Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Book Review: Travels with Myself and Another by Martha Gellhorn

Photograph by Nicole Holt

Travels with Myself and Another: A Memoir by Martha Gellhorn is a wonderful collection of self described "travel horror stories" collected in times when travel wasn't as common or easy as it is today.

Martha Gellhorn was a journalist with an insatiable thirst for travel and adventure. With the aid of her sporadically kept journals and letters that she sent to her mother while traveling, she recreates some of her most memorable trips that were more trying than most. I think that the majority of people who travel will agree that it's the things that don't go as you plan while traveling that are the most memorable.

The author was privileged enough to travel to mysterious places like China, Russia and Africa while they were still mysterious and very difficult to visit. The book recounts adventures during WWII to the 1960's, and Ms. Gellhorn is able to show us a different time in the history of travel from working as a war correspondent in the Caribbean searching for submarines or researching the hippy subculture in Israel.

As a world traveler, I found this book relatable, and I especially found myself drawn to the story about visiting Soviet Russia since I had visited Russia in the not too distant past. While travelers no longer have to worry about the KGB, it appears to be just as difficult to visit Russia today as it was back then. Difficulties obtaining a visa, worrying about getting stuck in customs and not knowing who to trust are still common place. The knowledge that some things truly never change is oddly comforting.

While I did enjoy this book, I did not find it to be flawless. At times the author wrote passages entirely in French. I understand that there are some things that lose a great deal of their character when translated into English, but I neither speak nor read French so these passages came off to me as inside jokes of which I could not be part.

The author's style, which rambles on from time to time, takes a bit of getting used to, but it added somewhat to the stories, so it is forgivable.

Frequent travelers will find that Travels with Myself and Another: A Memoir rings true today even though its stories take place in a different age of travel. These stories will surely bring me comfort the next time I find myself in one of those unenviable travel positions; "At least I'm not Martha" I will think, and I will be thankful.

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