Traveling in Eastern Europe just after the end of World War II, a young journalist sees destruction, desolation and despair, hears horrible stories, thinks about her own life, has an epiphany.
Fox’s first memoir (Borrowed Finery, 2001) recalled her childhood and youth. Here, in a style most spare, even austere, Fox records her struggles to begin a career and offers her insights about topics ranging from communism to fascism to race. She begins and ends in New York City, where she has spent most of her life, and tells us about the small miracles of the place—chance encounters with Duke Ellington and Billie Holiday, an outing with Paul Robeson. Then she offers a snippet about her waitressing days in the Catskills to raise money for her 1946 trip abroad. In England, she works for a bit as a model, then finds employment with a small news service that sends her across the Channel to find post-war stories. In London, she enjoys Olivier in Lear and sees an inebriated Winston Churchill. She is shocked by the state of post-war Paris (“I sensed the tracks of the wolf,” she says). Later, she goes to Prague, then Warsaw during its fierce winter. She hears that when the snow melts, the bodies will begin to emerge. In the Tatra Mountains, she meets desperate children whose parents were murdered by Nazis. In Spain, she sees how fascism affects ordinary people and muses that the term political life “is so abstract until a cane is laid across one’s back.” Back in New York, now a tutor of troubled youth, she invites her charges one night to look through a powerful telescope. Her students are strangely silent afterwards, and Fox realizes how humbling it is to see beyond oneself.
The recent multitude of memoirists should take a page from Fox: Less really can be more.