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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Obsession & Oblivion, 23 Oct 2011
This review is from: For Whom The Bell Tolls (Mass Market Paperback)
In the late 1930s author Ernest Hemingway was a war correspondent in Spain during the Civil War, and his `For Whom The Bell Tolls' is a fictional story covering just a few hectic and heart rending days in the build-up to the actual battle of Segovia. It relates to an American language teacher and admirer of Spain, Robert Jordan, who joined the International Brigades as a dynamite expert and is attached to a guerrilla band with orders to blow up a bridge to prevent outflanking of Republicans by Fascist forces.

Despite being told in the third person much of `For Whom The Bell Tolls' is based on thoughts, observations, flashbacks and experiences of main protagonist Robert Jordan together with philosophical commentaries from other characters, including `the good, the bad and the ugly'. Hemingway employs the archaic `thou' and `thee' during dialogues to accentuate the peasant Spanish tongue, and though this includes foul-mouthing he substitutes such words as `unprintable' or `obscenity'. This makes for a rather strained read but it allows for fleshing out characters and it emphasizes relationships.

All characters are aware of risks and all face oblivion in fighting for what is viewed as a just and noble cause, yet without any romantic hero conceptions. There may be a degree of camaraderie in the face of death but there is also bigotry and disloyalty. In spite of the idealism and sense of duty of Robert Jordan, and the ideology and love of Spain of the guerrillas a major achievement is the graphic portrayal of the inhumanity and idiocy of war - especially a brutal civil war. There are atrocities on all sides and a particularly gripping section is the telling of a butchering of fascist sympathisers by partisans - those then reinforced by Jordan.

Intertwined with and in contrast to the ferocious action is Robert Jordan's love for a young woman whose life was devastated by the murder of her parents and rape by Falangists. However it is death that is the obsessive overriding concern of `For Whom The Bell Tolls' - including both surrender of one's own life for others and suicide as an option to avoid torture if captured. In facing oblivion an important element is questioning how people use whatever time they have left. Ernest Hemingway's `For Whom The Bell Tolls' is `the classic' on the Spanish Civil War, but it is more than a gripping novel - it obliges readers to think.
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D. Elliott
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Location: Ulverston, Cumbria

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