Shane's Reviews > Travels with Myself and Another: Five Journeys from Hell

Travels with Myself and Another by Martha Gellhorn
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Travelogue with a Difference - Journeys that Suck!

Martha Gellhorn, third wife of Ernest Hemingway, was reputed to be the most courageous and celebrated female journalist of the 20th century, covering all the major conflicts and trouble spots in the world during her long career. And in typical Hemingway-esque style, when her journalistic powers waned due to age and illness, she popped herself off with a cyanide capsule. This book covers six trips that didn’t go as smoothly, but then one wonders, whether they were of her making...

Her first “disaster” trip is to China in 1941 with a companion called UC (Unwilling Companion) whom we soon discover is none other than Hemingway, aboard planes that deliver freshly minted money in the millions to General Chiang Kai Shek’s Republic of China in its battle against the invading Japanese. She admits to being contemptible when it comes to condemning the impoverished Chinese way of life. She is particularly allergic to hawking, scraping throats, and spitting, and to “night soil” which is human excrement, the national manure. Unusual situations abound: UC drinks his Chinese colleagues under the table (at breakfast!) and gets on the boat by lunchtime; there are dead snakes in the wine jug, only discovered when pouring out the dregs, and the Japanese use the walled city of Kunming for bombing practice, hitting it daily.

Her next journey is to the Caribbean to spot German U boats. She charters a local sailing boat in the middle of hurricane season for the purpose, visiting St. Bart’s, St. Maarten, Sabah, the Virgin Islands and Antigua. “On St. Bart's I met the schoolteacher, a middle-aged Frenchman married to an island black. He wasn’t bubbling over either, and talked about the mistake of marrying a black woman; you sank into their slovenly customs, and fathered litters of noisy stupid half-breed kids.” Her biting criticism of people not of her kind will qualify her as a racist today. Later, in Africa, on another trip, she feels ashamed when she starts to smell like the blacks after a leper celebration. She is convinced that although we are all of one genus, we are not of one species. The difference between black and white, foreigner and local, colonial and colonized, journalist/explorer and guide, help to maintain distance as she travels alone with teams of local men, on storm wracked sees, through jungles and muddy rivers, and stays in flea-ridden hostels in derelict cities. There is also hubris: she has the balls to tell the townfolk in one place to release the woman whose screams she overhears. Her conclusion on the Caribbean is that the Dutch ran the best colonial shop down there.

Her next trip is across equatorial Africa in 1962, from Cameroun to Kenya, via Chad, Sudan, Uganda, and Tanzania, travelling part of the way with a thoroughly inept guide/driver named Joshua who can neither guide nor drive, leaving Gellhorn to do all the heavy lifting. She observes the unmanageable diversity: Cameroun alone has 200 tribes and 122 dialects, Uganda has 40 tribes. In Kenya, she observes, “The social structure was clear at once: Europeans, Asians, Africans (‘black’ being abusive here); First, Second and Third Class citizens. Perhaps, I felt the supremacy of white skin in this British colony with more force because I had just arrived from independent African states where white skin was carefully unassertive.” On democracy in Africa, her prophecy is, “I think all these countries will have one election, supervised by the retiring colonial power, and that the President then elected will stay in for life, unless (until?) there’s a palace putsch or assassination; and I do not see how it could be otherwise.” How prescient!

She travels to Moscow in her 60’s to meet an unknown, ailing female writer whose husband was executed as a traitor for writing four lines of anti-Stalin poetry. Gellhorn frequents the salon run by the Russian writer, meets intellectuals, dissidents and other artists, and treats them to imported goods from the west. Her view on Russia is dim: “Main sensation is pure Big Brother fear. The fear (based on facts and fed by everyone’s imagination) serves the regime – keeps the people silent and in line. If the rulers ever released the people from fear, it could be a great nation. But then, released from fear, the people might string up the rulers on the nearest lampposts.”

Her final journey is to Israel, where she stays in a settlement with young foreigners who are taking a vacation from the rat race. “Books were either non-existent or a hidden vice. No one expressed any interest in man-made beauty; art and architecture were for old squares. They littered the landscape (superb landscape) while condemning Israelis for doing the same.”

Although supposed to be writing for Colliers during her travels, I wondered, given the connections she had with the authorities, and its underlying tacit understanding, whether she was safe wherever she went.
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Reading Progress

Started Reading
October 16, 2019 – Shelved
October 16, 2019 – Finished Reading

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