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Journalist and novelist Martha Gellhorn introduces these as ""the best of my worst journeys""; but think not of dashed hopes and comical mishaps. The first jaunt finds Gellhorn--and the unflappable, sardonic U.C. (Unwilling Companion)--confronted (for 40 pages) with the filth, the rain, the cold, the stench, the bedbugs and mosquitoes, the rampant disease, the wretched food, the inane bureaucrats of wartime China; and, save for a meeting with Chou, hating every minute. Journey number two is a swing through the Caribbean in 1941--in search, with somewhat ingratiating idiocy, of German subs. This has its moments--notably a stopover on demure, squeaky-clean, Dutch-held Saba where Gellhorn observes that all ""Caribbean blacks took on the coloration of the ruling colonial power"" (and a maid remarks, ""When we hear they attackin Holland, Moddom, dere wasn't a droi oi on de island""). But here too Gellhorn suffers the iniquities of the flesh and the quixoticisms of local characters. Africa, however, is the nadir; the pits. Gellhorn took it into her head, in 1962, to travel from West to East along the equator. In West Africa, everything is squalid, absurd, repellent. In East Africa, she is saddled for 19 days with a young Kenyan driver who (apparantly) can't drive, won't interpret, and constantly whines. Why go on, one thinks? But more curious still--though feverishly fascinating--is Gellhorn's 1972 journey to Russia. She had written a fan letter to an elderly memoirist, the widow of a famous poet, who--identified here as Mrs. M.--can only be Nadezhda Mandelstam; and the two had become ""pen pals."" Now, pressed to visit, she was in Moscow enduring not only the usual rigors and restraints but also the non-stop socializing in Mrs. M's ""tiny tenement flat."" The ""friendship cell,"" vividly evoked, she finds oppressive; she worries about being pressed into future service; and after her departure the pen-palship disintegrates: ""I realized that she cared about nothing except her own past and her present circle and Russia."" Unbecoming and only intermittently rewarding.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1979
Publisher: Dodd, Mead