A Stricken Field

Overview

Martha Gellhorn was one of the first—and most widely read—female war correspondents of the twentieth century. She is best known for her fearless reporting in Europe before and during WWII and for her brief marriage to Ernest Hemingway, but she was also an acclaimed novelist.

In 1938, before the Munich pact, Gellhorn visited Prague and witnessed its transformation from a proud democracy preparing to battle Hitler to a country occupied by the German army. Born out of this ...

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A Stricken Field: A Novel

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Overview

Martha Gellhorn was one of the first—and most widely read—female war correspondents of the twentieth century. She is best known for her fearless reporting in Europe before and during WWII and for her brief marriage to Ernest Hemingway, but she was also an acclaimed novelist.

In 1938, before the Munich pact, Gellhorn visited Prague and witnessed its transformation from a proud democracy preparing to battle Hitler to a country occupied by the German army. Born out of this experience, A Stricken Field follows a journalist who returns to Prague after its annexation and finds her efforts to obtain help for the refugees and to convey the shocking state of the country both frustrating and futile. A convincing account of a people under the brutal oppression of the Gestapo, A Stricken Field is Gellhorn’s most powerful work of fiction.
 
“[A] brave, final novel. Its writing is quick with movement and with sympathy; its people alive with death, if one can put it that way. It leaves one with aching heart and questing mind.”—New York Herald Tribune
 
“The translation of [Gellhorn’s] personal testimony into the form of a novel has . . . force and point.”—Times Literary Supplement

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Editorial Reviews

New York Times

“Miss Gellhorn . . . is an admirable reporter. She has intelligence, feeling, a seeing eye, and she writes a clean, contemporary prose. . . . [A Stricken Field] is a compelling book and a moving one.”

New York Herald Tribune

“[A] brave, final novel. Its writing is quick with movement and with sympathy; its people alive with death, if one can put it that way. It leaves one with aching heart and questing mind.”

Times Literary Supplement

“The translation of [Gellhorn’s] personal testimony into the form of a novel has . . . force and point.”

Chicago Tribune
A Stricken Field is packed with as much tension, menace and dread as any contemporary thriller.—Julia Keller, Chicago Tribune

— Julia Keller

Chicago Tribune - Julia Keller

"A Stricken Field is packed with as much tension, menace and dread as any contemporary thriller."—Julia Keller, Chicago Tribune
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780226286969
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press
  • Publication date: 9/15/2011
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 328
  • Sales rank: 818,916
  • Product dimensions: 5.30 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author


Martha Gellhorn (1908–1998) was one of the best-known war correspondents of the twentieth century, as well as a novelist and travel writer and, briefly, Hemingway’s third wife. Over the course of her career, she reported on the Depression, World War II, the Vietnam War, the Six-Day War in the Middle East, the civil wars in Central America, and other major events. She is the author of the novels The Wine of Astonishment and The Face of War and of the memoir Travels with Myself and Another, an account of her life with Hemingway.    
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Read an Excerpt

A Stricken Field


By Martha Gellhorn

The University of Chicago Press

Copyright © 1968 Martha Gellhorn
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-226-28696-9


CHAPTER 1

FROM this height the Rhine looked narrow, sluggish, and unimportant. When they were over Germany everyone leaned close to the windows, staring out as if they hoped to see something special. But the land looked the same as when they flew across France, summer green and rich, with the pompons of the trees, and the white roads, and the farm houses. Perhaps the roofs are steeper, she thought, but the land doesn't look any different. In the plane, everybody waited, tightened and ready.

Later someone said, "This is occupied territory," and again they pressed at the windows, expecting some change in the land to equal the change on the map. There was nothing to see. What are we looking for, she wondered, maybe a swastika painted on a roof? In the distance the wand-like church steeples of Prague rose into the sun.

She thought she was the last to leave the plane, but sitting deep in his chair, with his face turned away, was a man who apparently did not know they had arrived. The stewardess came into the plane and touched his shoulder and spoke. He shook himself, and smiled, not really seeing her. He was a young Jew, about thirty years old, with good but mussed clothes, who looked as if he had been traveling for days with no time to sleep or shave.

She felt the motion of the plane still; the ground rolled and swayed beneath her. The weather had changed from the blowing brilliance of Bourget. Later, over the Vosges, there was a misted autumn sun but the air was thick now and smoky. Two silver monoplanes, with large swastikas painted on their tails, were parked close to the entrance of the airport building.

"Heil Hitler," one of the passengers said, talking to himself in a soft, furious voice.

The regular transport plane from Berlin had landed a few moments before their plane from Paris and the customs was crowded with German tourists, wearing belted suits and swastika lapel buttons. They carried cameras, by straps slung over their shoulders, and seemed very much at home. The people from the Paris plane stood apart and watched the Germans without friendliness. The Czech customs officials appeared to be embarrassed by the Germans who talked loudly with each other and argued about having to open their suitcases. Then the Germans drove from the airport in a special bus and the place became quieter.

When their luggage had been stamped, the passengers from the Paris plane went to their bus. The stewardess came with them, carrying a small patent leather hatbox, and took a seat in front of two of the younger Czech passengers. The bus drove down wide suburban streets, heading for the center of Prague. The streets were lined with square cement-gray houses and heavy apartment buildings. There were few trees, and the streets, houses, and buildings looked merely well-built and clean. All the windows had been criss-crossed with pasted strips of brown paper to keep them from shattering during the air-raids that never came.

The stewardess turned to the men behind her and said something and they laughed and the one with the tweed cap answered her.

The young Jew, sitting next to the American, stirred and noticed where he was when he heard them laugh.

"You are English?" he said.

"No, American. A journalist," she said, as if you would have to explain why you were coming to Prague this October.

"Do you understand what they are talking?" He nodded toward the stewardess.

"No. I cannot speak Czech."

"The girl says, 'What, no pictures of Adolf in the windows yet?' and the man says, 'Be quiet. Do not talk Czech. It is forbidden.'"

"Oh," the journalist said. "Well, it's nice that they can make jokes."

"They are not real laughing," the Jew said. Then, as if he were paying her a personal compliment, "It is fine to be American."

"Yes. I suppose so."

"I wish I go to America. Perhaps later I get a visa."

"Yes," she said. Everywhere, now, people spoke to her of America and visas. It was not a topic of conversation you could develop very interestingly.

"I left from Germany in 1933," the Jew said. "And now I am Czech citizen. They are wonderful people—very liberal and intelligent and good working. And they had a wonderful country."

"I like them too."

"You were here once?"

"I was here in May, for the mobilization."

"Not to permit to fight!" the Jew said, his face changing from the polite conversational look into one of darkness and anger. "You do not know how we could fought. With what readiness. What joy."

The journalist turned to watch the Czechs and the stewardess. They were not talking now. Seen from the side, their faces looked hard and lonely.

"If there is anything I will do for you in Prague?" the Jew said.

He took a card from his wallet. She had a great many cards. She would very likely never see again the people who gave her these printed or engraved reminders of themselves. But if you accepted the cards, they felt they had some claim on you. It was not that they wanted anything ordinary, she thought, they did not want to borrow money or take you out to dinner. They wanted to know an American, in case they would have to leave the country suddenly.

"Thank you," she said, and shook hands with him. "My name is Mary Douglas."

His wife was meeting him at the airline office. Mary Douglas smiled and bowed, and moved away from them, beckoning a taxi.


"Good afternoon," the desk clerk said. "We received your wire. Mr. Lambert has been asking for you. He is staying here. So is Mr. Thane. Mr. Tompkins is at the Metropole and wishes you to telephone. Mr. Berthold is here too."

"All right," she said. There were small stone-topped tables in the hotel hall and straight chairs with greenish tapestry seat covers. Waiters carried trays of towering pastries and coffee cups and cocktail glasses. The people eating and drinking and talking (but never in clear voices, so that each table kept its own secrets) seemed all to be making money on something or arranging to make money.

"Have you given me a nice room?"

"The best, Mademoiselle. On the front. Times have changed since May, have they not?"

The older clerk frowned. He did not want his assistant to have political discussions with the clients. You could no longer be sure of the opinions of the clients and there might be trouble later.

"The times are now," she said, with the frankness her American passport allowed her, "disgusting."

Someone called to her as she went to the elevators and she saw them all, some she knew and strange faces which were already familiar. They were here as they would have to be, and when we were younger, she thought, we covered three bell alarms and the morgue, but now we are successful and cover large international disasters. Their table was disorderly with many glasses and they sat around it, each in the pose that would some day become famous in a photograph on the cover of his own book of reminiscences (if not already famous), and if you did not know their legend or appreciate their special genius, they seemed to be only a collection of pale, rumpled men who never got enough sleep. Those who always drank looked a little drunk, at six in the afternoon, and those who did not drink more than taste or politeness demanded, looked as they always did, like foreign correspondents.

She liked them very much, and she did not know them at all. They had met for years now, in various capitals, in trains and boats and on odd roads. They were warmly intimate and affectionate with each other, though sometimes pompous too (when you showed off that you knew the language better or were more informed about local politics or had just lunched with a big native statesman), sometimes flirtatious in order to rest the mind and change the conversation, sometimes honest because after all they were people working on the same job, needing help or advice.

This is going to save me a lot of time, she thought. She had no particular respect for what they wrote (let the subscribers approve that), but they knew more than they could ever sign their names to, and she admired the way they worked. Besides, she thought, I'll have someone to eat with. The worst of this business was the solitary meal in the strange restaurant, with a paperbound book propped up against the water glass.

Tom Lambert, very good-looking in a way that you never remembered and holding his cane which he had learned to carry twelve years ago as a brand-new American in Paris with no job, stood up, took her by the shoulders, kissed her a little drunkenly on the forehead, and said, "When'd you get here, beauty?"

"This minute." She hugged him back, hampered by his cane. She was very fond of him. "How are you, son? I telephoned you the last two times in Paris but you didn't seem to be around."

"Hi," Thane said. "You work for the goddamdest outfit. The story's already dead."

"Me," she said to him pleasantly, "I do not write news like you gents. I write history."

"Yah."

"Seen old John lately?" Tom asked very casually.

She answered him the same way. "We were in Spain together. John's still there." She needn't have said his name, but it gave her such pleasure.

"Pretty quiet now, isn't it?"

"There may be something doing soon at the Ebro. Hello, Louis."

Louis Berthold, an airy and talented Frenchman, who could not keep the same political viewpoint for more than three months at a time, said, "I did not think you were going to speak to me. I thought you would ignore me because I am a Fascist. You look lovely. Spain agrees with you."

"She likes Spain, don't you, Mary?" Thane said.

"Sure I like Spain."

They smiled at each other. I must keep it off my face, she thought crossly, why don't I wear a sign. It's indecent to beam this way.

"I am sorry to hear that you and John have gone over to the Reds," Berthold said.

"Oh, really, Louis, what rot."

"You mustn't mind," Tom Lambert said. "He's been a Fascist for a month now. It won't last much longer. We let him stay around while we're waiting for the change."

"What's going on in Paris?" a new one said. He was blond and about twenty-six and probably a Harvard man.

"Mr. Luther, Miss Douglas," Tom Lambert said. "Mr. Luther of the Dispatch. The Mr. Luther of the Dispatch."

"How do you do?" she said. She had heard his name in the last few months. The standard of beauty for correspondents was definitely rising. "Paris? Nothing much. Some people say: well, we couldn't have gotten there to help the Czechs anyhow. And some people say: what is Czecho, not really a country, just something Wilson invented. They're doing their best to find excuses."

"Always loyal to the losing team," Thane said.

It was the beginning of an old argument between them. She smiled and said good-by, bowing to them all, and to three others who had not been introduced. "I've got to clean up. Where will you be later?"

"We're eating at the fish place at eight-thirty," Tom Lambert said. "It's the one up this street on the same side, with a neon fish hanging over it. Remember?"

"I'll see you there."

Looking back over the hall, from the elevator, she thought how like a cheap international-spy story it was: the too fat, too tailored men at the tables with gaudy blondes, the women alone wearing veils, the men in couples whispering to each other and eating pastry with their faces bent close to the small plates. These people, who had no apparent existence outside the lobbies of large European hotels, seemed to be the usual camp followers of catastrophe. They thrive on it, too, she thought, noticing their well-fed, satisfied faces.

Mary Douglas remembered the room from the last time. It had the same bright blue satin wall-paneling and grimy cream furniture, and also the cardboard notice stuck under the glass on the desk top, which told you exactly what to do in case of air-raids. They can begin throwing those away, she thought.

She opened the windows to take away the hotel smell, and went out on the balcony. The Wenceslaus Square was poorly lighted, as if all the street lamps were slowly burning down. The row of shops across the way, with their names painted in the strange, untidy Czech lettering, did not shine as they used to, and only Bata's neon sign flowed at this end of the street. The other neon signs gleamed, pale glass threads, reflected from the street lamps but not running color as she remembered them. The Bata shoe store was as bright as ever, the windows clogged with homely inexpensive shoes, but the linen shops and glove stores were in shadow. The windows of the apartments opposite were shuttered too. In the next block, the wide open door of an Automat let light onto the pavement.

From this corner, all the way up to the Narodni Museum, the street was laid out in parallel strips of trolley tracks and asphalt roadway for automobiles, so that there were four moving lines of traffic, suddenly cut by a pedestrian crossing from one side of the long square to the other. She listened to the trolley bells and to the taxi horns, but of the people she heard only the slur and scrape of their feet on the pavement.

It was a very stony street, with the flat granite faces of the buildings rising six stories above the shop fronts, and tonight it looked cold and shabby. From here, she could not see the spreading walled fortress that is the Hradcany Castle, nor the bulbs and spires of the churches in the old town, and she thought, this was never a good street, I'm making it all up, it was always just a prosperous business street, like one in Chicago or any place else, it hasn't changed. But she remembered the flower vendors on the corners, and the book stores and the jewelers' and the place where you got fine Czech stockings cheap, and the wonderful mayonnaised hors d'oeuvres on trays in the Automat windows, and the newspaper stalls with the papers from everywhere, full of effort and excitement and fury, all of them loud in such various prints and languages. She remembered the people hurrying, and those who dawdled eating large whipped-cream puffs, and those who sat in pairs on benches under the short city trees, admiring the traffic or enjoying the noise, and she remembered the beggars who had looked so neat and worthy, and the extra-sized, pink-faced policeman. She remembered it as a pleasant, bustling street, and the people on it had always seemed contented, attending respectably to their business. It's because it's night, and there's something wrong with the electricity, she decided, that's all.

But when she had gone down into the street, and was walking along the curb against the stream of people, she knew it was another city, and unlike any place she had ever seen before. The crowds moved slowly, as if they too were strangers, uncertain of directions and having nowhere to go. She could not find one face to remember. They all looked alike and no one seemed to have slept, or eaten, or gone shopping, or made love, or transacted business successfully or unsuccessfully, or done any of the things that leave a mark on the eyes or mouths of passers-by. They're all waiting, she thought. She began to watch them closely, looking for anger somewhere, hoping to see perhaps two men talking together in sharp voices, with a little crowd collecting, and the anger spreading. But the people held apart from each other. She imagined that on the faces of the women there would be some sign of what had happened, even despair would be better than this, despair would have shape, and bring the faces to life. But these people looked gray and empty and she thought, so that's the way it goes; they learn to keep quiet fast.

She was walking quickly now, as if to leave behind whatever had silenced these others. She swerved to avoid a woman with a black felt hat, pulled down like a pot, and cracking shoes and a loose black coat, who carried a bundle wrapped in newspaper. A cleaning woman, Mary decided, going home from some office building to get supper, and tired anyhow as she is every day, but now more than tired. Two young girls, with their hair chopped into stiff short bobs, very blonde, unpainted, walked along not noticing the men or the shop windows. They must be salesgirls, Mary said to herself. A man passed her, with a dog on a leash, and she could not place him, because he was too well dressed, and showed no marks of work. There was an errand boy in a white coat with his shop's name embroidered on the breast pocket, two painters in spotted overalls, then a stream of dark-clothed city people mostly wearing glasses, their shoulders curved by desk work. She thought, but you can't be a private citizen any more, it doesn't matter what they are, or where they work, or if they just get money from a bank every month. They're all caught, and now the city has shut down on them like a prison and they must obey the rules, and they have to like the prison and cheer the rules. Or escape. Or escape. Get out somehow. Run from it.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from A Stricken Field by Martha Gellhorn. Copyright © 1968 Martha Gellhorn. Excerpted by permission of The University of Chicago Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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