Book Review by Diane McCurdy – May 2020
Behind Enemy Lines by Jeane Slone
Some people just have the knack. They are born story tellers. It is a rare talent. They could give you a run down on the biscuits that they made for breakfast and you listen raptly. Local author, Jeane Slone, has that gift. The story she tells is about Adeline Peterson who was a war correspondent during WWII when women were definitely not encouraged to photograph the atrocities of war. She was feisty and courageous and broke gender biases. Her story is fictionalized but the events she covers are real.
The author starts at the very beginning. Adeline was born into a conservative and a rather emotionally cold family. She led a sheltered life and accidentally was allowed to participate in her father's hobby, photography. She continued her interest in college and having extricated herself from a suffocating marriage, she went to New York and was able to get jobs using her photographic skills. She was engaged to photograph The Depression, the dance marathons as well as the soup lines. She was sent on location to Oklahoma and sent back pictures of dust storms, jack rabbit drives and locust swarms. She was always altruistic about her profession and used her images to raise awareness of many human and natural disasters. Requesting special papers, she went overseas and witnessed the Nazi take over of Czechoslovakia. Able to flee Paris before the arrival of the enemy, she does get caught in the Blitz in London. She observed the first bomb that hit Moscow and a ship she was on was torpedoed in the sea near North Africa. All the while she is toting cumbersome photographic gear that we in the digital age can hardly even imagine. She frequently disregards rules as a way of getting that perfect shot. She was there for the liberation of France and was privy to the unspeakable horrors of Buchenwald and Dachau. Switching military theaters, she was almost hit by a sniper on Mt. Suribachi in Iwo Jima. She toured ground zero on Nagasaki and photographed the insidious disease X that was caused by radiation.
Throughout, there are black and white snapshots to support the text. The novel abounds with mind-boggling research from camera equipment to war timelines. Name dropping adds authenticity, Ernest Hemingway, Eleanor Roosevelt, fellow recorders of history Virginia Cowles and Dorothea Lange. Each chapter is headed with a pithy quote which sets the tone. The protagonist knows she has given up any thought of a normal life with a husband and children but feels her contributions has been significant and worthwhile. The last chapters has our gal taking pictures and working with Quakers on refugee relief and after being so close to the horrors of war, she makes an impassioned plea for peace.