Reviewing the Book “The Double Life of Katharine Clark: The Untold Story of the Fearless Journalist Who Risked Her Life for Truth and Justice”

From a Wall Street Journal review by Joshua Rubenstein of the book by Katharine Gregorio titled “The Double Life of Katharine Clark: The Untold Story of the Fearless Journalist Who Risked Her Life for Truth and Justice”:

There is a long line of Western correspondents who, over the course of the 20th century, covered events in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union and then wrote widely admired books about their experiences. The memoirs of Henry Shapiro and Alexander Werth have informed generations of readers, and the photojournalist Margaret Bourke-White, who made it to Moscow after the German invasion in 1941, gave us the memorable “Shooting the Russian War.”

Few such correspondents, however, had as much effect on the societies they covered as Katharine Clark. Dispatched to Belgrade in the 1950s alongside her husband, Edward Clark, who wrote for Time magazine, Katharine held a lowly position as a stringer for the Chicago Tribune. She had an eye for a big story, though. In Belgrade, she made a point of meeting and befriending the Yugoslav dissident communist Milovan Djilas, then helped him write two of his books—and then arranged to spirit the manuscripts out of Yugoslavia and into the hands of publishers in New York. In “The Double Life of Katharine Clark,” Katharine Gregorio tells Clark’s story in engaging, well-researched and vivid detail.

Clark came to Belgrade with more experience than her position as a stringer might suggest. She had been a radio journalist in the Panama Canal Zone, where her father was a commanding U.S. officer, then in Philadelphia, where she produced and hosted a show for children that gained her a popular following. She followed this work with a stint in Berlin for her Philadelphia station, arriving there in 1945 just as the Allies were dividing the city into four zones.

Clark and her husband had been separated for about a decade before they resumed their shared lives in Berlin in the late 1940s. That Ed enjoyed a more prominent career than she provoked some resentment in Katharine, who routinely felt the burden of misogyny in a mostly male profession, as Ms. Gregorio makes clear. The Clarks’ son, Sandy, was primarily raised by grandparents while his parents pursued their careers in one foreign assignment after another. Ms. Gregorio, who is Clark’s great-niece, deserves credit for not romanticizing their lives by ignoring the personal toll that such work can exact on a couple and their family.

Clark first saw Djilas around the time of his trial in Belgrade in November 1956. He and his co-defendant, Vladimir Dedijer—both had been high-ranking Communist Party members and Yugoslav government officials—were accused of “undermining the authority of the working people” for publicly criticizing the policies of Yugoslavia’s leader, Josip Broz Tito, their longtime comrade, in interviews with a Western reporter. In the event, both got off lightly, being convicted of “hostile propaganda” and given suspended sentences. Clark and the other Western correspondents were denied entry to the courtroom, but Clark had a glimpse of Djilas as he approached the courthouse and decided that she would try to meet him.

It took time and patience for Clark to win Djilas’s trust, but she did—and they soon entered into a plan to fool the communist secret police, which kept close tabs on Djilas. Djilas and his wife, Steffie, and the Clarks began to visit each other regularly as friends. But at the Clarks’ home, Djilas and Katharine would get down to work: He would dictate articles to her in English while she typed and edited the material; in a nearby room, with jazz playing on a record player and water running in the kitchen—to counter listening devices—Ed Clark and Steffie would play cards.

As Djilas faced increased pressure from the regime, which saw him as a virtual traitor for challenging Marxist orthodoxy, he began to share book-length manuscripts with Katharine—the initial drafts, in Serbo-Croatian, of “The New Class” and “Land Without Justice.” Both books would be published in the West. “The New Class” became an international bestseller. With its devastating account of privilege and corruption in the higher echelons of the Communist Party, it helped spur opposition to Soviet-imposed regimes in the years following the death of Stalin. The book was all the more powerful for having been written by a former communist official who had even represented Tito in visits to Moscow, where he met with Stalin during World War II and after. Djilas’s account of these visits, “Conversations With Stalin” (1962), remains a chilling and insightful portrait of the Soviet dictator.

Among the many pleasures of “The Double Life of Katharine Clark” is Ms. Gregorio’s account of Clark’s courageous efforts to secure safe passage for Djilas’s manuscripts. She set about arranging for an American diplomat to take out one manuscript while she smuggled out another in her luggage as she and Ed drove to Vienna. Such efforts were matched by the strategic maneuvering required to find a publisher for Djilas’s work.

Clark turned to Praeger, a publishing house well-known for its list of anti-communist titles. But she soon came to mistrust Frederick Praeger, whom she found pompous and self-aggrandizing; by contrast, Felix Morrow, another New York publishing figure, proved to be a reliable literary agent. In any case, Praeger did bring out “The New Class,” in 1957, to great acclaim. A year later, Harcourt, Brace published “Land Without Justice,” Djilas’s memoir about growing up in Montenegro and his initial attraction to communism.

Clark valued William Jovanovich at Harcourt, Brace even though he could be, as Ms. Gregorio puts it, “gullible and soft-hearted.” At one point, Jovanovich was fooled by the Yugoslav secret police into sending money to a fake bank account in Belgrade, thinking he was helping Djilas, a mistake that enraged Clark because she feared it would further compromise Djilas there. Arrested for the last time after the publication of “Conversations With Stalin,” Djilas would spend four more years in prison before finally gaining his release in 1966. The Clarks, who had left Yugoslavia in the fall of 1956, had the unexpected pleasure of welcoming Djilas and his wife to America in 1968.

Katharine Clark remained silent about the role she had played in bringing Djilas’s work to the attention of the broader world—until, nearing death from cancer in 1986, she included mention of her helping Djilas publish his books in an obituary that she composed. Djilas, in turn, died in 1995, just short of his 84th birthday. “The Double Life of Katharine Clark” is an eloquent tribute to them both.

 

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