Intriguing historical circumstances and a big heart distinguish this second memoir by Gruber (Ahead of Time, 1991, etc.), onetime official in the FDR Administration and a Mideast correspondent during the postwar years that saw the birth of Israel.
Gruber begins in 1941, when Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes asked her to serve as his field representative in Alaska. That not-yet state commands a large portion of Gruber’s text, as she recalls traveling about the wilderness and taking her own measure of it, “making a study of how to open Alaska to homesteaders”—which sounds a bit Manifest Destiny–ish and in fact is. She also details at length her experiences covering the plight of displaced Jews immediately following WWII, which prompted her to go head-to-head with anti-Semites in the US Department of State, with General George Patton, and with the British colonial administration. Gruber has lost some of the good journalist's knack for compression: snips of dialogue lead nowhere, and repetition rather than forceful imagery drives home her points. Her prose can be windy to the point of storm warning, the off-color jokes are jarringly antiquated, and comments like “In July 1941, Ion Antonescu, Romania's fascist dictator, began murdering his Jews” are rather mortifying. But her tales of being in harm's way can also display real power, whether the danger is physical—slogging through backcountry Alaska, dodging Nazis to spirit away refugees—or emotional, as when she reports on camps for displaced Jews in Germany, Cyprus, and even Israel: “Camps are never good for human beings. People deteriorate amid the abnormality of camp life.” No doubt the Palestinians would agree, yet the usually empathetic Gruber is mute on their predicament.
Witness to worlds in the midst of radical change, the author gives a commonplace appeal to the momentous events with her ingenuous storytelling.