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... 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.
At times reading this memoir feels like travelling on a high-speed train – no sooner have we stopped at one place than we’re hurtling on to the next. That reflects the nature of life on a daily newspaper, but it might have been easier for the reader had she omitted some episodes and gone into more depth on others. Accounts of long ago summits and UN meetings feel like yesterday’s news. Some anecdotes, however, remain fresh... Nowadays, Pick feels “out of place” in Brexit Britain, let down by the land that took her in as a little girl, and whose politicians’ antics seem ever more distant from the serious, careful diplomacy on which she reported throughout her rich and successful career.
One central figure dominates the early part of Pick’s career: her mother. A life in journalism was not at all what the lonely, isolated woman had in mind for her only child. Her ambition was to see Hella married and settled with a family. As the years pass, her complaints become louder. She is given to ringing the Guardian’s long-suffering editor, Alastair Hetherington, and demanding that he send her daughter home.
And Pick has her own insecurities: a feeling of not quite belonging in her adopted country, and perhaps a sense of guilt about never having settled down as her mother would have wished. But by any standards hers has been a golden life. Reading her story one cannot help thinking of all the Jewish children with whom she grew up in Austria who never made it out. What might they have done with their lives, given half a chance?
“I had been caged within invisible walls,” she writes in her memoirs of the same title. Only later did she recognise that breaking through these walls became a productive escapism, helping her become first a model of a high-achieving immigrant and then one of Fleet Street’s first female foreign correspondents. Invisible Walls is thus 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.