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An engaging memoir of an inspiring life

The Parting Of Ways: A Personal Account Of The Thirties - Shiela Grant Duff

I first learned of the book when I saw it listed in a bookseller's catalog. Intrigued by the description, I purchased the book and quickly read this engaging memoir about the early years of a fascinating woman.

The granddaughter of two Liberal Members of Parliament, Shiela Grant Duff grew up in the shadow of the First World War. When she graduated from Oxford in 1934, she dedicated herself idealistically, almost quixotically, to stopping a repetition of the conflict. Determined to learn the causes of war, she took the advice of Arnold Toynbee and became a foreign correspondent. In 1936 she moved to Prague, where she met a number of leading Czechoslovak figures and played a minor role in the Munich crisis two years later, acting as an intermediary between Winston Churchill and members of the Czechoslovakian government as they attempted in vain to halt the course of events. After the crisis she returned to England, where she spoke and wrote on Czechoslovakia in the months leading up to the outbreak of war in September of 1939.

Grant Duff's memoir is an enjoyable account of a life and a career fired by idealism. Though the Second World War casts a shadow across its pages, she does not temper her account with hindsight or cynicism, making her optimism and determination more comprehensible as a result. Adding to her story are those of her many friends whom she interweaves into her account, showing how they effected her life. Of them, it is her friendship with Adam von Trott that takes center stage, from their first meeting at Oxford to the growing estrangement between them that gives the book's title its meaning. Using generous selections from their correspondence, she shows how their relationship declined in parallel with the deterioration of peace in Europe, adding poignancy to this wonderful memoir which enlightens about the decade and the people who lived through it.