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Wednesday, December 7th, 2005


The Coldest Winter: A Stringer in Liberated Europe

by Paula Fox

The Story of a Haunted Continent

A review by Anna Godbersen

It would be difficult for a young American traveling abroad now to experience a Europe untouched by tourists, but everything was very different in 1946, of course, when Paula Fox first went to the Louvre and found herself "nearly alone in the museum except for a drunken elderly custodian." Fox’s was not your average post-college sojourn, to say the least; as she recalls in her memoir The Coldest Winter, she sailed from New York to London at twenty-two, just after World War II, to take a job as a stringer for a small British news service. In fine, understated prose, Fox recounts trips to Paris and Warsaw, her ventures mostly freezing and poorly funded. She tells us that her stories, "tended toward the picturesque rather than the newsworthy," which does not surprise. Work and political events figure only slightly here; what Fox communicates most effectively is the mood of a haunted continent, its people still paranoid and stunned and some of them tattooed. On a planned trip for journalists in France, she remembers being, "chilled to the bone by the sea wind, as well as by memories not my own."

Fox, the author of several novels and a memoir about her Dickensian childhood, is as spare with her own feelings as she is with adjectives. Her one love affair lasts little more than a page, only slightly longer than the anecdote in which she has a conversation with Sartre without knowing that it’s him. Still, this is a story -- sad, glamorous, elegiac -- about how foreign places can change a person, grow them up; for Fox, Europe "had shown me something beyond my own life…something other than myself."

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