Invisible Walls

Hardcover / ISBN-13: 9781474613736

Price: £20

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‘Memoirs of such richness are rare . . . a joy’ JAMES NAUGHTIE

‘A remarkable personal journey, by one of the great political correspondents of our world – eloquent, enlightening, exhilarating’ PHILIPPE SANDS

A trailblazer for women in journalism, Hella Pick arrived in Britain in 1939 as a child refugee from Austria. Over nearly four decades she covered the volatile global scene, first in West Africa, followed by America and long periods in Europe. In her thirty-five years with the Guardian she reported on the end of Empire in West Africa, the assassination of President Kennedy, Martin Luther King’s march from Selma to Montgomery, the Vietnam peace negotiation in Paris, the 1968 student revolt in France, the birth of the Solidarity movement in Poland, and the closing stages of the Cold War. A request for coffee on board a Soviet ship anchored in Malta led to a chat with Mikhail Gorbachev. A request for an interview with Willy Brandt led to a personal friendship that enabled her to come to terms with Germany’s Nazi past.

Her book is also a clarion call for preserving professionalism in journalism at a time when social media muddy the waters between fact and fiction, and between reporting and commentary.

INVISIBLE WALLS tells the dramatic story of how a Kindertransport survivor won the trust and sometimes the friendship of world leaders, and with them a wide range of remarkable men and women. It speaks frankly of personal heartache and of a struggle over her Jewish identity. It is also the intensely touching story of how, despite a gift for friendship and international recognised achievements as a woman journalist, a continuing sense of personal insecurity has confronted her with a series of invisible walls.


Memoirs of such richness are rare. Hella Pick's personal and journalistic journey from Nazi Europe to Brexit teems with humanity, diamond insights into the leaders and events of our time, and endless fun. A joy
James Naughtie
Hella Pick, the doyenne of post-war foreign correspondents, had a ringside seat throughout the Cold War, from her journalist's start in West Africa to her Guardian postings in the UN and USA, to her commanding role in reporting on the collapse of Communism in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. This is a moving and fascinating autobiography that captures a world that now feels distant
Baroness Helena Kennedy QC
Hella Pick arrived in England in 1939 on one of the last Kindertransport trains from Austria and became one of the luckiest as well as the most skillful journalists of her generation. She always seemed to be in the right place at the right time. These memoirs offer a shrewd, detached and wise insight into some of the great events of the late 20th century
Jonathan Sumption
Hella Pick's vivid and moving account of her trailblazing life on the inside track of international politics over four dramatic decades is a revelation - and a triumph of her extraordinary spirit
Cate Haste
Thrilling and moving, Hella Pick's odyssey from child exile to trailblazing woman journalist and confidante of world leaders shines a bright light on two of the greatest challenges of our time: achieving gender equality and the refugee's struggle for identity and belonging
Simon May
An elegant and engaging memoir. Hella Pick escaped the Nazi death-camps to come to Britain and became the doyenne of diplomatic journalists. Hers is an inspirational story
Lionel Barber
In her extraordinary memoir, Hella Pick reveals why she is one of the foremost Foreign Correspondents of her age . . . this is a memoir of great hope and a fascinating testimony, often with telling microscopic detail, that explains how we just managed to make it through the five decades after the Second World War without blowing ourselves up
Misha Glenny
An extraordinary life, told by a veteran among Foreign Correspondents who reported in-depth on the forces which shaped the Cold War - and its uneasy aftermath. From the building of the Berlin Wall to its demise, the scramble for Africa, power play of Washington and New York and rise of China, Hella Pick has been on hand with her notebook and keen eye. Her odyssey from a child sent to Britain in the Kindertransport to doyenne of the foreign corps is a rich journey of discovery - professional and personal
Anne McElvoy
Hella Pick is the doyenne, the queen, of diplomatic writers. Her memoirs are beautifully written, and filled with revealing and moving detail. If you want to understand why the world is in the state it is, Hella's story helps to explain it all. At the end, I closed it with real regret
John Simpson
A remarkable personal journey, by one of the great political correspondents of our world - eloquent, enlightening, exhilarating
Philippe Sands
An extraordinary life, and Hella Pick's impressive insights are remarkable
Thomas Harding, author of 'The House by the Lake'
From pre-war Vienna to Fleet Street via the Kindertransport, Hella Pick's memoir is an enjoyable mix of the personal and political, following her journey from refugee to senior journalist with a front-row view of world politics
Katharine Viner, Editor-in-chief, Guardian News & Media
Hella Pick lived through, and reported on, many of the most seismic moments of the past fourscore years or so. Now she turns her exceptional reporting skills on herself - and the result is fascinating, moving and truly inspiring
Alan Rusbridger, Principal of Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford and former Editor-in-Chief of the Guardian
The great Guardian journalist Hella Pick's memoir Invisible Walls is not just a fascinating account of how this Austrian refugee went on to cover some of the most significant events of the last century, but is also a clarion call for good old-fashioned journalism in a world of social media and fake news
A touchingly open account of a stellar career and its disappointments, personal and professional. She arrived at Liverpool Street station in 1939, and eleven-year-old Kindertransport refugee from Vienna... Her account of her long career is remarkable, partly owing to the range of postwar politicians who knew her and gave her stories... This account of her extraordinary life is a considerable achievement
Frances Cairncross, LITERARY REVIEW
Both an eyewitness account of many of the defining moments and figures of the post-1945 age as well as a poignant reminder of the searing personal story of a generation of immigrant children who, having fled Nazism, grew up to make a remarkable impact on Britain... In what was still very much a male domain, Pick stood out as an independent woman with a sharp intellect, ambition and disarming charm. The result was insightful coverage as well as some memorable encounters in pursuit of the story... "I had no pretensions to see myself as a pioneer, let alone a role model,", she concludes. In this aspect, the celebrated diplomatic correspondent, foreign policy expert and roving world reporter most certainly failed
Tessa Szyszkowitz, FINANCIAL TIMES
[A] formidable memoir of a dynamic life spent gathering information in some of the world's most powerful corridors
As a journalist, [Pick] covered the end of empire in Africa, the cold war, the 1968 upheavals in Paris, Kennedy's assassination and the collapse of the Soviet bloc. At the UN, or at the Royal Institute for International Affairs in London she cut a distinctive figure, always elegantly dressed, her dark hair swept back from her strong features. Her deep voice with its cut-glass accent was instantly recognisable when she was interviewed on BBC radio. Those of us who followed her as female foreign correspondents in what was then a male-dominated profession could only envy her poise - and her legendary contacts book. She knew everyone, from diplomats to prime ministers and presidents. More importantly, they knew her.
Lindsey Hilsum, THE GUARDIAN
Pick's book is a celebration of a lost age of journalism, when, once accepted, reporters were free to roam the corridors of power unfettered by security constraints, with easy access to the powerful, dictating copy over the phone, with no competition from the internet or social media... A constant refrain runs through Pick's book. "Irrespective of their achievements", she writes, refugees like herself "carried throughout their lives a sense of insecurity that would never truly evaporate". No amount of recognition, scoops or praise ever quite freed her from what she calls "an open prison" bound by invisible walls, with no key to the gates... In work as in her life, admirable and tough-minded, she chose not to look back, but to keep marching forwards.
Caroline Moorehead, TLS
Hella Pick has lived an extraordinarily rich life... one of Britain's most highly respected journalists, a woman whose articles, primarily for the Guardian, revealed an authentically global perspective... Hella Pick is a brilliant narrator and, in the course of an action-packed book, we encounter distinguished figures from across the world
Pick was the doyenne of the diplomatic press corps and her legend preceded her... Invisible Walls is a book of great power and honesty, packed with vivid detail of her reporting adventures from the newly independent African states of the late 1950s, through the US of the turbulent 60s and on, through the cold war and into this uncertain age of populist promise-makers, all told with a keen intelligence and relentless dedication to the facts... She brought to the job the intellectual hunger and moral purpose of one who had escaped the great catastrophe that descended on Europe in the 1930s... I commend her book to the widest audience possible but particularly those setting out in journalism. Pick is testament to the necessity of having a broad intellectual hinterland and an open mind, the value of cultivating sources and finding things out. There is no better manifesto against the current clickbait culture and narcissistic social media obsession. This voice from before the age of Facebook and Twitter is profound and urgent
Fergal Keane, THE OBSERVER