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Hotel Florida: Truth, Love, and Death in the Spanish Civil War

3.77  ·  Rating details ·  564 ratings  ·  117 reviews
A spellbinding story of love amid the devastation of the Spanish Civil War

Madrid, 1936. In a city blasted by a civil war that many fear will cross borders and engulf Europe—a conflict one writer will call "the decisive thing of the century"—six people meet and find their lives changed forever. Ernest Hemingway, his career stalled, his marriage sour, hopes that this war wil
Hardcover, US Edition, 464 pages
Published April 22nd 2014 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux
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3.77  · 
Rating details
 ·  564 ratings  ·  117 reviews

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May 12, 2014 rated it it was ok
Shelves: currently
The Spanish Civil War was a dress rehearsal for WW2. The Allies stayed "neutral" -- saw it as a fight tween Communism & Capitalism -- as German & Italian fascists supported the Conservative-Catholic 'right' while the Russies aided the 'left' until their betrayal (surprised ?) ~~ It was a very bloody, brutal war (1936-39), and few in the US know anything about it or give a damn. They focus on WW2 -- too dumb to see this as the shocking Permiso-Prelude.

This ambitious book - a failure, alas
May 06, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
This was EXCELLENT. I was hoping it'd be good. I have always been interested in the Spanish Civil War. It was actually a useful thing for me--as an idealistic, leaning-socialistic young kid who admired the Left---well, the Right in the Spanish Civil War was easy to hate. But, then, what was I to do when I discovered the Left wasn't perfect either? Anyway. This author is sympathetic to the Republican cause, and was able to draw her mostly leftist subjects with clarity and precision. But she was n ...more
Douglas Perry
Apr 29, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
In the author's note that kicks off "Hotel Florida: Truth, Love, and Death in the Spanish Civil War," Amanda Vaill lays out her hopes for the 400 pages to come: that "the heroes -- whoever they are -- are visible."

Vaill is being coy, of course. She puts her heroes front and center -- though they might not be who you expect.

Ernest Hemingway and Martha Gellhorn are the big names of the three couples chronicled here, and they're presented as exemplars of the Ugly American at work and play. Hemingwa
May 31, 2014 rated it really liked it
This does not try to give a comprehensive history of the Spanish Civil War but instead focuses on six lives between the start of the Nationalist rebellion and the Republican surrender. They are all involved in "media"; American writers Ernest Hemingway and Martha Gellhorn, European photo-journalists Robert Capa and Gerda Taro, Spanish press officer Arturo Barea and his Austrian deputy, Ilsa Kulcsar.

The author, Amanda Vaill, presents information in strict chronological order. She avoids speculati
Jul 23, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2015
The Hotel Florida, Madrid, Spain: rendevous, clubhouse, home, hot bed of intrigue - personal and political - between 1936 and 1939, doesn’t actually figure much into the book of the same name but does provide an anchor of sorts for the period. We can be pretty sure that anyone who was anyone in Madrid passed through at one time or another.

A little background: 1931, fair and free elections rid the Spanish people of a corrupt government run by the military and monarchy. Five years of political ref
Aug 02, 2017 rated it really liked it
I have only two real requirements from a book that tries to cover/explain historical events. One is that when I come to the end, I kinda feel I now have a better grasp of just WHAT was going on. The second is that it be readable. That reading it is a pleasure and not a chore. Hotel Florida more or less fulfills the requirements.

Have to admit, it fills the second requirement a little better. It is really an interesting read. The narrative is cohesive and compelling. There are times it is really h
Aug 13, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Previously Ms. Vaill wrote a book about Gerald and Sara Murphy, they of living well is the best revenge fame with a circle of friends that included Picasso, Fitzgerald, and Hemingway. The book was well received and while I haven’t read it I will soon because I thoroughly enjoyed Hotel Florida, a book about the Spanish Civil War through the lenses of three intriguing couples: Ernest Hemingway and Martha Gellhorn, Robert Capa and Gerda Taro, Arturo Barea and Ilsa Kulcsar. Two writers, two photogra ...more
Annie Garvey
Mar 21, 2014 rated it really liked it
I have a naive understanding of the Spanish Civil War. I thought that Spain was used as a testing ground for Nazi armament. I didn't realize that Russia was doing the same thing. It started out as a Socialist state Spain being attacked by Spain's military lead by Franco. Vaill does a great job of explaining this. It's a shame that this was nonfiction. Most of the characters deserved happy endings.
Jan 13, 2015 rated it really liked it
The hotel of the intriguing title is in the background as the horror and tragedy of the Spanish Civil War is shown through the stories of three couples.

Arturo Barea is juggling a wife and a mistress as the war begins when he falls in love with Ilsa Kulcsar. Ilsa, a leftist activist from Austria, left her marriage to go to Madrid for the anti-fascist cause. Robert Capa from Hungary and Gerda Tam of Poland met in Paris, the first destination for anti-fascist expats on their way to Spain. Ernest He
Dick Reynolds
Jun 22, 2014 rated it really liked it
Author Amanda Vaill tells the story of the Spanish Civil War in a chronological fashion from July 1936 in Madrid to March 1939 in Paris, Key West and Havana.
Ernest Hemingway and Martha Gellhorn are major characters, exposing themselves constantly to danger while covering the war, writing about it, and managing to have a romantic affair between battles. Hemingway was still married to his second wife, Pauline Pfeiffer, but that didn’t seem to bother him much. He was intrigued by her gorgeous le
Jan 02, 2015 rated it liked it
an accessible entry into spanish civil war, using 6 characters who were there, reporting, photographing, working for the republic. author tries to synthesize much past writings and histories, to a bit uneven affect, to help illustrate what happened, how western press may or may not have helped the republic, and some aftermath of the debacle. a good starting point for this history, though payne and preston perhaps have been over all this ground in much more depth We Saw Spain Die: Foreign Corresp ...more
Terry Curtis
Jun 12, 2014 rated it really liked it
This is an extremely fine, tragic, and (saddest of all) relevant book -- a historical page turner where the fact that we know how badly it turns out for Spain and might know the fate of its six major figures doesn't hold the narrative's power back for a moment. Hemingway, Gelhorn, Capa, Taro, Barea, and Kulcsar -- Vaill forces you to re-evaluation those about whom you know something and truly illuminate those you don't. This is personal history on the highest order -- how politics, art, and frie ...more
Laura Zlogar
This is a book I wanted to like. Having read George Orwell's Homage to Catalonia, I thought this book would provide me with a lively account of the Spanish Civil War. While author Amanda Vaill does give us a sense of the war from the perspective of journalists and Spanish loyalists, the book just didn't work for me. First, its disjointed narrative shifting from one character's viewpoint to another was bothersome. Second, I was bothered by the novelistic way in which the story unfolds. Some reade ...more
Nov 20, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction-read
The author brings segments of the Spanish Civil War to life through the lives of three couples (Hemingway and Gellhorn, Barea and Kulcsar, Capa and Taro) and their associates, whose lives intersected at the Hotel Florida in Madrid. She has done a remarkable job of turning material from diaries, letters, news reports, and films into a gripping narrative of the competing interests that tore apart Spain in the bloody prelude to World War II. The book includes a few of the photographs of Capa and Ta ...more
Katie Stafford
Jun 14, 2014 rated it really liked it
Hotel Florida is the book I wanted to write, but it appears Amanda Vaill has beat me to it, and with great success. The book recapitulates the experiences, participation, and actions of six renowned journalists during the Spanish Civil War and their own personal struggles with integrity, truth, fear, and love in a brutal Civil War. I found the book to be quite well written, and I especially enjoyed the portraits of Hemingway and Taro. Vaill does a good job covering and questioning how adventurou ...more
Book  Minx
Nov 01, 2015 rated it liked it
Engaging and accessible but lacking a sorely needed introduction and/or conclusion. I can see some of what the Hotel Florida represents as a symbol but it would have been better if I hadn't had to tease it out for myself. The end of the war ends the tale much too abruptly. Also, I would've liked some background on how/why Ms. Vaill chose this subject and the figures central to her story.

The elements of the theme around truth, and the manipulation thereof, are well written. I got a bit tired of t
I read (half - couldn't finish it) this for a book club selection, and while there are definite good things about it, it just wasn't for me. I'm not very knowledgable when it comes to history, so was pretty excited to read this book. I don't think that I actually learned much though. The title made me assume that it would be more of a narrative style, but I was overly consumed by details, names, and dates. Much of the time I felt that I was reading a textbook from high school. I feel a bit guilt ...more
Rebecca Rolfes
Aug 08, 2014 rated it did not like it
There is so much material here for a good book and she completely blows it. Famous people, interesting people you've never heard of, war, sex, politics, booze, adventure, danger. Instead, you get more people than you can possibly remember who may or may not ever show up again, lots of gossip and not a lot of action. A long digression about whether Robert Capa's most famous image (a Loyalist soldier being hit by a bullet as he jumps over a ditch) was a set-up could have been handled in a footnote ...more
Apr 08, 2014 rated it really liked it
The telling of the story of the Spanish Civil War through the eyes of several different people including Ernest Hemingway, his girlfriend Martha Gellhorn, a couple talented young photographers, a member of the Spanish government official and a few others. What they all have in common is that from time to time they stayed at the Hotel Florida in Madrid. This is a well researched work about the unsettled world of Spain during that era as well as the unsettled lives of the major characters portray ...more
Frances Johnson
Jun 12, 2014 rated it it was amazing
The Hotel Florida is where Hemingway met Martha Gellhorn, a very accomplished war correspondent herself. But most of the action takes place in Spain during the Spanish Civil War where idealistic young people find their lives are changed forever. This is the story about six individuals, three couples...Hemingway and Gellhorn, famed war photographer Robert Capa and the talented Gerda Taro, and Arturo Barea, the Spanish government's foreign press chief and Ilsa Kulcsar, his Austrian deputy.

Spain w
Jun 02, 2014 rated it it was ok
Shelves: didn-t-finish
I have tried several times over the years to understand the Spanish Civil War. I tried this book because I thought it would be interesting to read about Frank Capa (famous D Day and war photographer) and "Papa" Hemingway. I made it halfway through before giving up. This is a well written and well researched book. I just lost interest in this horrible war that was a test run for the major players in WWII. I do now understand the Spanish Civil War, how and why the war started.
Larry Martin
May 16, 2014 rated it really liked it
Very good narrative of the 1936-1939 Spanish Civil War; told through the eyes of several participants on both the Fascist and Communist sides of the conflict, as well as war correspondents, including Ernest Hemingway, Martha Gellhorn and combat photographer Robert Capa. If you are not familiar with this conflict, as I was not, the book starts slowly, until you figure out the characters and ideologies they espouse. Worth the time and effort to read.
Mar 21, 2015 rated it really liked it
A gripping description of the Spanish Civil War and its implication for the rest of Europe as seen not through the eyes of the combatants, but through the eyes of three couples who wrote about it and photographed it. This felt more "up close and personal" and made sense out of a very confusing time period. Very readable. Pictures were included in the edition I read.
Colin Fisher
Mar 23, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Although taken largely from secondary sources I found the book to be surprisingly original in its approach (the Spanish Civil War as seen through the experiences of three relationships) and enjoyable to read too.
The Advocate
"Amanda Vaill has written a book full of truth. Given the current state of the world, reading it is an act of citizenship."
Read more here.
May 11, 2014 rated it really liked it
Great account. Vail writes truthfully and with heart.
May 13, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Top-notch research by the author made this book of the year for me and the year isn't even half over.
Oct 26, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Amanda Vaill tells the story of the Spanish Civil War (1936 to 1939) through the experiences of six main characters, who lived as three couples during the time covered by the book. These three couples experienced the war in different contexts, although they would all come to know each other and form friendships among themselves. The most notable were Ernest Hemingway and Martha Gelhorn, who met during 1936 in Key West Florida, at Sloppy Joe's Saloon. Hemingway was by this time a world-renowned a ...more
Mark Luongo
Oct 05, 2017 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Mark by: Daedalus Books ad
An interesting narrative centered around 3 couples at the center of the turbulence that was the Spanish Civil War: Ernest Hemingway & Martha Gellhorn, Robert Capa & Gerda Taro and Arturo Berea & Ilse Kulcsar.
In their roles as journalists, photographers and government officials they find their lives "changed forever" in a conflict one writer would call "the decisive thing of the century." The risks they took were extreme and at times their lives were in danger (Gerda Taro would succu
Aug 05, 2018 rated it really liked it
In her author's note, she notes "Hotel Florida is a narrative, not an academic analysis". However, as the lengthy notes at the end of the book show, this is a heavily researched book, steeped in the sources. The linchpin of her narrative is the once-deluxe Hotel Florida, a hotel in Madrid, frequented by government figures and journalists. The six main real-life 'characters' of her book all stay there at one time or another: writer Ernest Hemingway and journalist Martha Gellhorn, war photographer ...more
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AMANDA VAILL is currently at work on a biography of the Schuyler sisters, Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton and Angelica Schuyler Church; and she's editing a volume of the letters, journals, and other writings of the choreographer-director Jerome Robbins for his centenary in 2018. She is the author of Hotel Florida: Truth, Love, and Death in the Spanish Civil War; Somewhere: The Life of Jerome Robbins; ...more
“how to write truly and having found what is true, to project it in such a way that it becomes part of the experience of the person who reads it.” 0 likes
“There can be no compromise, no truce,” the general told Allen then. “I shall advance. I shall take the capital. I will save Spain from marxism at whatever cost.” “That means,” Allen asked, for clarification, “that you will have to shoot half Spain?” Franco smiled. “I said whatever the cost.” The Spanish Civil War had begun.” 0 likes
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