|For Whom the Bell Tolls
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For Whom the Bell Tolls begins and ends in a pine-scented forest, somewhere in Spain. The year is 1937 and the Spanish Civil War is in full swing. Robert Jordan, a demolitions expert attached to the International Brigades, lies "flat on the brown, pine-needled floor of the forest, his chin on his folded arms, and high overhead the wind blew in the tops of the pine trees." The sylvan setting, however, is at sharp odds with the reason Jordan is there: he has come to blow up a bridge on behalf of the antifascist guerrilla forces. He hopes he'll be able to rely on their local leader, Pablo, to help carry out the mission, but upon meeting him, Jordan has his doubts: "I don't like that sadness, he thought. That sadness is bad. That's the sadness they get before they quit or before they betray. That is the sadness that comes before the sell-out." For Pablo, it seems, has had enough of the war. He has amassed for himself a small herd of horses and wants only to stay quietly in the hills and attract as little attention as possible. Jordan's arrival--and his mission--have seriously alarmed him.
"I am tired of being hunted. Here we are all right. Now if you blow a bridge here, we will be hunted. If they know we are here and hunt for us with planes, they will find us. If they send Moors to hunt us out, they will find us and we must go. I am tired of all this. You hear?" He turned to Robert Jordan. "What right have you, a foreigner, to come to me and tell me what I must do?" In one short chapter Hemingway lays out the blueprint for what is to come: Jordan's sense of duty versus Pablo's dangerous self-interest and weariness with the war. Complicating matters even more are two members of the guerrilla leader's small band: his "woman" Pilar, and Maria, a young woman whom Pablo rescued from a Republican prison train. Unlike her man, Pilar is still fiercely devoted to the cause and as Pablo's loyalty wanes, she becomes the moral center of the group. Soon Jordan finds himself caught between the two, even as his own resolve is tested by his growing feelings for Maria.
For Whom the Bell Tolls combines two of the author's recurring obsessions: war and personal honor. The pivotal battle scene involving El Sordo's last stand is a showcase for Hemingway's narrative powers, but the quieter, ongoing conflict within Robert Jordan as he struggles to fulfill his mission perhaps at the cost of his own life is a testament to his creator's psychological acuity. By turns brutal and compassionate, it is arguably Hemingway's most mature work and one of the best war novels of the 20th century. --Alix Wilber
In 1937 Ernest Hemingway traveled to Spain to cover the civil war there for the North American Newspaper Alliance. Three years later he completed the greatest novel to emerge from "the good fight," For Whom the Bell Tolls. The story of Robert Jordan, a young American in the International Brigades attached to an antifascist guerilla unit in the mountains of Spain, it tells of loyalty and courage, love and defeat, and the tragic death of an ideal. In his portrayal of Jordan's love for the beautiful Maria and his superb account of El Sordo's last stand, in his brilliant travesty of La Pasionaria and his unwillingness to believe in blind faith, Hemingway surpasses his achievement in The Sun Also Rises and A Farewell to Arms to create a work at once rare and beautiful, strong and brutal, compassionate, moving, and wise. "If the function of a writer is to reveal reality," Maxwell Perkins wrote Hemingway after reading the manuscript, "no one ever so completely performed it." Greater in power, broader in scope, and more intensely emotional than any of the author's previous works, it stands as one of the best war novels of all time.
- Vivid portrayal of the morals of people involved in war
Note that this review is for the audio book version of this novel. The narrator was Campell Scott. The audio quality was excellent and the narrator did a good job; he spoke with a slight Spanish accent, which seemed to fit well with the narrative. He did some characterizations with his voice, but not much compared to other narrators I've listened to.
This is the second time that I have read this novel; the first time was over 30 years ago in high school. It's amazing to me how differently I looked at this book this time around. The first time I read it; I saw it as an adventure story with some interesting character development. The second time around I read it as a fascinating look at how war brings out the best and worst in people.
I feel that Hemingway accurately captured how certain people would act in a civil war; the cruelty by some and acts of courage by others. In all cases, the characters were in a situation where there were no great options. He also accurately showed that there are good people on both sides of a conflict; that soldiers do suffer by taking the lives of others.
As a Spanish speaker; I enjoyed Hemingway's use of language. Most of the unique use of English is actually a direct literal translation of Spanish. I hadn't heard the phrases directly translated that way before, but immediately recognized them as common Spanish slang.
This is a book worth reading; you will learn that life is not always black and white. ...more info
- Classic Hemingway
It took me a couple hundred pages to get through the opening slump of reading this book. It didn't become interesting to me until about half way through, at which point the reading went much faster. At first, I was only able to read 50 pages of it a day, this increased to 100. Problems I used to have with Hemingway's writing have significantly decreased over the years. I still saw this story partly as an assertion of the masculinity in war, but there was softness in it. It also contains very strong female characters (Pilar, and to an extent Maria). Some of the engrossing, romantic elements of A Farewell to Arms are present, and the novels end similarly (For Whom the Bell Tolls has more of a 'glorious' conclusion, I'd say). The chapters are paced slowly, but the attention to detail is pacifying, not irritating in its conciseness. The novel is concerned with the dedication of human effort to causes which seem important on an individual basis. Robert Jordan is a patriot for a country that is not his own, and while he struggles through his political alignments, he centers his thoughts around the mechanization of war and his confusion over which moral path is correct. I feel that the love story is added in partially as a side note, Hemingway creates a bright infatuation to off-set the political themes of the novel. I don't think this would be a good introduction to Hemingway, but is great to have read after several of his other novels. ...more info
- Interesting, important, and well-written
Hemingway displays his narrative powers and his command of English prose in this novel that has a standard plot, i.e., a man on a mission, with the paradox that ambiguities always come with standing up for an idealistic cause. Robert Jordan has committed himself to his wartime assignment: to go behind 'enemy' lines so as to blow up a bridge to help the Republican cause prior to a critical battle. Unlike the obsessive focus of a novel like 'Bridge on the River Kwai,' Hemingway shows the fallibility of idealism, how revolutionaries that are not immune to disillusionment, and the self-serving actions of those who have fought for a selfless cause but get more and more self-involved as their nerves and wits are constantly challenged. The band of partisans, for example, Augustine, Pilar, a gypsy, a disillusioned commander who live behind enemy lines are seen to have their idealism slowly unravel while holding on the the core belief they have in the "Republic." Robert Jordan splits his attention between dealing with the conflicts among the partisans and focusing on his profession as an explosives expert. This dichotomy allows Hemingway to present the proposition that the idealistic face we show to the world cannot but be tempered by doubt. This novel succeeds in showing 'ordinary' people dealing with extraordinary events. ...more info
- A Must-Read
This tackles several questions: How war shapes men, past and present and what a real hero is.
Set in the Spanish Civil War, the story revolves around the experiences of a volunteer fighter, an American college professor named Robert Jordan. Filled with idealism at first, watch him reconsider as he faces the prospect of his own death.
One of Hemingway's finest.
- Moments of perfection
As a huge fan of The Old Man and the Sea, I was very excited about reading this novel. I was therfore surprised to find that parts of this book I struggled through and found slow moving.
In particular, the love story between Robert and Maria did nothing to move me, finding Maria not so much the tragic heroin, but a woman so obsessed with the happiness of her lover that her personality is lossed in a need to please. So much so for me, that I found it difficult to understand why Robert would fall so madly in love with her.
Characters such as Pilar who show a more outspoken independence were more appealing to me. Pilar's description of the revolution of the small town coordinated by Pablo was a magic moment in the book. This narrative was the kind of writing I was expecting and was dissapointed that this was for me the highest part of the book, and so early in the novel.
Overall, I enjoyed this book, and would recommend it as a great read, it just didn't quite live up to the expectations i had assigned to it. ...more info
- The best of Hemingway
Filled with complex and interesting characters and written in Hemingway's characteristically simple, but effective style, For Whom the Bell Tolls is Hemingway at his best. There are few novels I would recommend more highly.
Hemingway's fascinating characters, from the American, Robert Jordan, to Pablo and Pilar, often referred to "the woman of Pablo" (if there can be one criticism of Hemingway, it is that his female characters are often simple; however, this is not true of Pilar), make this novel so wonderful, along with Hemingway's vivid descriptions of everything from the characters themselves to the horrors of war (one scene that comes to mind particularly is Hemingway's description of the execution of a group of fascists, who are beaten to death before being hurled from a cliff).
Although it is not a tale for the faint-hearted (forgive the cliche), For Whom the Bell Tolls is arguably Hemingway's greatest work. Anyone who enjoys Hemingway, McCarthy, or Faulkner should enjoy this novel....more info
- Superior novel about idealism, treachery, and guerilla warfare
Hemingway published FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS in 1940, just after the end of the Spanish Civil War. Surely, one of Hem's goals in writing this novel was to capture in fiction the full human and political complexity of this war, which was, for a time, the great international cause. This may explain why this novel, despite its great craftsmanship and virtuosity, reads a little long. Hem, you see, had to get everything in.
IMHO, the best feature of this terrific book is its wonderful Spanish characters. These participate in the war, which is a great cause for Robert Jordan, the novel's protagonist. But they participate because of family loyalty, fascist war crimes, or class rage and soldiering is mostly peripheral to their personalities. What the reader remembers is not their support of the Republic but the integrity of Anselmo, the dignity of Fernando, the humor of Agustin, the simple loving sincerity of Maria, the harsh surface of Pilar, and the murderous treachery of Pablo. These are, basically, ordinary Spaniards caught in a gruesome tragedy, not ideologues or idealists who are transformed or energized by the cause.
Hem also handles Robert Jordan skillfully. When Jordan first appears, he seems to be concerned only with his duty to the cause, which, on this mission, is to blow up a bridge. But quickly, Jordan meets the loving Maria. Then, through this relationship, Hem explores Jordan's thoughts and feelings on life and death. While Jordan is not an extraordinary man with breakthrough thoughts, he is an extraordinary character who, thanks to Maria, both examines the rationale for risking his life and identifies the beauty of what may be its final few days.
There are many great scenes in this novel. Among my favorites are the appearance of the planes and Pilar, at fireside, telling the story of her matador lover. And--surprise!--Hemingway is funny in FWTBT, not in a hilarious Robin Williams style, but with the dexterity of a witty companion. With Hemingway's misogyny, competitiveness, alcoholism, and depression now raised to critical prominence, I was surprised to see that the man could be a good guy.
FWTBT is number 74 on the Modern Library's list of 100 Best Novels... a bit low in my estimation.
For Whom the Bell Tolls (FWTBT), a masterpiece no doubt, combined with the superb reading of Campbell Scott, exceeds any book I have ever heard on Audio. Though judging it only in terms of the audio book, it compares with no fiction I have ever heard or read, and I have read and heard a lot.
There are a few books that I have encountered that merited a second read or in this case listen, the Bible being one. But after listening to FWTBT, I went and purchased a book about the Spanish Civil War, read it and then listened to FWTBT again, now understanding some of the context and players better. It was even more rewarding the second time. I am by no means saying you must first know something about that war to enjoy this book. You don't. But the read is improved in the same way an exquisite wine or cigar is improved with age.
In summary, an awesome work, such as I have never experienced. The Master (Hemingway) read by a master in his own right (Scott).
- Not too impressed.
I listened to this on audio book over several days, felt like forever. I wasn't too impressed. It was slow, slow, and did I mention slow. Then when it was interesting, it wasn't even worth all the slowness. Then to top it off, the main character dies. Won't be sampling Hemingway again anytime soon....more info
- Meeker Review
I love this one. Great book. Ive read it 4 times now and each time it gets better and better. You begin to see things you didnt at first and then everything is more clear and its just great. A must have for every book lovers library...more info
- It Tolls For Thee
It is a fascinating tale of Robert (Roberto) Jordon and his paisonos, caught up in the Spanish Civil War. The story covers only three days of the war, yet it takes us on Robert Jordon's life voyage. It is conveyed by the brilliant soliloquy, a tug of war of conscience, duty, honor and death itself. Who among us has not had such dialogue?
It has everything, romance, camaraderie, bravery, cowardice, and above all sacrifice. Jordon, an American, who is addressed as "Ingles" by his comrades, is the band's leader, who is commissioned by the rebellion general to blow up a bridge.
His team includes some unforgettable characters ever penned, the ruthless yet pragmatic Pablo, his incredibly humane wife, Pilar, Augustine, brave soldier, like a brother to Robert, and lovely, innocent Maria. Roberto (Jordon) and Maria fall in love the moment they meet and once Pilar reads his palm, the denouement is never in doubt.
The scene where Pablo is in charge with a gun hustling out town's fascists who are holed up in the church, to be "taken care" of by the avenging mob outside is reminiscent of "krystalnacht" enactment superbly portrayed by G¨¹nter Grass in his classic Nazi drama" Tin Drum".
An all time classic
- People at war
Robert Jordan, an American in at least the third generation, and a teacher of Spanish from Montana, goes to fight in the Spanish Civil War. His motives are never discussed, as are not the theater of or the reasons for the war. The novel is rather about several people who, in the course of a few days, are helping Robert Jordan complete his mission: to blow up a bridge.
The novel's tall order - being "involved in Mankinde" to the extent of fighting thy neighbor's civil wars - is echoed in the story's close engagement with each character. Here is the natural-born killer Pablo, his no-nonsense and wise Gypsy wife Pilar, the beautiful young girl Maria who is carrying much pain, the good old rock of a man Anselmo, who fights to win this war, but who in his bones knows that thou shalt not kill.
Robert Jordan is singled out to have both the first and last name. All the other foreigners go by their last names and the Spaniards - by their first ones. Besides embodying the foreign engagement in the Spanish affair, Robert Jordan also brings a distinctly human element into the war zone: the lonely human name among the nomes de guerre of general Golzs and partisan Anselmos.
The book is written as if translated from Spanish. The language is a bit choppy, many expressions read like Spanish idioms translated verbatim, some phrases are left in Spanish. This adds to the feeling that one is in a foreign setting. As it often happens in Hemingway's novels, much working of the human spirit is revealed through this simple language....more info
- Stylistically superb but lacking in action and thin on the background of the Spanish Civil War
I began reading For Whom The Bell Tolls directly after finishing a particularly bad modern novel. At first, For Whom... was a breath of fresh air: no long, run-on sentences; no excessive adverbs in the dialog tags; not a whole lot of meaningless adjectives, etc. The dialog was crisp and terse and enjoyable, and the setting was captivating.
But then... nothing happens. For a really long time. And all of the flashbacks via thought and story start to get confusing. At times, I wasn't sure if the story was in the present or past; in the thoughts of the protagonist or the speech of another character. And speaking of characters, four of them are strong and compelling: Robert Jordan (the protagonist), Maria (his love interest), Pilar (a tough old woman), and Pablo (a once-great but now tarnished soldier). A fifth character of note is the Gypsy, but the other characters in this ensemble cast are largely indistinguishable from one another.
One more criticism: I was really hoping to get a better understanding of the Spanish Civil War and its politics. Maybe I did. But Robert Jordan and his cadre are not hardline Communists nor anarchists (they have special contempt for the latter) but "republicans" in their fight against the Fascists. Not a lot of background is given as to the roots of this conflict or the underlying motivations of each camp.
Overall, I feel I have been enriched by reading this book, and I like Hemingway's writing style (this is my first Hemingway since reading The Old Man and the Sea in 9th grade), but all in all, I understand why this has been called one of the "10 Books Not to Read in your Lifetime." Also: Did I have an edited version? What was with all of this "I 'obscenity' in your milk," etc.?...more info
- A Milestone for American readers and writers
I'm a middle-aged middle-class guy. I read this recently, since it has a reputation as one of the great Amerian novels, and my particular HS required no Hemingway. I figured the time had come.
So now, having read it, I think For Whom the Bell Tolls was an important milestone, something of a product of its times. There was not yet such a body of anti-war or humanist literature as there is now...perhaps Hemingway played a role in creating that. Still, it is not just an anti-war book; intelligent people have known a long time, as Sherman put it, that war is simply "brutality" that cannot be made pretty. So this is not Hemingway's main point. If anything, he even sounds pro-war in the brief sections that justify the Spanish Civil War and the fight against the Fascists. (He seems a little blind to the pact the Spanish Republicans made with the devil, i.e. the Russian communists, but history had not yet proven the bloodthirstiness and corruption of the Soviet Union.)
Hemingway's main theme in this book is personal honor, and how personal concerns affect one's perceptions and may override original, idealistic motives. The hero, American dynamiter Robert Jordan, has snuck behind Fascist lines to help destroy a bridge and aid a planned Republican frontal attack. But three things happen - his guerilla teammates are led by a very disillusioned old veteran, who argues bitterly with his tough old wife; and Robert falls in love Maria, with a refugee they are sheltering, raped and nearly killed by the Fascists. Finally, his spying reveals the front is losing the element of surprise. In this dangerous situation, he wants to call it all off, and retreat to a life of happiness with Maria. Sorry, no further plot will be revealed here....
This way we get to study two different couples. We learn that Pablo and Pilar, the guerillas, have killed many people, up-close and personal. Pablo seems to have enjoyed it. Pilar did less hands-on killing but she and the others are still dedicated to the cause. Now here comes an outsider, a handsome young American with no real dog in this fight, bringing the front closer just when Pablo has had enough. Even worse, he falls for Maria, and sleeps with her in his own bag, outside the cave. (The love scenes, though not very graphic, are pretty juicy for their time.) Pilar tries to bolster Robert's resolve, even plotting against her husband. Maria is lost without Robert, and will follow him anywhere. But where will Robert end up going? He has committed himself, and he wants to fulfill his duty as a matter of honor. What destiny will bring the best honor for both himself and Maria? Having sacrificed so much so far, what further sacrifice do any of these people need to maintain their honor?
Unlike many contemporary books, FWTBT does not have a big, overwhelming climax. Instead, the ending unfolds in a way that you might have expected, as you read it. This unfortunately left me a little cold, unable to decide whether I Love the Book, the way I do some others. But it is an indispensable milestone. Perhaps better read if you are not already so jaded or anti-war that you can't conceive of a cause worth fighting for....more info
- Hemingway at his best
It's difficult to point at one work of a writer like Ernest Hemingway and claim it to be the best, but that is the claim that I would make for "For Whom the Bell Tolls."
This is a story that captures both the true spirit and the doubtful minds of war. It portrays both courage and cowardice, in the beautifully descriptive words that Hemingway was known for. His main character Robert Jordan is an American college instructor who leaves his job to take part in the Spanish Revolution, with a strong conviction in his heart and truly believing that he can make a difference. The story encompasses a time frame of slightly less than three days, during which he plots to blow a strategic bridge at precisely the right time. In those three days he falls in love with a young Spanish girl in the encampment where he is awaiting that moment and is involved in a character conflict with one of the guerrilla fighters by the name of Pablo.
This is a well paced story and never boring, with action suspense and romance, all coming together in a setting where you can feel the cold and smell the forest in the way that only Hemingway can describe it. A splendid and beautifully told story that I would recommend to anyone of any age or gender. For that reason I would place "For Whom the Bell Tolls" at the top of the heap among all of his works.
In my opinion this great story is the pinnacle of Hemingway's talent. A must read for anyone interested in great literature.
- Typical Hemingway
This is my third experience with Hemingway, and while I fully expect to complete the entire Hemingway collection, I can't quite find it within myself to award five stars to any of the works I've read to date.
In each of the novels (The Sun Also Rises and Farewell to Arms being the other two) I've been entranced at times by the hauntingly beautiful writing, however there have been periods where the story drags, where the almost stream of consciousness style grinds the action to a halt. Not long enough to kill the story, but enough to impact the overall reading experience.
This novel is set in Spain, during the Spanish Civil War, the idealogical precursor to the Fascist/Communist clash soon to come on the Eastern Front of World War II. The story primarily involves American Spanish professor and converted Republican partisan, Robert Jordan and the 72 hours he spends with an anti-fascist partisan force in the hours preceding a Republican offensive.
The characters crafted by Hemingway are fascinating, most specifically the partisan leaders Pablo and Pilar. The interaction between the rebels and with Jordan are spellbinding. The character of Pilar is especially haunting and her story of the execution of the fascists (a/k/a prominent citizens) in her small Spanish village is some of the best and most captivating writing I've ever read.
Unfortunately, in my opinion, this 470 page novel is about 100 pages too long, as it is interspersed with periods of inaction, punctuated by stream of consciousness meanderings, which admittedly many may find enjoyable.
Some may find the style of language irritating (Thee, Thou, Thy mother, etc.) but I found this to be a minor issue. More problematic to me is what I can only guess is the censorship (either self censorship in light of the times or editorial censorship) whereby all instances of profanity or coarse language is omitted and replaced by bizarre alternatives. For example, these beauties from the mouth of Pablo, "I obscenity in the milk of all," and "Go and obscenity thyself." I find it hard to believe that Hemingway actually wrote this, and if not (or even if he did), these bizarre omissions cannot be rectified.
Despite these minor complaints, this is an extremely educational piece of work, both from the standpoint of literature and for the insight it provides for an extremely important and interesting period of world history. Highly recommended....more info
- So many words
We'll start with the simple ones: sad, deep, bloody...
But it's the longer ones that truly sum up the book: thoughtful, emotional, frightening...
"For Whom the Bell Tolls" starts out simply enough, but it slowly progresses to being a book that houses a series of complex, not entirely predictable characters. Robert Jordan is the main character, an American, often comparing, often thinking. We follow him around in the midst of a not-so-pleasant, frighteningly bloody war. He is accompanied by other men who are either helping him, or have similar tasks, though not all are so. There is Pablo, who in reality, is Jordan's enemy, in that he intends to prevent Jordan from blowing up a certain bridge. There is Pablo's wife, Pilar, who tells a chunk of the book in the form of stories to Jordan about the past. There is Maria, Jordan's crush, and though many concentrate on their love, Maria is a rather flat character, though her history is one that tells more about the surrounding situation.
The book itself isn't across that long of a time span, on the other hand it includes many stories that are told to Jordan. The reader is drawn in quickly, and despite the blood, the fear, and the uneasy way everything is written, it's an incredible book. Perhaps it's because of these things; they make the book more realistic and touching to the reader.
It is certainly a great book, a wonderful read, and an interesting view on a little known event. It's a good book to read, even if you're not fond of stories with death and blood. ...more info
- For Whom The Bell Tolls
The book arrived in perfect conditions and in the date it was said to arrive. Thank you for your attention!
Marcelo Salom?o, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil...more info
- Simply Complex
This is one of several Hemingway books I have come to read, actually in this case, listen to.
I loathe idling about so I decided while I wait, wherever that maybe, I would listen to an audiobook. I prefer the unabridged versions which in this case was quite long.
I found the subject matter mysteriously complex ( who doesn't find love complex ) yet simplistic in it's exposition true to Hemingway's style.
Each character is carefully developed and his/her relationships meticulously crafted and consistent with their dispositions.
Hemingway explores humanity and allows us a glimpse of it in the most trying circumstances....love and war.
It really is very hard to discuss the book without ruining details and the outcome so I will stop here.
I would suggest getting the audicopy on ipod and listening to it on your next long journey overseas....more info
- Wow! The bell tolls for thee...
"War is not a life: it is a situation, one which may neither be ignored nor accepted."
First off, let me preface this review by stating that I have never been a big fan of war novels. Secondly, I would definitely not classify myself as an ardent aficionado of Hemingway's work. I highly respect, admire and appreciate his contributions to American Literature, yet he wouldn't quite make it into my top 10 list of favorite American authors. So that being said, I had my reservations and trepidations about what I was getting myself into right from the get-go. So many books... so little time...
Published in 1940, this is a story about a young American man (Robert Jordan) who is in the International Brigades and attached to an anti-fascist unit during the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939). Jordan is an expert w/ explosives, and his mission is to blow up a bridge during an attack of the city of Segovia. Most of the novel is told to us from Jordan's perspective, which is obviously motivated by Hemingway's own experiences while living in Spain during this violent, chaotic era. The story is essentially about the three days leading up to Jordan's mission and takes place in the mountains just north of the capital of Madrid. It is here, that he meets a truly unforgettable, colorful cast of characters - Maria, Anselmo, Pablo, Pilar, Fernando, El Sordo, Agustin, Rafael, et al..., all fighting the good fight with our hero Senor Jordan.
Jordan, like most of Hemingway's male protagonists, is full of testosterone, a bit aloof and apathetic, disillusioned, and of course, heroic. Papa Ernie describes him further, early on in the novel: "He was serving in a war and he gave absolute loyalty and as complete a performance as he could give while he was serving. But nobody owned his mind, nor his faculties for seeing and hearing, and if he were going to form judgments he would form them afterwards." Like Ernest himself, Robert is a rough and tough, cynical, macho man. However on the flip-side of that coin, he is also a very sensitive and vulnerable soul, a flawed, complex character full of contradictions. He is a realist and a dreamer. He is a passionate lover and a fighter/soldier, a trusted, loyal friend and a bitter, vengeful enemy, etc... In other words, one big ball of paradox!
Many reviewers have criticized Hemingway's characters for being too simple and unsophisticated. For example, the beautiful Maria, Jordan's love, especially takes a beating, for being so shallow and two-dimensional. However, I don't agree with that assessment at all. We have to remember that she is a simple, country girl who has been brutally treated by the enemy (I will not disclose how) and is caught up in trying to survive the savagery of a war. What do expect her to be like - Isabel Archer? Emma Bovary? Yes, Maria is a bit too simple and submissive for most strong, modern-day women to relate with. But Hemingway's creation of Pilar, well, there is a dame of different colors completely! She is one of the most fascinating and also one of the funniest creations in all of literature - a truly singular and intriguing character indeed!
This was quite a nice surprise for me. I have only read five of Hemingway's pieces, yet this one is not only my favorite, but also has enticed me to pick up a few more of his classic works. It is the type of book that you either are going to love or going to hate and you will know which side of the fence you will fall on right from the get-go. Hemingway was a true minimalist, and spins this heart-pounding, intense yarn in a simple, straightforward manner. He doesn't develop his characters a la Austen, Balzac, Tolstoy, James, et al... but yet, few authors can do so much with so little like old Ernie could. And this classic is a prime example! Fiercely and austerely told, it is one hec of an intense ride!
- Classic for Good Reason
Hemingway deftly walks us into the heart of war and a man caught between his loyalty to his position in the military and his love for Pilar, a woman like no other. Some highly memorable scenes and conflicts prove this novel's place as a classic.
-- Reviewed by Jonathan Stephens...more info
- Could have been better
I learned a very important lesson here; take a good peak at the book before you get it. The Scribner publication (paperback) of this Hemingway Novel wasn't the one I believe most people read. This was spattered everywhere with "Thee" and "Thou." That really detracted from the story. Unfortunately I don't think even with out that distraction the story wouldn't have been much better. It also would have helped me had I known more about the bigger picture. I'm not that familiar with Spanish history and wasn't sure who represented what. Also a strange personal quirk; I keep thinking of the protagonist Robert Jordan, and transposing him in my mind with Di Vinci Code protagonist Robert Langdon. I guess it's the common name Robert. ...more info
- Slow, but good and artful
The author's style is strong and detailed, but with so little happening over so many pages, I found myself becoming impatient with the story. Perhaps just a sign of the times and my own personal taste, I put the book down after reading only half of it. In reflection, the characters, the settings and the building of the story line are all quite beautiful as a whole, but the pace was just too stretched out for me to endure. Perhaps I'll pick it up again sometime....more info
- Hemingway in Full
If you read only one, perhaps this should be it. I am not a trained student of Hemingway, or of literature for that matter. I know what I like, and I can recognize junk. You don't have to be an expert or even fully understand the author and his times to appreciate what a superb novel this is. As I was reading it, I could realize why Hemingway was so honored, even during his lifetime. The story is basic, though the setting is in unsual one for most American readers (who today probably would guess that the "Spanish Civil War" has something to do with General Lee and the Alamo). The main character, Robert Jordan, is an American leftist attached to a guerilla unit in the Spanish mountains. Like Hemingway, Jordan is intelligent, deliberate, controlled, passionate, and motivated by his ideals. Through him the reader encounters the chaos of this amateur war that is being played by foreign professionals. The entire book, which is of some size, revolves around one mission and take places over only a couple of days. In addition to a political statement and a philosophical autobiography, this is a superb war novel. The book build up the mission (to destroy a bridge) so much that by the closing pages of the book, as the mission is unfolding, my heart was literally racing and I could not put the book down. I won't spoil it - but this one ends like so may of EH's books, and like EH thought life itself would end . . . .
Great book - don't miss this classic....more info
- Classic Account of the Spanish Civil War
This is Hemingway's virtual personal account of the Spanish Civil War at the ground level. The central character is an American from Montana who speaks fluent Spanish and is known as the "dynamiter". He sides with the republicans, as did other Americans such as the Lincoln Brigade and many other westerners and soviets pitted against the Fascists supported by the Nazis and Italians. The American, referred to as Roberto or Ingles by the guerilla band, joins the band behind enemy lines with the expressed purpose of blowing up a bridge to coincide with a republican offensive. The brutality of war is evident by Maria, with the band, who was brutalized and raped while her parents were shot just because they were republicans. In contrast, demonstrating that war is brutal on both sides, Pablo, the band's soddened leader, is traumatized with guilt and feelings of defeat that haunt him with own past butchering of townsmen that were friendly to the Fascists. There is a general feeling of despair as the band attempts to regenerate itself to action in the face of an enemy well supported by aircraft and weaponry. Another key character is Pablo's lady friend Pilar who, once associated with a famous bull fighter, speaks often of manliness and she takes over the leadership temporarily vacated by Pablo's morose fall into a drunken stupor. The discussion of Spanish views of manhood provide an opportunity for Hemingway to expose his fascination with bull fighting and machismo that is both courageous and revolting. Time is fleeting, although the paperback is almost 470 pages, within in the book as an accelerated romance develops between Roberto and Marie that heightens an expectation of loss as the two fall deeply in love. Hemingway consumes the bulk of the book with dialogue within the personalities in the band such as the gypsy and the old man who seems the most dependable and balanced member. Action picks up toward the end of the book as Pablo's band prepares to take action while the Fascists search the mountains for Pablo's associate and his band on a neighboring mountain. As Roberto and Pablo's band seek to destroy the bridge, the republican attack formes in the distance. There is an expectation of great loss and the book climaxes with the attack on the bridge and you feel an uncertainness of doom for the central characters as the end is abrupt and almost shocking. The book is a classic and very realistic, it may be too long for younger readers but it certainly outlines the tragedies of war and perhaps underlines the horror of Civil War. One of Senator John McCain's favorite books as noted on the Imus in the Morning radio show last week....more info
- Abridged version, anyone?
I disagree with the reviewers that bash the literal Spanish translation (I actually kind of enjoyed it for the most part), but I also agree fully with those who say that parts (loooong parts) of this book are slow. Really slow. I'm also with those who are annoyed by the constant use of Robert Jordan's full name. He's the only "Robert" or "Jordan" in the book, so why can't Hemingway just pick one and stick with it?
An abridged version (taking out half of the flashbacks) would have kept up the pace of the story better, and at 300 pages or so this would have been a much more enjoyable read. I finished the whole thing (500 pages) in about 3 days, but I'll admit to skimming through many of the flashbacks (the obvious exception being Pilar's flashback about Pablo killing the Fascists).
Overall - not great, but good enough to get through. Would love to see an abridged version....more info
- Riveting and powerful, one of the ten best novels of the 20th century
For Whom the Bell Tolls is quite simply one of the best novels ever written. Honestly, I had relatively low expectations before reading it. I read A Farewell to Arms and found the terse, repetitive prose and stilted dialogue underwhelming. For Whom the Bell Tolls is superior to A Farewell to Arms in every way. This is a complex novel with some of the most memorable characters in modern literature.
This mesmerizing novel neither glorifies war, not does it vilify it. Hemmingway's detached prose is world weary, exposing both sides of the conflict, allowing us to see that war, inevitable and futile, is never simple. Characters on both sides of the conflict struggle with their own fears and regrets. Both sides commit, and are subjected to, the atrocities and horrors of war. As different as each side may think they are from the other, in the end, they are all human and are not as different as they think.
For Whom the Bell Tolls is riveting and powerful, easily one of the ten best novels of the 20th century. I can't recommend this book highly enough.