Marcus's Reviews > For Whom the Bell Tolls

For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway
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Jan 19, 2010

it was amazing
bookshelves: american, read-again
Read in December, 2009

Robert Jordan, the protagonist of For Whom the Bell Tolls epitomizes manliness. His character is my favorite part of the book. Everything about him makes me just a little envious. For example, he is decisive but human. He doesn't always act on what he knows best but he quickly recognizes his mistakes and self-corrects, wasting little time on pity or punishment.
"I am going to keep away out of it, he thought. I made a fool of myself with him once tonight and I am perfectly willing to liquidate him. But I am not going to fool with him beforehand. And there are not going to be any shooting matches or monkey business in here with that dynamite around either. Pablo thought of that, of course. And did you think of it, he said to himself? No, you did not and neither did Agustín. You deserve whatever happens to you, he thought."
He is passionate and poetic. Listen to him:
He smelled the odor of the pine boughs under him, the piney smell of the crushed needles and the sharper odor of the resinous sap from the cut limbs... This is the smell I love. This and fresh-cut clover, the crushed sage as you ride after cattle, wood-smoke and the burning leaves of autumn. That must be the odor of nostalgia, the smell of the smoke from the piles of raked leaves burning in the streets in the fall in Missoula. Which would you rather smell? Sweet grass the Indians used in their baskets? Smoked leather? The odor of the ground in the spring after rain? The smell of the sea as you walk through the gorse on a headland in Galicia? Or the wind from the land as you come in toward Cuba in the dark? That was the odor of the cactus flowers, mimosa and the sea-grape shrubs. Or would you rather smell frying bacon in the morning when you are hungry? Or coffee in the morning? Or a Jonathan apple as you bit into it? Or a cider mill in the grinding, or bread fresh from the oven? You must be hungry, he thought, and he lay on his side and watched the entrance of the cave in the light that the stars reflected from the snow.
And:
For him it was a dark passage which led to nowhere, then to nowhere, then again to nowhere, once again to nowhere, always and forever to nowhere, heavy on the elbows in the earth to nowhere, dark, never any end to nowhere, hung on all time always to unknowing nowhere, this time and again for always to nowhere, now not to be borne once again always and to nowhere, now beyond all bearing up, up, up and into nowhere, suddenly, scaldingly, holdingly all nowhere gone and time absolutely still and they were both there, time having stopped and he felt the earth move out and away from under them.
That is hot.

I love how Robert Jordan fastidiously evaluates even his own thought process.
Well, I don't want to be a soldier, he thought. I know that. So that's out. I just want us to win this war. I guess really good soldiers are really good at very little else, he thought. That's obviously untrue. Look at Napoleon and Wellington. You're very stupid this evening, he thought.

Usually his mind was very good company and tonight it had been when he thought about his grandfather. Then thinking of his father had thrown him off. He understood his father and he forgave him everything and he pitied him but he was ashamed of him.
Apart from my obvious fixation with Robert Jordan, Hemingway's direct translation of Spanish to English is wonderful. It gave me almost a visceral pleasure, and since most of the book is dialog, there's plenty of it.
"You see," Sordo said. "In that there is no problem. But to leave afterward and get out of this country in daylight presents a grave problem"
"Clearly," said Robert Jordan. "I have thought of it. It is daylight for me also."
"But you are one," El Sordo said. "We are various."
Here's more:
"My name is Roberto."
"Nay. But I call thee Inglés as Pilar does."
"Still it is Roberto."
"No," she told him. "Now for a whole day it is Inglés. And Inglés, can I help thee with thy work?"
"No. What I do now I do alone and very coldly in my head." "Good," she said. "And when will it be finished?" "Tonight, with luck." "Good," she said.
I was also pretty amused with all the Spanish profanity. I am pretty familiar with Mexican, Argentine and Uruguayan profanity and they have decently interesting concoctions, but the Spaniards might just take the cake. Who would have thought just the word "milk" could be so horrible but "Me cago en la leche que me han dado!" Wow.

This is a book I'll definitely read again.
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Reading Progress

12/14/2009 page 9
1.88%
12/18/2009 page 9
1.88% "Wow. I love the raw dialog translation from Spanish to English and Jordan's stream of consciousness puts Proust to shame."

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