The Girl with the Leica

Written by Ann Goldstein (trans.) Helena Janeczek
Review by Janice Ottersberg

This fictionalized true-life story of Gerda Taro (born Gerta Pohorylle), the first woman photojournalist killed in war, is told by three of her friends in the 1930s: Willy Chardack, Ruth Cref, and Georg Kuritzkes. Gerda, a German Jew, was involved in anti-fascist activities and fled Germany in 1934. Now in Paris, she meets André Friedmann and develops a love of photography under his mentorship. They work as a duo with the alias of Robert Capa, covering political events in France leading up to WWII and the Spanish Civil War. Gerda was a charismatic, daring woman, well-loved in France and Spain. While photographing the action in Spain, she is killed.

In 1960, Willy reminisces about his time with Gerda as a friend and lover in Paris. Émigrés fleeing the growing fascism in Europe were unwelcome in France. It was illegal to hire them, so Gerda struggled finding work, hungry and penniless. The narrative moves to 1938 following Gerda’s death. Ruth tells about their life in Stuttgart, Germany, their disenfranchised lives in Paris, and Gerda’s death and funeral in 1937 on her 27th birthday. Returning to 1960, Georg tells of his time with Gerda as her lover before Capa came into her life.

The musings and reminiscences of her three friends paint an unclear picture of who Gerda was and meander off into unrelated details. As they talk about their lives, friends, and families, it is as meaningless as eavesdropping on strangers’ conversations. Sentences are awkward, vague, wandering, and lack coherence. The generous sprinkling of German, French, Spanish, and Italian words and phrases is disruptive, and unless the reader is well-versed in the minuscule details of the political and social upheaval in Germany, France, and Spain, much of the narrative is beyond grasp. This book is bordering on unreadability, and sadly we don’t learn enough of this courageous woman.