Thursday, January 31, 2013

Literary Bite: Travels with Myself and Another by Martha Gellhorn

Travels with Myself and Another by Martha Gellhorn sounds like an awesome book – a woman writing about her travels in a time before traveling alone was a thing women did. (Reminiscent of West with the Night, which is my favorite title ever and an excellent book).

  • Out of a lifetime of travelling, Martha Gellhorn has selected her "best horror journeys". She bumps through rain-sodden, war-torn China to meet Chiang Kai-Shek, floats listlessly in search of u-boats in the wartime Caribbean and visits a dissident writer in the Soviet Union against her better judgement. Written with the eye of a novelist and an ironic black humour, what makes these tales irresistible are Gellhorns explosive and often surprising reactions. Indignant, but never righteous and not always right, through the crucible of hell on earth emerges a woman who makes you laugh with her at life, while thanking God that you are not with her. (source)

Despite its promise, I am sorry to report that Travels with Myself and Another was not good. It was soooo tedious I could barely get through. Maybe it’s the dryness of her writing style; I felt like I was reading someone’s diary or travel notes, but not in a good way, which is surprising because the subject – traveling in obscure and difficult situations – is so cool and interesting and exciting!

Also, the “other” in the title is Ernest Hemmingway (Gellhorn was his second wife), but there is very very little about him…all we really glean is that he hated China and drank heavily. Duh.

The book is based off the premise that no one wants to hear good travel stories (think about it: you come back from a trip, a friend asks how was it? and within seconds your listeners’ eyes glaze over), but everyone loves a disaster. Though Gellhorn is supposed to be this amazing person (one of the best war correspondents and most interesting women of the 20th century according to some), I hated her a little bit. Mostly because of the Africa section – I felt like I was being beaten over the head with her extreme racism and it really bothered me. (I know, I know, it was a different time, etc. etc., but that doesn’t mean I’m ok with it.)

So I'm going to go ahead and say skip this one. If you want to read a good travel book read something by Paul Theroux (Dark Star Safari) or Peter Hessler (River Town).

And if you want to read a good book about one of Hemmingway's wives read The Paris Wife.