Daniel's Reviews > For Whom the Bell Tolls

For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway
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's review
Jun 16, 2009

it was ok
bookshelves: fiction, audio-book

I'm disappointed. Ernest Hemmingway should have done this war better justice. Obviously, I'm going to be comparing this novel to Orwell's Homage to Catalonia. A very famous English writer goes to Spain to fight the fascists, and comes home having written a book about it. But where "Homage" is full of spirit and admiration for the Spaniards, their fiery politics, their ideological devotion to freedom and equality, For Whom the Bell Tolls is a dud. Orwell stated: "it would be quite impossible to write about the Spanish war from a purely military angle. It was above all things a political war." And yet this is what Ernest Hemingway does. So immersed in Robert Jordan's life are we that we get no "bigger picture" of the conflict unfolding around him. No politics, just fascists and anti-fascists, who have no politics of their own. You get just as much politics out of an overwhelmingly political war from the Metallica song based on the (movie? book?).

Furthermore, we develop no affinity to any of the Spaniards. Relating to Spaniards is made much more difficult with Hemingway's chosen awkward too-literal translations. The Spanish speech patterns are littered with archaic pronouns: thee, thy, thou. Hemingway's prudish self-censorship, along with the literal translation of Spanish curses (that would be far better translated as a simple "Fuck you," or "Fuck your ________") also get in the way of seeing any of the characters as relatable. When the Spanish are angry in Hemingway's novel, they yell, "obscenity!" or "I obscenity in the milk of thy (whatever it is)!"

The relationship between Robert Jordan and his girlfriend Maria is bizarre and more like what Ernest Hemingway's fantasy woman would be. Even creepier than that, maybe. She wants to not only love Robert Jordan, she wants to be with him ALL of the time, be doing EVERYTHING he's doing, doing EVERYTHING for him, looking like him, and even BEING him. It's totally off-putting for me as a reader.

Totally meh.

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