Set amidst the Spanish Civil War, this semi-autobiographical novel tells the story of Robert Jordan — an American Spanish language instructor and professional dynamiter. During the war against the fascists, Jordan has been assigned to work with a team of republican guerillas to blow up a bridge during an attack on the city of Segovia. Other notable characters include the ruthless guerilla leader Pablo, his strong-witted wife Pilar, the elderly guide Anselmo, the gypsy Primitivo and the young Maria.
While reading this nearly-500-page novel, it is difficult to remember that the entirety of the story takes place over a four-day/three-night period. During this period, the band of guerillas grow exceptionally close and tensions escalate. Most notably to have taken place within such a short time period, Robert and Maria fall in love, share each other’s darkest secrets and pledge to be married.
My husband read the book too, and it was interesting to have a discussion on what elements of the book were our favorites, as they were entirely different. He experienced the book as a war novel, and most enjoyed the explorations on political ideology, the anti-fascist and revolutionary discourse, and parallels between the Spanish revolution and American republicanism (with a small “r”).
I, on the other hand, most enjoyed the love story between Robert and Maria — which my husband found to be annoying and detracting from the war story. But my favorite character was actually Pilar (aka “Pablo’s woman”) for her strength, wisdom and tell-it-like-it-is attitude.
I feel I also cannot write a review on For Whom the Bell Tolls without making some reference to the language. Although it’s a twentieth century novel, it’s written in a very formal style whereby the characters speak in “thy” and “thou”. As the novel is based on Hemingway’s own experiences in the Spanish Civil War as a reporter with the North American Newspaper Alliance, and as he wrote part of the novel while living in Cuba, I wonder if he began drafting in Spanish and then literally translated it into English — using the formal “vosotros” tense rather than the informal “tu” tense. He also frequently uses words such as “molest” instead of “bother” (the Spanish for “bother” is the verb “molestar”) and routinely uses the words “obscenity” and “unprintable” in place of what he really means to write.
This is my first real experience with Hemingway, aside from reading The Old Man and the Sea in 7th grade, so I am curious to see how I’ll enjoy his other books. Both A Farewell to Arms and The Sun Also Rises are on my 100 books challenge list, and now I’d like to read Green Hills of Africa too.