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The Correspondents

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Member Reviews

The Correspondents follows six remarkable women journalists as they risk life and limb to report from the front lines during World War II.
In the introduction to The Correspondents, author Judith Mackrell points out that although there had been women journalists reporting from the front lines of earlier wars, it was the Second World War "which was to become the defining opportunity for female correspondents." By the end of the conflict, she continues, "around 250 of the reporters and photographers accredited to the Allied armies were women." The author focuses on six of these intrepid journalists, each of whom not only braved the dangers of reporting from a war zone but had to fight rampant sexism to do so.

The six shared a disregard of danger and a determination to report the news, but came from vastly different backgrounds. Virginia Cowles began her career as a gossip columnist for New York and Boston publications, but became the first person of either gender to report from both sides of the Spanish Civil War (see Beyond the Book). She went on to crisscross Europe as Nazi aggression increased, and was in England when the Blitz began. Clare Hollingworth, the lone Brit on Mackrell's list, was a novice reporter for London's Daily Telegraph when she was sent to Poland before the outbreak of war. She famously "scooped" every other newsperson, getting an early warning about Germany's invasion when she accidentally saw German troops and tanks amassing on the border. Martha Gellhorn began reporting in the United States early in her life, but her first war reporting was during the Spanish Civil War. She went on to cover nearly every conflict that occurred during her 60-year career, up through the 1989 US invasion of Panama (she was 81 years old at the time).

Highly-educated American Helen Kirkpatrick was the first woman provided with full war credentials, at the request of then-General Dwight Eisenhauer, whom she had impressed with her reporting. Lee Miller had a career as a model and fashion photographer before becoming a war correspondent for Vogue magazine, recording the fall of Germany as well as the liberation of the Nazi death camps. And Sigrid Schultz, born in Chicago, was the first female foreign bureau chief of a major US newspaper, reporting from Berlin for the Chicago Tribune.

Mackrell adroitly informs her readers about each of these women's lives, from their varied childhoods through their post-war careers, including how they dealt with what we'd now consider post-traumatic stress. Each had supporters, but they were mostly forced to forge ahead independently as they encountered roadblocks, many erected specifically to bar women from the front lines. The persistence they showed and the creativity they used is astonishing. Shultz, for example, faked heart palpitations to get admitted to a clinic treating Germany's President Ebert so she could get information about his condition before anyone else, and Gellhorn stowed away on a Red Cross ship so she could cover the invasion of Normandy.

The women also knew they had to set an example, acting braver than their male counterparts. Fitzpatrick and Cowles were on a bluff in England when enemy fighters suddenly flew overhead and began strafing it with machine-gun fire. While the men fled for cover, the two women laid flat on their backs in the meadow, counting the planes to report on later, knowing "it was imperative to betray no signs of weakness." They drove through combat zones from one end of Europe to the other; flew with pilots carrying out bombing missions; interviewed men on the front lines as well as the wounded in the hospital; documented the liberation of concentration camps; and reported from all corners of the conflict, from frigid Finland to the dunes of North Africa. Their stories are nothing less than remarkable, and Mackrell's accounting of the ordeals each faced highlights exactly how extraordinary these women were.

In addition to a fascinating portrait of these six journalists, The Correspondents makes an excellent historical narrative. I found the author's portrayal of Hitler's rise to power particularly absorbing, and her cinematic descriptions of the war zones are absolutely gripping. The book reads at times like an action-adventure novel, and is quite the page-turner in spite of being a nonfiction account of a well-documented conflict.

As previously noted, these six weren't the only women covering the war; the author mentions many others, sometimes devoting several paragraphs to one or another of them. I would have liked to know why the author chose to concentrate on these specific six correspondents. In addition, I sometimes found it challenging to keep track of which woman was the current subject. The author's seamless transitions from one correspondent's activities to another's, while well-done from a literary perspective, caused me a certain amount of confusion, particularly because the women were so similar in many ways. That said, I still found the book enthralling; it grabbed me from the first paragraph and kept me engaged, start to finish.

I find it amazing that although I've read many books about WWII, I keep discovering new ones that add an interesting facet to my understanding. The Correspondents does just that. I highly recommend it for anyone looking for a new take on the war, and for those interested in women's history in particular. Its fast pace and vivid descriptions combine to create a very approachable narrative, and it's one of those books I feel should be on high school recommended reading lists. Book groups, too, will find much to discuss here.
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“This was my show, my show” - Martha Gellhorn

I can’t recall the last time I was so completely immersed in a story and THE CORRESPONDENTS deserves so many more stars than 5. From Martha who one-upped her hubby Hemingway by stowing away onboard a ship while the rest of the journalists were quarantined in safety away from the action to Clare who facilitated the escape of *over 3,500* men, women, and children from Nazi Germany AND ONLY RECENTLY PASSED AWAY IN JANUARY 2017 AT AGE 105 (!!), these six women were a delight to get to know - and I would absolutely read individual bios of each one.

I will say though, as much as I love Hemingway, Martha’s story could have easily stood on its own; how much Papa is too much Papa? Prior to THE CORRESPONDENTS I didn’t think there was a limit. Here though, I could have done without him (“They’ll be reading my stuff long after the worms have finished with you.” Hell of a writer, shitty husband.)

With any WWII nonfic, there are m a n y content warnings to be aware of and that goes double here. Not only was one of the women raped when she was 7 (there’s page-time devoted to detailing the account) but these journalists wanted to make sure their readers knew exactly what was happening. The liberation of camps like Auschwitz, Dachau, and Buchenwald were horrifically and heartbreakingly described. This hits far too close to home for me and I tend to avoid novels featuring camps; a chapter in a nonfic was very difficult for me - this book is hands down worth a read but it’s not an easy, lighthearted tale.
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Fascinating discussion of women correspondents and new information about their participation in the build-up to and duration of World War II..
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I’ve read books about women WW2 correspondents before, but this book is an excellent contribution to the subject.  Mackrell tells the stories of six women, including not just their work during the war, but how they came to be journalists and have the determination to do a dangerous job that they were actively discouraged from doing, and what their lives were like after going through the excitement, horror, and grind of the war years.  The six women are:

<i>Martha Gellhorn</i>, too often recognized first as being a wife of Ernest Hemingway, she outmaneuvered him to get herself in the thick of the Normandy invasion, while he “liberated” the Ritz Bar in Paris.

<i>Lee Miller</i>, who turned her Vogue career into that of a war photographer and correspondent who took some of the most stunning pictures of the war.

<i>Sigrid Schultz</i>, who worked her way up to first female bureau chief, reporting from Berlin, the heart of the war’s darkness.  She invented a male correspondent to avoid getting into hot water with the Nazis, which was particularly important in her case, because her mother was Jewish.

<i>Virginia Cowles</i>, a debutante who worked as a women’s issues type of reporter in New York and Boston before leaving for Spain on her own initiative in 1936 to report on the Spanish Civil War.  She reported from all over Europe throughout the prewar and war years. 
<i>Clare Hollingworth</i> was actually the first to report the outbreak of WW2, because she was at the Polish border at the time of Germany’s invasion.  She had a long and storied international journalism career and died in Hong Kong in 2017 at age 105.

<i>Helen Kirkpatrick</i>, chosen by Eisenhower himself to be the first woman with full war credentials.

While many male correspondents trained their focus on military maneuvers and interviewing political and military men, these women didn’t limit themselves that way.  They also paid close attention to civilians and how war and politics affected their lives.  It struck me early on how that focus meant that these women were immediately strongly critical of Chamberlain’s Munich deal with Hitler.  Nearly all correspondents fell into Chamberlain’s characterization of the deal as “peace with honor,” but the women knew that this deal would be a tragedy for the Czechs and would only delay war.  And a couple of them didn’t hesitate to let Chamberlain—and readers—know it.

Despite active discouragement, these women put themselves in the same danger as male war reporters—and they often had to fight off unwelcome advances too.  Before the Battle of the Bulge, the Supreme HQ of the Allied Expeditionary Forces (SHAEF), decided that unlike male correspondents, women shouldn’t be allowed to report from the front.  The men were provided transportation and billets, while the women had to sneak around and make their own arrangements, sometimes by hitching rides with jeeps heading down roads attacked by snipers and air attacks.  They were actually put in more danger by SHAEF’s misplaced solicitude than if they just been credentialed the way their male compatriots were.

Some of the stories are already known, but Mackrell’s giving us full context adds interest.  For example, knowing more about Martha Gellhorn’s life and her struggles with her marriage to Hemingway makes it even more satisfying to read about her D-Day landing.  And have you ever seen the famous photo of Lee Miller taking a bath in Hitler’s tub?  It’s fun to read the full story of how that happened.

Reading about the postwar lives of these women was illuminating.  Each one suffered from PTSD, especially those who were there when the concentration and death camps were liberated.  Each one struggled with personal relationships.  But they all knew the importance of the work they’d done and never regretted it, despite the personal costs.

This is a fascinating, sobering and yet inspiring book.
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Six intrepid women cut through convention to report on WWII. Two of the women, Martha and Virginia, I was familiar with, but not the other four. I thought the writing was compelling and it kept my interest. I liked how the author followed through with the rest of,the women’s lives after WWII. It’s a worthy addition to the growing canon of women’s history and their importance in the media.
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A fascinating well researched well written look at the world of female correspondents during ww2. I was immediately caught up in their stories their brave journalistic efforts during ww2.I am glad these women are getting the recollection they deserve .This book is perfect for book club discussion journalism classes.I am so glad women like Martha Gellhorn and Lee Miller are getting the recognition they deserve.#netgalley #doubledaybooks.
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I love learning about women in history, and The Correspondents was a fascinating read for sure! While there certainly were female war correspondents prior to the world wars, there weren’t many. But during WWII, the sheer scale of the war increased the demand for reporters, and as many as 250 were allowed in the field. That gain was not without its obstacles; the British war office had strict policies about where they were allowed to go, they were often treated as second fiddle to “real” (male) reporters, and as many of the women in this book did, they often had to carve their own way into the war and employ creative and sometimes risky strategies, even if it meant skirting or even breaking the rules. The Correspondents follow 6 of these women: Lee Miller, Helen Kirkpatrick, Martha Gellhorn, Sigrid Schultz, and Virginia Cowles.  If you’re not a big nonfiction person, it reads like a story, even the parts giving background information on war events! Each of the women lived fascinating lives and I enjoyed seeing how each of them approached the war and developed their own writing style—-and often, their ideology and sense of identity as well. Their stories also intertwine, as they were contemporaries of one another, and chapters will often switch between them, efficiently comparing and contrasting their war, reporting, and personal experiences without being super confusing. Their stories are woven together expertly, and Mackrell really brings them to life. The only major flaw to me is that I would have liked to hear more about Sigrid Schultz, a Jewish reporter. We heard about her more at the beginning of the war, as she witnessed the rise of Hitler and the Nazi Regime in Berlin (and totally bashed him in the press while writing under a secret pseudonym!) but as the book went on she didn’t appear very much. Overall I enjoyed it a lot, did a lot of annotating, and definitely want a copy when it comes out in the fall!
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Knowing WW2 history is one thing. Revisiting it through the eyes of six brave, talented female correspondents who had to fight constantly for the chance to cover the war brought that history to life. The women showcased in this book fought to make sure their readers knew the truths of the war. It wasn’t an easy path they chose. Author Judith Mackrell has given readers a well researched look into the heroism and determination needed to persevere as female wartime correspondents in a time when women were often not welcome. The stories told take readers from the run up to the war and through multiple battles. Seeing the war through the reporters’ eyes brings it to life in a new way. 

This title will definitely be on my classroom shelf, and I’ll encourage my students to read it. 

I’m thankful for the opportunity to read an ARC of this publication courtesy of NetGalley
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