REVIEW: The Double Life of Katharine Clark
Special thanks to the publisher, Source Books, and my local independent bookstore, Snail On The Wall, for an advanced copy to read in exchange for an honest review. This book made history come alive, and will be published on March 15, 2022. Nonfiction can be hard to do, and this one is done so well!
Katharine Clark is an American journalist behind the Iron Curtain in 1950s Yugoslavia. When high ranking leader Milovan Djilas goes on trial stripping him of his leadership and power, Katharine knows he has more to say. Thus begins an unusual friendship spanning decades, providing insights into Communism no one had.
I will be the first to admit I don't know a lot about the Cold War, Yugoslavia, or life behind the Iron Curtain. Even though it's very recent history (considered to end only at the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989), I haven't spent as much time learning about it past what I learned in high school history. Several years ago I had the privilege of visiting Prague, Czech Republic which was formerly part of Eastern Europe and fell behind the Curtain. It is a beautiful city, but even a tourist like me could tell this time period still effects and has a hold on the people who live there. This book brought this part of history alive to me, and I'm so glad I read it.
Katharine Clark comes across as a tenacious and persistent person. When American journalists were not allowed inside Milovan's "public trial," she found another way to interview him and share his story. What started as a relationship of a reporter and her source, quickly became so much more as Katharine, her husband Ed (also a reporter), Milovan, and his wife Steffie spent countless hours together. In the years that followed, all four of them were considered the closest of friends - even when Katharine and Ed were banned from Yugoslavia and did not speak to Milovan and Steffie for many many years.
Milovan himself was a highly decorated individual. He worked his way up in the Communist Yugoslavian government and became one of Tito's most trusted advisors. As a decorated war hero, he was an ambassador to the Soviet Union when Stalin was in charge. Then, he had a change of heart. Speaking out against Communism was obviously frowned upon and quickly shut down. Thus began the years of trials, observation by secret police, prison sentences, and more. Working with Katharine was dangerous, but both Milovan and Katharine were determined to get his words to the rest of the world.
I was enraptured by this story. Parts of it did not feel like it could be real, but the author's note at the beginning shows how much research, original documentation, and family stories went into this book. Author Katharine Gregorio is Katharine Clark's great-niece, and I believe this gives her a unique advantage in sharing this story. Throughout the book, it's obvious that Katharine Clark did not feel a need to be recognized for her work in sharing Milovan's words, but this untold story is one that deserves to be brought into the light. Katharine put her life on the line for a stranger (at least in the beginning), and their partnership turned the communist world on its head. Their actions still have implications today (for example, the CIA used - possibly still uses? - the book The New Class in their covert book program).
I would highly recommend snagging this book if you are interested in history, Eastern Europe, untold stories, and insurmountable odds. It was easy to devour, and I finished it within 2 days.
Content Warnings: war/prison stories