Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Love and Ruin

Title:  Love and Ruin
Author:  Paula McLain
Publication Information:  Ballantine Books. 2018. 400 pages.
ISBN:  1101967382 / 978-1101967386

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "Near dawn on July 13, 1936, as three assassins scaled a high garden wall in Tenerife hoping to catch the band of armed guards unaware, I was asleep in a tiny room in Stuttgart, waiting for my life to begin."

Favorite Quote:  "Even when other things come in loud, we have to keep choosing each other. That's marriage. You can't only say the words once and think they'll stick. You have to say them over and over, and then live them out with all you've got."

Love and Ruin is the fictionalized account of the relationship and five year marriage between Ernest Hemingway and Martha Ellis Gelhorn. They were married from 1940 to 1945, a tumultuous period in world history. This was also the time in which Ernest Hemingway published For Whom the Bells Toll, written based on his experiences during the Spanish civil war.

Martha Gelhorn was the third of Ernest Hemingway's four wives. They in fact met and began their relationship while Hemingway was still married to Pauline Pfeiffer. Much - fiction and nonfiction - has been written about Hemingway and especially his marriages. Naomi Wood's Mrs. Hemingway was a snapshot of all four marriages. Paula McLain's earlier book The Paris Wife was about his first marriage to Elizabeth Hadley Richardson.

Martha Gelhorn was a renowned journalist in her own right. In fact, a journalism prize established in 1999 is named in her honor. The Martha Gelhorn Prize for Journalism is awarded "for the kind of reporting that distinguished Martha: in her own words 'the view from the ground'. This is essentially a human story that penetrates the established version of events and illuminates an urgent issue buried by prevailing fashions of what makes news. We would expect the winner to tell an unpalatable truth, validated by powerful facts, that exposes establishment conduct and its propaganda, or 'official drivel', as Martha called it."

This book begins in Martha's life before she is an established journalist; it begins when she meets Ernest Hemingway by chance on a trip. That chance meeting, a promise, and Martha's dream land her on the front lines of the Spanish civil war and in close proximity to Ernest Hemingway. So begins the relationship, and so begins Martha's career as a war correspondent.

Beyond that point, their relationship and hence the book follows a cyclic path - periods in a war zone, and periods of peace in an idyllic island haven. Interspersed throughout, of course, is writing for and from both of them. The relationship is depicted with the competition from both being in the same line of work. Ernest Hemingway has achieved his fame; Martha Gelhorn is working on finding her voice. At times, the pendulum of success seems to shift from one to the other.

The focus of this story remains throughout the relationship more so than the woman and her accomplishments. Even the portions set in the middle of war zones center on the two of them; I don't really get a sense of the time and place that were the basis of Martah Gelhorn's career. Her career was about the history she lived through; her writing was about the places and people and events she witnessed. Yet, that history seems not to take a back seat in this book.

I am honestly not sure I get a complete picture of the woman herself. She was twenty-eight when she met Ernest Hemingway. She had had affairs previously. She was willing and able to travel alone into a war zone. She was obviously independent and strong. Yet, somehow, the impression I am left with is of someone younger and more innocent. I don't know enough of the actual history to say which is the more accurate one, but I am left with the question in mind.

I guess in many ways I would rather have read the story of Martha Gelhorn, groundbreaking war correspondent, than Martha Gelhorn, one of the wives of Ernest Hemingway.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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