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REVIEW - Eyewitness: A Memoir of Europe in the 30s

Eyewitness – A Memoir Of Europe in the 1930s
Geoffrey Cox
University of Otago Press
RRP $39.95
Reviewed by Jonathan Hill

In arguably one of the most fascinating and influential periods in modern European history, Eyewitness is a recollection of a life fortunate enough to witness some of the defining moments of recent history.

Geoffrey Cox was born in Palmerston North in 1910 and Eyewitness starts with a rich account of his first eight years in Europe, having moved from Otago to Oxford to take up a Rhodes Scholarship at the age of 22.

From here the book details Cox’s inevitable drift towards journalism and his accounts of events that he witnessed in Europe, both as a scholar and later as a journalist. He writes of the horror of the Stalin regime in the then Soviet Union which he saw while visiting the country and tells of how his first journalism work came after he joined the Nazi Youth Labour service and worked with them for several weeks, documenting his experiences for papers such as The New York Times.

He tells of witnessing the infamous Nuremburg Rally, heard Adolf Hitler give a speech to the Nazi Party and, later, tells of watching Hitler enter Vienna after the capture of Austria.

Journalists are going to enjoy Eyewitness perhaps even more than others. Cox tells of his first journalism job and his on the job training with a rare mixture of humour, detail and warmth. He tells of his first stories and of his first conflicts arising from having to write stories he didn’t feel should be printed.

From there Cox’s first major job as a foreign correspondent was covering developments in the Spanish Civil War. In this conflict he witnessed the true atrocities and massacres of war, including a mass bombing of civilians.

His description of both people and events are clear and fluid, with simple and well chosen words. The book is easy to read and, for me, was characterised by a good natured humour and constant pace.

For a book which deals with events long past, although far from insignificant today, Eyewitness is peculiarly exciting. A historical page turner which shows again that the success lies in the skill of the telling.

The insights into the events of the time mixed with the personal and well-penned reactions of the writer give Eyewitness a delicate blend of information and entertainment which makes for a fascinating and fun history lesson from a master story teller.

Though set 60 years ago the appeal of this book promises to be broad. Eyewitness is one of the most engaging and delightfully interesting memoirs I have read in a long time.

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