After writing her best selling novel, The Paris Wife, about Ernest Hemingway and his first wife, Hadley, author Paula McLain swore she was done with Hemingway. But lucky for her readers, she returned, this time telling the story of Martha Gellhorn, his third wife, a fierce, determined, and oftentimes reckless young woman trying to make her way as a journalist during the Spanish Civil War. Paula McLain writes historical fiction true – she does not give herself license to imagination or supposition, changing the facts to make a better story. She makes a true story better through her lyrical prose and evocative scenes, tirelessly researching her subjects and time periods.
In Martha Gellhorn, McLain hits pay-dirt, for one would be hard-pressed to imagine a more feisty and gutsy character. Martha Gellhorn was a young woman determined to become a war correspondent when she met Ernest Hemingway, by then, one of the most famous authors in the world, himself a complex character rife with mood swings and a lusty appetite for life and love. Married to his second wife, and father to two young boys, Hemingway is drawn to fighting against fascism in Spain, on the cusp of World War II. He leaves his wife and sons behind, and travels with a group of writers, journalists, and politicos to support the rebel cause.
Gellhorn and Hemingway fall in love and eventually get married, settling in Cuba. But Martha isn’t satisfied to be known as the wife of a famous man – she too, wants to be famous. She becomes one of the most important war correspondents of her time. Reporting on WWII, she became one of the D-Day Dames, smuggling herself aboard a hospital ship to get to Normandy, and was one of the first journalists to cover the D-Day invasion. Gellhorn’s drive and her refusal to take a back seat to Hemingway’s career (and ego) eventually bring ruin to the relationship.
But Martha Gellhorn would not let the end of the relationship be her personal ruin. She became one of the twentieth century’s most celebrated war correspondents – reporting on every major conflict over her sixty year career – from the Spanish Civil War, to Vietnam, to El Salvador, to Panama, where she covered the invasion at the age of eighty-one.
I’d recommend Love and Ruin for fans of historical fiction, new journalism, and Hemingway.