Beautiful Exiles

Written by Meg Waite Clayton
Review by Linda Harris Sittig

Although other stories of Ernest Hemingway abound, this tale told in first-person narrative by wife number three, Martha Gellhorn, explores her life as she struggles to become a female war correspondent. Throughout her soul-searching years, Clayton weaves her torrid love affair and then tumultuous marriage to Ernest Hemingway.

In Hemingway’s own words, “love and war are two of the greatest themes in literature.” This holds true for their relationship as well. Early in the story, they are both in Spain covering the Spanish Civil War when their affair begins. They move to Cuba, which at first sounds idyllic: write in the morning, swim or fish in the afternoon, and drink at night. But this lifestyle does not sustain Martha, who longs to have an important journalistic career of her own. And, to do that, she needs to be on the war front, not swimming with Ernest in the placid waters of Cuba. Eventually, Hemingway’s ego forces her to make the decision to either be his wife first and writer second, or the other way around.

The book is so well written that at times I forgot I was reading a novel, and instead found myself immersed in the roar of battle, either on the front lines or in their living room. This is highly recommended reading because the plot is well paced, the characters ring true, and the story reveals the difficulties of two strong-willed people at odds with one another.