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Although Louise Bryant was one of the most respected international journalists of her day, her story, unlike that of her second husband, the journalist and political radical John Reed, has been "overlooked by traditional history and nearly lost to legend." Mary Dearborn's thoughtful, concise biography recovers the full dimensions of Bryant's achievement-filled, passionate, and often tragic life -- that of "a true twentieth-century heroine." For readers acquainted with Bryant only though Diane Keaton's portrayal of her in Warren Beatty's film Reds, Dearborn's book arrives as a welcome reassessment.
A true "child of the West," Bryant was born in 1885 in Reno, Nevada to a working-class family, and she learned early on her talent for reinvention. Although one contemporary complained that she "had no right to have brains and be so pretty," Bryant was also unabashedly independent, a professed suffragist since college. While married to a dentist in Portland and writing for a local newspaper, she met and fell in love with Reed and was soon living with him in a "free love" arrangement in Greenwich Village. During their stormy relationship she focused on her writing career, becoming a front-line war correspondent in World War I. She and Reed worked together in Russia during the Revolution, and her book, Six Red Months in Russia, made her an authority on Russian politics and socialism
Reed's sudden death left Bryant distraught, and her personal life grew reckless. She married the wealthy diplomat William Bullitt, embarking on a self-described "useless" bourgeois life. Her affair with a lesbian, and her development of an incurable disease that deformed her body with painful lumps, ended the marriage in a bitter divorce. Bryant spent the rest of her days as a writer and sculptor in Paris. Despite her disease, she took up solo flying.
Along with clear, elegant prose, Dearborn brings to this extraordinary narrative both an empathetic understanding of Bryant's egotistical personality and a firm sense of historical context. At a time when "women were striving to find a place that transcended becoming muses to their men," Dearborn ultimately shows how Bryant's profound will to "carry on," despite myriad social constraints, made her triumphs that much more extraordinary. -- Salon