So What Are You Reading?

Reviews of Books.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

A Stricken Field by Martha Gellhorn

A Stricken Field by Martha Gellhorn
With the signing of the 1938 Munich Agreement, Nazi Germany annexed portions of Czechoslovakia inhabited by German speakers, an area that came to be known as the Sudetenland. A Stricken Field is a novel based on a week Martha Gellhorn spent in Prague in 1938. She had gone as a reporter on an assignment to interview President Benes, but got caught up in the plight of the refugees fleeing the German occupation. No longer citizens of Czechoslovakia, they were being forced to return to German controlled territory where they feared for their lives. While trying to write an objective piece on the effects of the Munich Agreement on the economy, she is confronted all around by the terrible problems of good citizens hiding and being forced to return to the brutal oppression of the Nazis.
She never wrote that news report. Instead she wrote this novel about two refugees Rita and Peter who, for a brief period of time, have found refuge in each other's love. Gellhorn is there too as Mary, an American reporter who observes a great injustice and is powerless to help.
Gellhorn admits she never read the published book until she had to write an Afterword to this 1985 edition. In that Afterword she concludes "I am proud of it. I am glad I wrote it. Novels can't 'accomplish' anything. Novels don't decide the course of history or change it but they can show what history is like for people who have no choice except to live through it or die from it. I remembered for them."
Today as Russia casts greedy eyes on eastern Ukraine and Russian-speaking Ukrainians seek to reunite with their homeland, this novel has a strangely modern relevance. Not that Putin is a new Hitler, but it points out the indifference and powerlessness of world governments to situations like these.


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