A Farewell To Arms by Ernest Hemingway

The Rake notes that on this day in 1929 Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms was published. To mark the occasion I thought I would post a short review I wrote in 2002. So here it is:

Continuing my readings in “Great Novels” I next picked up Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell To Arms. I had previously read Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea in high school but that was it.

I must say I was quite surprised by this book. It was not what I expected at all. I am not sure what I expected but it wasn’t the rough yet sensitive and psychological work that I encountered.

The story – based on Hemingway’s own experiences – is set in World War I Italy. It centers on an American (Lieutenant Henry) serving in the Italian ambulance corps and his relationship with a British nurse (Catherine Barkley). It details his adventures – from getting wounded to going AWOL during a retreat and escaping to Switzerland – and deepening love affair with Catherine and in doing so serves as portrait of the ugliness of war.

While I found the story interesting and engaging, I was surprised by the writing style. It seemed to me rather hard and direct at times and yet melancholy and flowery at others. It seemed to be literally the “stream of consciousness” of the lead character and reflected at times the awkwardness of living in another country where one’s language is at best secondary. The characters were interesting and seemed highly realistic – aided no doubt by Hemingway’s personal knowledge – but the real focus was the dialog between Henry and Catherine. The contrast was constantly being drawn between the power and beauty of love and the ugliness and violence of life in wartime. The novel is full of cynical and melancholy asides about how life “kills” and “destroys” those with any courage or character. And the ending is as dark and cynical as they come.

All in all, I enjoyed the book and found the story compelling despite its dark and tortured nature. I can’t say that Hemingway has become my favorite author but I am glad I have a wider perspective of his writing.

Kevin Holtsberry
I work in communications and public affairs. I try to squeeze in as much reading as I can while still spending time with my wife and two kids (and cheering on the Pittsburgh Steelers and Michigan Wolverines during football season).


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