As Rose City Reader’s European Reading Challenge has me reading my way through Europe, I’m beginning to encounter books set in not one, but multiple European countries. This has inspired me to start a new series called Pan-European Lives. With this series I hope to feature books by or about people who have visited or lived in multiple European countries. In addition to nonfiction works like memoirs and biographies, eventually I hope to include even a piece of fiction or two. Right now I have no idea how extensive the series will be, or exactly which books will be featured. But I’m optimistic this will be a worthwhile endeavor.
What I can tell you is the first book in this series is Paula Fox’s 2005 memoir The Coldest Winter: A Stringer in Liberated Europe. In 1946 Fox was 22 years old and living in New York City. When offered the opportunity to work as a freelance journalist in Europe on behalf of a small British news service she hopped a converted American Liberty ship and made her way to England. After a brief stay in London (and crossing paths with an incredibly intoxicated Winston Churchill) she made her way to Paris. While in France she fell in love, met Jean-Paul Sartre and spent time playing cards with her Holocaust survivor neighbor. Tasked with covering the Polish elections, she journeyed to Warsaw by way of Prague. While on assignment in Poland her journalistic companions included a number of Europeans (including a Czech and several Yugoslavs) and one American (ostensibly there on behalf of a Midwestern Jewish newspaper, but in all likelihood a Zionist agent sent to make contact with the remnants of Poland’s Jewish community and assess its prospects for eventual immigration to Palestine). She would end her European odyssey with a trip to Spain and with it a chance to experience life under Franco’s authoritarian rule.
Even though many Amazon reviewers were less than impressed with Fox’s memoir, I kinda liked it. Her direct writing made for easy but engaging reading. While I wished she could have spent more time discussing the political developments of her day, her encounters with various individuals she met along the way made for interesting reading. Not a bad book to kick off the Pan-European Lives series.