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For Whom The Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway

Strange confession – since reading Hemingway’s memoir, A Moveable Feast, I have been dead set on naming a future daughter Hadley, after his wife.  So naturally, when a fellow future teacher recommended For Whom The Bell Tolls to me, I was excited to get a little more Hemingway in my repertoire.
For Whom The Bell Tolls is written from the perspective of an American explosives expert during the Spanish Civil War.  It is a lengthy account of the brief period of time between arriving at the guerilla camp that will be his home base as he plans the demolition of a nearby bridge.  In this time, the brutalities of war are artfully, though disturbingly, depicted, and the reader is given a view of the mental processes during wartime, which is fascinating.  Robert Jordan, the American, falls in love with a young member of the hodge podge tribe, Maria.  The novel reflects conflicting fierce desires; one to have a future and traditional life with her, and the other his fierce love of Spain and a desire to protect it.

Hemingway is known for his to the point writing style, and I really liked his prose and description of settings.  His style is unique, and it’s no mistake that he’s considered one of the best American writers of all time.  The story is, for lack of a better word, a total “boy” book.  Several of my male friends have read it and really enjoyed it.  I enjoyed it too, but I suppose I wanted to see less about the war and more about the characters and the relationships developing between them.  Nonetheless, Hemingway develops the characters and the situation completely before beginning.  In fact, to me, it seemed very much like an action packed and fabulous short story in the last few chapters, and about 400 pages of background information leading up to it.

I liked this book, though it was uncomfortable to read at times.  The reality of war is brutal, and Hemingway depicts this in a way that is believable and not gratuitous.  His goal is to make readers see what battle was really like (having been a soldier himself), and the discomfort he achieves is no mistake.  But we should be uncomfortable with the atrocities that occur in war times.  That said, because this book was interesting and extremely well written, I give it 3 stars.  The topic isn’t one I usually go for, but the writing is superb, so I can recommend it to anyone, especially history or war buffs.

– Becca


2 responses »

  1. There is so much to this book — dialogue, life with Spanish partisans and character exploration, on both sides of the battle. I especially enjoyed the development of the fascist detachment that battles our surly partisan group on the hill and the way that this introduction to the character of these men on the Fascist side comes full circle at the conclusion of this brilliant novel.

    Thanks for prompting me to think about this book again, one of my favorite. I think I’ll reread it soon.

  2. Glad you’re encouraged to read it again! It is a great read – but lengthy!


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