sage's Reviews > For Whom the Bell Tolls

For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway
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Jan 30, 09

bookshelves: historical-fiction, queer-interest, reviewed, fiction

** spoiler alert ** I've read this before in excerpts but never the entire novel.

About this edition, this is an audiobook read in a matter-of-fact, almost Bogart-esque style, which fits the era perfectly. It's wry and heartbreaking and rubs like sand in an open wound. Perfect for a gruesome war story.

About the style.
Some people have issues with Hemingway's style. I like him except when he gets too excessively Gertrude Steinian, which he does in two sections of this book -- but it seems intended, to me, as they go along with the protagonist losing his self-control to a resurgence of carefully repressed feeling. The lack of contractions and the strange diction match what Spanish sounds like in translation, and the novel is taking place mostly en español, so it fits. If you live in an area with a lot of Spanish-speakers, it's easier to tell. The rhythm of speech is the same. Not all of the Spanish is translated, incidentally. There's a lot of fabulously vulgar slang that slipped through the censors. *g*

Hemingway writes some gorgeous sentences, let me tell you.

What I missed from the excerpts I had read before was Hemingway's/the narrator's profound sense of disillusionment concerning the Spanish Civil War. It was a travesty and rightfully deserves to be called the *real* second world war, what with the Germans and Italians arming and aiding Franco and Britain, France, and the US standing by watching civilians be massacred and mutilated without lifting a hand. It's a horrible time in history. And no one teaches it now. It's fallen out of the world history curricula because it's too awful. Or because the US and its allies failed to step up. (And if FDR had, would the Nazi war have started early? I imagine someone's written a book on that.)

I've seen criticism of this novel as "sexist" somewhere, but I don't understand where they're coming from unless it's an anachronistic application of the word. To me it seemed the opposite of sexist. A woman is a guerrilla leader. A teenage girl is a survivor of multiple rape and regains her emotional health and sexual identity after her trauma through the nurturing of the female guerrilla leader. I see a celebration of female power in that. The division of labor is what it is (the teenage girl is hardly strong enough to handle a giant old fashioned machine gun), and everyone in the sorry little band of rebels is equally in the shit together.

Which is the main point of the book for me. There was no glory in the war against Franco. It was an obscenity, a crime against humanity, and the international community was as responsible for meddling in the lives of illiterate paisanos as the first wave of idealistic intelligentsia and Communist idealogues.

What a horrific, traumatizing, nation-crippling thing.


Note: this gets a glbt_interest tag because of "maricón" being one of the most serious insults one can call a man (at the time), and also because of the scene where the guerrilla asks the American why he has to get together with the girl instead of finding a buddy to take his pleasure with as the rest of the men do. "Why not go with one of us?" he says (paraphrasing), and it could be taken as a proposition, but Jordan answers that he's in love with the girl and plans to marry her, and totally sidesteps the matter. :)
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