‘It always horrifies me to realize that people keep letters,’ the American writer Martha Gellhorn told one of her legion of correspondents in her later years. Horrifying for her, perhaps, but it is not difficult to see why anyone would keep – and treasure – a letter signed ‘Martha’, ‘Marty’, ‘M’, or simply ‘Gellhorn’, the woman who reported on every major twentieth-century conflict from the Spanish Civil War to Vietnam. Five hundred pages of the letters, sympathetically edited by her biographer Caroline Moorehead in this splendidly readable volume, reveal her to be as lively, lucid, challenging, acerbic and compelling a letter-writer as she was a war correspondent, novelist and travel writer.
Moorehead notes that in a 1986 afterword to her novel about Czechoslovakia in 1939, A Stricken Field, Gellhorn regretted she had never kept a ‘writer’s compost heap’ of diaries, journals, notes or photographs. She felt this omission more keenly than most because she took a dim view of her own