NATIONAL LIBRARY WEEK: Review of Ahead of Time by Ruth Gruber’s Autobiography

Note: This is the book cover of my copy, but Amazon also has another cover for the same title, a different photo.


Monday starts National Library Week and I plan to celebrate it with this review of Ruth Gruber’s autobiography, Ahead of Time, which is also the title of a PBS special that introduced me to this amazing women. I have become mesmerized by Ruth Gruber’s accomplishments and life, since watching the special. Previously, I reviewed one of her other books and featured her for International Women’s Day on March 8th. Here are the links: (Raquel: A Woman of Israel) (International Women’s Day )

The subtitle of this book is “My Early Years as a Foreign Correspondent,” so the autobiography is not of her whole life, but her early life.

Ruth Gruber’s early and as well as later accomplishments as a foreign correspondent/photo journalist have made her my new role model.  In Ahead of Time, she writes about her early life, growing up in Brooklyn and feeling the need to write from an early age. She demonstrates her style in all her books that I have read so far, which is to write non-fiction as though she is telling a story….a good story!

For example, in Chapter 2 of this book, where she starts to write about her very early life, we read:

“I was born in a shtetl*—a shtetl called Williamsburg—in Brooklyn.”

*I am providing the definition of shtetl below because the word is used out of context, on purpose. Brooklyn is not really a shtetl, but it might as well have been, because Ruth’s whole world of Brooklyn as a child was largely Jewish and very circumscribed by her parents.

(Shtetlekh (Yiddish: שטעטל‎, shtetl (singular), שטעטלעך, shtetlekh (plural) were small towns with large Jewish populations, which existed in Central and Eastern Europe before the Holocaust.)

From this one sentence, which could easily be a sentence at the beginning of a fictional novel, we learn how her Mama and Papa kept her and her three siblings close to home as much as possible.

But Ruth needed to explore the world, and as we turn the pages, we learn how she is able to earn scholarships and grants to go to graduate school abroad and become the youngest PhD in history at that time at age 20.

The four parts+ of the Table of Contents provide us a brief idea of where she goes to explore the world with her photos and especially her writing, which one of her teachers early on advised her to do and never give up.  She never did, despite the fact that when she returned with a PhD she could not find a job as a writer, whether because she was very young, a woman in a man’s world, or being Jewish. Perhaps all three!

Nothing stopped Ruth Gruber as she traveled from +Brooklyn to Germany, the Soviet Arctic, and The Gulag, all before she turned thirty! And she lived to be 105, so her adventures were many, as were her books and photo exhibits.

You will have to read her autobiography to really believe that one young woman, living at a time when most women got married and raised children as their “careers,” accomplished so much. She did marry at 40 and had two children, plus four grandchildren…plus a stunning career as a writer/ foreign correspondent/photo-journalist.

In Ahead of Time, when askewd if she wanted dfameor fortune, this was her reply:

“Fame? Sure, I’d like to get my work published. Fortune? Who needs fortune? I don’t want a mink oir a Buick, and I hate property. It drags you down when you want to fly off. I’d like to earn just enough to live on, so I can write.”  Which she did!

Perhaps the best way to summarize Ruth Gruber ‘s attitude towards life as shown in her books is to reprint the dedication of her book to her grand -children in this brief statement:

To my young grandchildren
Michael and Lucy Evans, and Joel and Lila Michaels

In the hope that they will dream dreams, have vision,
and let no obstacles stop them.

Her books are available in libraries and book stores. Pick one and you may find yourself engrossed in more true stories written by a woman who lived by her quote, printed above from Ahead of Time. The book is published by Carroll & Graf Publishers, Inc. and costs $14.00, although used copies are less expensive.

One thought on “NATIONAL LIBRARY WEEK: Review of Ahead of Time by Ruth Gruber’s Autobiography

  1. I absolutely loved this book and this woman. Hope to read more of her writing when I can.

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