A journalist's memoir of recent history
Ends of the World, by Cecily Mackworth. New York: Carcanet. 171 pp. $16.95. For more than 20 years, Cecily Mackworth lived a life that is a journalist's dream: witnessing and writing about history in the making, from the occupied France and wartime London of the 1940s to the partition of Palestine and the Algerian struggle for independence.
In ``Ends of the World,'' Mackworth delves into her diaries of those days, recreating not so much a factual account of the events, as a personal one filled with images, feelings, and observations.
Welsh-born Mackworth, who describes herself during these turbulent events as ``a spectator, roaming in a no-man's land between past and future,'' writes with a certain loping grace, carefully detailing this vignette or that brief encounter before bounding off to the next - sometimes thoroughly unrelated - string of memories.
At times, this freewheeling style serves her well. In the course of these slim memoirs, she quickly establishes and maintains a great sense of a world turned upside down, of chapters of history coming to a close.
She often makes her point with humor - as in her story of tea with T.S. Eliot during a bombing raid in London. Mackworth was ready to dive for cover, while the renowned poet, who sat calmly amidst shattering windows, ``just gave a little, annoyed click with his tongue and passed the muffins.''
Mackworth also makes her point with poignancy, whether describing the bitter invective of an elderly Jewess who stands at the railing of a boat bound for Palestine and screams at the fading shores of Europe; or in detailing the plight of World War II refugees waiting at consulates in Portugal, ``holding out ragged, multicolored passports which demand so little, only the impossible, one more visa, a little ink and a stamp and the goodwill of mankind.''
Mackworth also occasionally veers toward the self-indulgent. Some of her reminiscences about her wartime friends and acquaintances smack of name-dropping, especially the passages she devotes to her encounter with Dylan Thomas.
In addition, despite Mackworth's initial confession that ``Ends of the World'' is not a document of precise historical details, it is still disappointing (and frustrating) to find that Mackworth often refuses to provide historical context or continuity. For example, she provides little if any context for Isabelle Eberhardt - even though Mackworth has written a biography on her, and even though the latter portion of the book draws from Mackworth's experiences in tracing Eberhardt's life in the Sahara. Finding out more about Eberhardt is difficult: A perusal of encyclopedias and volumes of ``Who's Who'' turned up not a single entry.
For readers willing to pursue the facts of history elsewhere, however, there are some gems to be found here - vibrant, human stirrings in the midst of a world of endings.