x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

A Stricken Field: the merciless history of Prague's refugees

A reissue of Martha Gelhorn's powerful autobiographical novel about the plight of refugees in Prague following Nazi Germany's 1938 annexation of the Sudetenland.

A Stricken Field
Martha Gellhorn
The University of Chicago Press
Dh62
A Stricken Field Martha Gellhorn The University of Chicago Press Dh62

Powerful and harrowing, A Stricken Field is the 1940 autobiographical novel by the American war correspondent Martha Gellhorn about the plight of refugees in Prague following Nazi Germany's 1938 annexation of the Sudetenland.

Reissued in trade paperback with a new foreword by Caroline Moorhead, Gellhorn's biographer, it is the story of a journalist who tries to help the dissidents and Jews at the mercy of the Gestapo in a Kafkaesque world in which British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain had just promised "peace for our time".

Gellhorn's prose, admirably, is crisp and vivid and not heavy-handed. The crazed inner monologues of the principal character, Mary Douglas, and of the desperate refugee Rita are gripping. So are the sins of omission and commission by spineless politicians, the sadistic savagery of tormentors of the oppressed, the delusional hope of uprooted people "with wild eyes and stunned, exhausted faces", and the flight into drink and black humour by those who chronicle a merciless history they can neither escape nor change.

To read it is to marvel at the author's craft, to share her rage and grief, and to despair at man's inhumanity to man.

It is not for the faint-hearted.