Ahead of Time

AHEAD OF TIME by Ruth Gruher; Wynwood Press, 1991, $19.95

Add unpretentiousness to the characteristics that distinguish some seasoned journalists from others. In a captivating memoir of her early professional years, veteran foreign correspondent Ruth Gruber skillfully sails through an astonishing odyssey with ease and humility.

Gruber’s achievements are woven into a riveting autobiography, set during the Depression era I930’s. Postponing marriage and babies before it was socially acceptable, this young Jewish woman embarks on a series of journeys that culminate in a doctorate from—of all places—Germany. She is referred to in press accounts as “the youngest Ph.D. In the world.” It is the identification with her Jewish heritage, however, that is most poignant. Anti-Semitism rears its ugly head not only in Nazi Germany, where Gruber witnesses the ominous signs of impending doom, but also in the midst of her insulated studies in Wisconsin. Most affecting of all is Gruber’s visit with family in a Polish shtetl. The meeting is brief, under duress from local authorities. It provides Gruber’s closest brush with that era’s brutality as she laments the inevitable loss of her relatives to the Holocaust.

Her notoriety earned her an unprecedented sojourn to the Soviet Arctic as the first American and female journalist during Stalinist Russia. A second excursion delivers her to the labor camps of Siberia where broken spirits and unspoken words provide her with insight into what we now know to be the Gulag.

Gruber’s pioneering efforts are a stunning tribute to self-determination—a reaffirmation of female competence in a man’s environment.

Randi Locke is the program coordinator for social action projects of the Union of American Congregation