and Adventures of Emily Hahn
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In this extensively researched biography, historian and journalist Cuthbertson (Inside: The Biography of John Gunther, 1992) brings to life the inspired individualism of one of this century’s least recognized and most interesting journalists, Emily Hahn. When Hahn died at the age of 92 in 1997, a chapter in literary journalism closed. She had been a staff writer at the New Yorker through all four of its editorial reigns, producing 181 articles, in addition to 52 books, stories, and poems. She came of age in the ’20s in St. Louis and blazed a trail of gutsy independence and drive through New York and onward. Hahn lived the concerns of our age with an intensity that brightened her work and brought her success. Yet it would be wrong to call her a feminist, though feminists owe a great deal to characters like her. Cuthbertson fails to address this distinction, an important one for Hahn. Her life was defined as much by profession as by passion. Ever the “roving heroine” (as described by Roger Angell), she built her literary career upon impressions of a world in flux. Her swath of discovery stretched across Africa (during the Depression), India, and China, where she broke with Western morality and became a concubine and opium partner to the Chinese intellectual/publisher Sinmay Zau just before the outbreak of WWII. A lasting love affair with the head of the British Secret Service began in Hong Kong during that city’s occupation, a fascinating period which led to some of her most important work. Hahn once wrote that “she wanted desperately to be noticed, and equally desperately to be let alone.” Her exhibitionism found perfect expression in her life’s work. Hahn’s life-at-large was an exhilarating trip across an era. Some of the later research drags on, but Cuthbertson’s contagious commitment to the significance of this life almost justifies every word. Social history at its best. (b&w photos)

Pub Date: May 21st, 1998
ISBN: 0-571-19950-X
Page count: 386pp
Publisher: Faber & Faber/Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15th, 1998


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