20 MARCH 1942, Page 20


A Stricken Field is a desperate book ; or perhaps it would be truer and braver to say that were we not at war at last, were not humanity, cumbrously, blunderingly but at least honestly now, in action against its own atrociousness, this would indeed be a desperate, appalling book. But we must take what heart we can from the fact that we are no longer in that painful, side-line relation to the persecuted which made the sensitive reporter in this novel accuse again and again her own self-pity: "How rtlanY prisons have you been in, my beauty, how many countries have you been driven from? What would you be complaining of? Name it. You get an eyeful and it gives you the horrors and you leave ; you just buy a ticket and take a plane and leave. You're a sufferer, you are, you have a terrible time." For years all decent people in free countries had felt ashamed, in just such terms, of their own bouts of vague humanitarian distress which led nowhere and involved them in no pain, no co-operation. But now at least we are at war. We have not been tortured yet, most of us ; we have not had our ears burnt off nor have we been beaten on the back until our kidneys are exposed. But by declaration we have made ourselves eligible for such experiences ; we have sat and counted the bombs as, they screamed down from the stick, and we have learnt to live on terms with our perpetual anxiety for beloved individuals perpetually in danger. So perhaps we may bring a little more courage than otherwise we could to reading of events in and around Prague in the months between Munich and the Anschluss.

Miss Gellhorn has not written a novel ; rather she reports through a few special instances, and through the eyes of an American journalist called Mary Douglas, what happened to Jews, Communists, anti-Henleinists, and in general to the decent- minded, when Germany entered Sudetenland. In particular she gives us the story of a German girl called Rita, and her lover Peter. It is a terrible narrative, and it is not made less effective by the embarrassment, discomfort and self-searching which afflict the American woman as she makes her vain efforts to help a few of the persecuted and the doomed. We know, alas, from a thousand corroborative sources, that the kind of thing we have to read in A Stricken Field is quite simply true ; it is not escapist reading ; it is relevant and documentary, a terrible refresher to our conviction that this enormous, desperate war, to which we came late, slow and unready, is humanity's last wild hope, and must be carried through at any price whatever. Miss Gellhorn has set down her evidence honourably and sensi- tively, and without affectation. Let us hope that she will be widely read, to the increase of courage and passion.

Those who like a topical adventure story, really well told, should be pleased with The Sword and the Net. It is a war thriller, and deals with the adventures of a Nazi flying ace who is picked and trained for dangerous spy and sabotage work in the United States. Through a series of exciting events, narrated with attention to character and personal feeling, we see our misguided brave man brought to realise the error of his ways and the horribleness of Nazidom. The story is quite thrilling, and comes to a satisfactory end.

And for sunny, sweet release from all contemporary woe there is this week a tender book of childhood, Ake and His World. Its author, Bertil Malmberg, is apparently a great Swedish lyrical poet, and this collection of little-boyhood memories is lyrical and limpid. The name of the translator is not given, but the foreign oddness of his work is pleasing on the whole, though occasionally it is clear that the meaning has been missed. KATE O'BRIEN.