Monday, January 16, 2012

A Farewell to Arms

A Farewell to Arms is the first book by Ernest Hemingway I have ever read and I'm in two minds about it. I had a hard time staying involved in this book. The parts that I enjoyed most were the chapters taking place in the actual war, during a retreat and an attack. It's not because there's the most action in those sequences, but they felt most vivid for me. Bleak and depressing, but vivid.

None of the characters really grew on me, except maybe the priest, who struggles to keep his faith in times of war. The women in the novel set my teeth on edge. They are all fairly passive and when they do have outbreaks of emotion, they hurry to deny themselves, saying "don't mind me" or "I'm being unreasonable".

The book fell flat for me, on the whole. I'm going to give Hemingway another try, though, probably with The Old Man and the Sea.

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Ernest Hemingway in 1918, as an American Red Cross volunteer.

Hemingway was born in Illinois and travelled quite a lot, to Italy during WWI, to Spain during the Civil War there and he was in France during the last phase of WWII. He also lived in Africa for a time and in later life, maintained homes in Cuba and Florida. He commited sucicide with a shotgun in Idaho.
His other novels include For Whom the Bell Tolls and The Old Man and the Sea.

Here's a first draft of Farewell to Arms and you can listen to Hemingway's voice here.

Although I didn't like the book, I cannot deny that Hemingway's style is powerful. It reads simple, but I think that is because he worked on it until all unnecessary words and phrases were gone, leaving just the bare bones of language.
Here's a well-known quote from A Farewell to Arms that really stood out for me:
The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong in the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry.

The book is semi-autobiographical, Hemingway drove an ambulance for the Red Cross for two months until he was seriously injured. It was so successful that he could comfortably live off the money he earned with it. It has been made into several movies as well.

Sources and further reading:
Wikipedia
Ernest Hemingway Collection of the JFK Library - the photos alone are worth a visit
Michael Palin's Hemingway Adventure

Third book for the Classics Challenge, first book for both the World War I Challenge and the Library Challenge 2012

Reviews 2012

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