Ernest Hemingway is known for his masterpieces of Farewell to Arms and Old Man and the Sea, but he was more than a man of fiction. Hemingway on the China Front by Peter Moreira illustrates the adventurous and political side of this 20th century literary giant. This non-fiction book examines Hemingway’s marriage to the journalist Martha Gellhorn and his pseudo WWII spy persona in a captivating portrayal. But even though the big names of China and Hemingway coat the cover, it is Martha Gellhorn making this book a historical treasure.
The book’s earnestness centers on Gellhorn and Hemingway’s marriage and how their honeymoon in China explores their egotistic personalities and passion for the truth. It offers a unique study of the effect of WWII on the Republic of China, which was held by the iron fist of Chiang. Fearful of Japan overwhelming China, the United States and Russia funneled money into the corrupt government to insure opposition, while Chiang used this money to stem off the rising tide of Communism. Hemingway and Gellhorn place themselves in the middle of this political intrigue as they reach the Sino-Japanese front, drink highballs in Hong Kong, and discover the horrors of war torn China.
Moreira portrays Hemingway as more clown than adventurer and more bastard than newlywed. He is arrogant in his assumptions, as his ego becomes his most glaring defect. He is the ultimate celebrity American strutting around a war torn nation concerned with the respect the Chinese army has for his name. Gellhorn is portrayed has a vanguard journalist who battles for her dignity against a callous husband and her integrity against her patriotism. She is the heroine against her famous husband and the struggle for China’s republic is a powerful metaphor for their relationship.
This book reveals our American fascination with celebrities, even dead ones, but it's also an excellent history lesson on world politics and the role that writing plays in revealing the half-truths. China was an autocratic/aristocratic government struggling for its existence against the imperialism of Japan and her Communist future. Gellhorn foresaw the inevitable end of this government and the important tenants that would insure a future China:
For democracy to bloom, China needed a higher literacy rate, free movement and communication of the people, and enough time away from the struggle for survival to think about politics. In the meantime, she said, China should adopt a six-point plan…first, ensuring clean drinking water; second, ensuring sewage disposal; third, producing a government-issued birth control pill; fourth, producing enough rice to prevent death by starvation; fifth, implementing a universal health system; and finally, creating a system of schools so all children could be educated. (197)
This was a powerful message from a writer who was no understudy to Hemingway’s political thought or insight. Her words predict the future rise of China and a keen message for the United States’ democratic survival. All things Chinese have become popular and a book that involves America ‘s most favorite writer and this exotic culture is sure to satisfy. But it is more than satisfying to meet Martha Gellhorn, who was defining late 20th century feminism in the face of chauvinistic Hemingway and cruel warn torn China.
What American celebrity, dead or alive, would you want to read about this summer?