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For Whom The Bell Tolls is a novel of incredible intensity and power. Although the prose is relatively simple (in typical Hemingway style), it belies a work of uncompromising power, which will stay in the mind long after the reader has reached it's electrifying conclusion. Here, Hemingway gives us a number of inter-woven ideas, each of which has been argued as being the central theme of the novel. On the one hand, we have a simple tale of the attempt by a group of partisans, over a four day period, to blow up a facist-held bridge. Wthin this, Hemingway also effectively develops a very moving love story between the central character, Robert Jordan, and Maria. The back-drop to all this is a thought provoking account of the brutality and tragedy of the Spanish Civil War. It is very much the combination of these three threads which make For Whom The Bell Tolls such a fine and captivating work. The characterisation is impressive throughout, and the reader cannot help but feel a gret sense of empathy and understanding for those caught up in this tale. As the novel surges to it's explosive finale, Hemingway succeeds in creating a number of very mixed emotions in the reader's mind. Indeed, these feelings are only intensified by the inevitable completion of the text. Hemingway may have had his critics, but this is a work that even his most ardent detractors cannot fail to be moved by. A relatively easy and certainly enjoyable introduction to the Hemingway style, this is a novel to be read, savoured, and returned to again and again. Be warned though, new readers might just find this to be the beginning of a lengthy and compulsive Heminway adventure. A true masterpiece.
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Hemingway's magnificent novel has something for everyone: an action tale, an anti-war protest, a love story, subtle ironies, a magnificent short story within the novel, political criticism of communism and fascism, a philosophy of life, and beautiful descriptions of life that leave you gasping. You will learn a lot about yourself by considering which elements you notice most strongly. Reading For Whom the Bell Tolls is like holding up a mirror to your soul.
On the surface this is a book about 3 days and nights of war. But with the action packed into that time and extensive use of flashbacks, it becomes a tapestry of all humankind. After you start to notice the individual threads in the tapestry, be sure to step back and see the whole. For the remarkably balanced and connected artistry of the themes and directions in the story is what makes this book great.
If you are disturbed by descriptions of violence, brutality, and inhumanity, you will not enjoy this book.
Robert Jordan is an American who has joined the republican side of the Spanish civil war. In normal life, he teaches Spanish. Now, he is transformed into a demolitions expert who can blow up trains and bridges. With an offensive coming, he moves behind the fascist lines to join a guerilla group to blow a key bridge during an offensive that begins in 3 days. The rest of the story covers the action of preparing for and attacking the bridge. Along the way, you will become acquainted with the characters in the guerilla band as well as Jordan. Jordan will find himself moved in many ways to become more alive and fully connected than he has ever been before. He will experience the full range of human emotion and life within these 3 days.
If you don't know about the Spanish Civil War, you should be aware that it was the main warm-up for World War II. The fascists under Franco were supported by Hitler and Mussolini. Hitler wanted to try out his new weapons and fine-tune tactical theory before attacking the rest of Europe. Communists from around the world flocked to the republic, as did pro-democracy volunteers. The republican forces had great popular support but had little war materiel and fought a losing campaign that created great anguish in the international community.
Civil wars are one of the worst forms of human conflict. Because the people are so much alike, they tend to behave with greater savagery towards one another. With modern weapons of mass destruction, the effects can be awful beginning with the American Civil War. Hemingway does a great job of showing the essential sameness of the forces on both sides in human terms, and takes away the meaning of their causes to show the greater importance of their humanity. The book reminds me in this aspect very much of All Quiet on the Western Front, the great ant-iwar novel about trench warfare in World War I.
As is usual with Hemingway, the writing is spare, effective, and graceful. Stylists will be delighted!
Why should you read this book today? You will probably not fight in a civil war. Or will you? For in fact, humans are as divided in their competitions as ever. They just normally don't involve bloodshed. There is great glory in the conflict, but even greater potential in their cooperation. Ask yourself about where you compete now and what could be accomplished if you focused on constructive cooperation instead. Think about this concerning your family, your love, your work, your hobbies, and your volunteer activities. Like the quote above, wherever there is one of us the other is present. If you start to represent each other's interests and connect with one another, the sum of mankind is greater and so is each person. You will also love life more!
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on 1 September 2005
I can say nothing new about the novel itself. It is a masterpiece, as thoroughly human as every one of its characters. It is a brilliant study of life and human emotions, and Hemingway's writing is exciting and astonishing if not a little intense at times.
However I must express most strongly how bad the quality of this edition is. It is laden with misspellings, and the binding is truly atrocious - my copy fell apart under very little stress. I urge you to buy hardback or the Arrow edition.
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on 10 September 2011
I found For Whom the Bell Tolls brilliant and moving but also incredibly frustrating. This book is undoubtedly a classic piece of literature, the writing is Hemingway at his best and there are excellent characters who at times I really cared about.

While I can totally understand why so many people give it five star reviews and I don't want to put anyone off from reading this, for me the book was ruined when it frequently replaced historical fact with Stalinist propaganda. As someone who has a keen interest in the Spanish civil war I was annoyed that every time the beautiful writing started to draw me back into the story it would lapse back into propaganda.

This book is a story about an American volunteer fighting fascism in Spain with a small band of guerrillas who he must persuade to undertake a dangerous mission. The problem is that the background events against which this story are set are riddled with inaccuracy and bias.

Hemingway really travelled to Spain during the civil war, at a time when the small Soviet backed Communist Party was seizing control of the republican government and persecuting the other factions. Many of the lies they fabricated at the time to justify their behaviour have made their way into this novel as though they really happened. For example the anarchist and syndicalist militias who formed the majority of the republican forces in the civil war are consistently portrayed as incompetent drunks harming the war effort in this novel.

While I appreciate that the majority of readers will probably not be as interested in the Spanish Civil War background so will not have this problem, for me once I realised how distorted a portrayal of Spain this was it ruined a lot of the book. Imagine how you would feel reading a story set in World War 2 that was filled with drama, romance and expert storytelling, but was also written by someone who assumed that the Americans single-handedly fought the entire war while the incompetent or treacherous British and Russians just got in their way. If that wouldn't bother you then you will appreciate this book.

For anyone who is interested in a more accurate portrayal of the Spanish Civil War, I recommend George Orwell's amazing autobiographical account 'Homage to Catalonia' or any of Anthony Beevor's books on the subject. Probably the best fictional portrayal of the war can be found in Ken Loach's film 'Land and Freedom' which I also highly recommend.
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Hemingway's magnificent novel has something for everyone: an action tale, an anti-war protest, a love story, subtle ironies, a magnificent short story within the novel, political criticism of communism and fascism, a philosophy of life, and beautiful descriptions of life that leave you gasping. You will learn a lot about yourself by considering which elements you notice most strongly. Reading For Whom the Bell Tolls is like holding up a mirror to your soul.
On the surface this is a book about 3 days and nights of war. But with the action packed into that time and extensive use of flashbacks, it becomes a tapestry of all humankind. After you start to notice the individual threads in the tapestry, be sure to step back and see the whole. For the remarkably balanced and connected artistry of the themes and directions in the story is what makes this book great.
If you are disturbed by descriptions of violence, brutality, and inhumanity, you will not enjoy this book.
Robert Jordan is an American who has joined the republican side of the Spanish civil war. In normal life, he teaches Spanish. Now, he is transformed into a demolitions expert who can blow up trains and bridges. With an offensive coming, he moves behind the fascist lines to join a guerilla group to blow a key bridge during an offensive that begins in 3 days. The rest of the story covers the action of preparing for and attacking the bridge. Along the way, you will become acquainted with the characters in the guerilla band as well as Jordan. Jordan will find himself moved in many ways to become more alive and fully connected than he has ever been before. He will experience the full range of human emotion and life within these 3 days.
If you don't know about the Spanish Civil War, you should be aware that it was the main warm-up for World War II. The fascists under Franco were supported by Hitler and Mussolini. Hitler wanted to try out his new weapons and fine-tune tactical theory before attacking the rest of Europe. Communists from around the world flocked to the republic, as did pro-democracy volunteers. The republican forces had great popular support but had little war materiel and fought a losing campaign that created great anguish in the international community.
Civil wars are one of the worst forms of human conflict. Because the people are so much alike, they tend to behave with greater savagery towards one another. With modern weapons of mass destruction, the effects can be awful beginning with the American Civil War. Hemingway does a great job of showing the essential sameness of the forces on both sides in human terms, and takes away the meaning of their causes to show the greater importance of their humanity. The book reminds me in this aspect very much of All Quiet on the Western Front, the great anti-war novel about trench warfare in World War I.
As is usual with Hemingway, the writing is spare, effective, and graceful. Stylists will be delighted!
Why should you read this book today? You will probably not fight in a civil war. Or will you? For in fact, humans are as divided in their competitions as ever. They just normally don't involve bloodshed. There is great glory in the conflict, but even greater potential in their cooperation. Ask yourself about where you compete now and what could be accomplished if you focused on constructive cooperation instead. Think about this concerning your family, your love, your work, your hobbies, and your volunteer activities. Like the quote above, wherever there is one of us the other is present. If you start to represent each other's interests and connect with one another, the sum of mankind is greater and so is each person. You will also love life more!
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VINE VOICEon 16 April 2016
It's a classic and well-known book but I'm sure there are still legions of potential readers. Not an easy book to get into as the writing style is very individual and quite hard to get used to - it may irritate some readers but the writing detail is superb and the observation of the characters is exact and leaves you with a perfect impression of each person. Interesting historically as it is set during the Spanish Civil War which is not something the English learn about at school very much - there's a lot here to learn about it and you very much feel that it is first hand knowledge as Hemingway was deeply involved. The story concerns a group of partisans in the remote mountains who are gathered up by an American volunteer to assist him in blowing up a bridge crucial for the enemy's transport lines. Not a short book, but a good one to take on holiday and for when you have time to read it properly.
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on 13 June 2015
Probably the fairest book about the Spanish civil war ever made. Hemingway was clearly on the republican side but he showed both the good and the bad side of the combatants. Orwell's book Homage to Catalonia is a better book re the reality of the war - but only in as much as the war on the relatively quite Aragon front - the worse violence on this particular front would only happen after Orwell had returned to England.
No other foreign intellectual knew more about Spain than Hemingway and it shows when you carefully read this book.
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on 2 January 2003
I certainly enjoyed this book yet feel that it falls some way short of being any kind of masterpiece. The style of writing is clear, lucid and engaging and Hemingway is obviously a master of his craft in this respect. However I had nagging doubts that I managed to suppress throughout most of the book as I wanted to be taken in by it. However at the denouement itself I realised that I no longer cared, in fact had never cared, whether the hero lived or died, perhaps because he was a little too obviously heroic.
The strengths of this book, and they are many, lie in the more peripheral characters and subplots. The scene were the Carlist Requetés surround and finally exterminate a different band of partisans is not only one of the best depictions of war I have read but one of my favourite pieces of writing ever, all the more so for being morally ambiguous. The young guerrilla who, facing death, switches communist platitudes for the fervent Ave Marias of his youth is the most moving character in the book. On a side issue the son of the Communist demagogue, La Passionaria, was in fact in Moscow at this time but met his death at Stalingrad. Fate catches up with us all it seems.
This highlights the problem with Jordan. For one thing this was not his war and for all that there were many like him and his reasons seem believable enough it lacks the visceral punch of those fighting for their homes. Mainly though he is simply too uncomplicated, he would have been more sympathetic if he had been portrayed at least in part as some kind of thrill seeker moving towards a genuine understanding of war. But no, he's dull and he falls in a dull fashion for a dull, though sweet, girl. Maria is actually a more interesting character but she serves only as a foil for Jordan's heroism. Which, like the lives of the saints, is admirable but strangely uninspiring as it lacks a certain humanity.
The disillusion that many felt with the socialist movement is evident in this book although not as pronounced as in say Orwell. The Communist general, whose mind is so diseased by ideology and paranoia that he lives in a total fantasy world but who is kept in place for political reasons is another brilliant creation. It seems a shame though that Hemmingway's depiction of the anarchosyndicalists is so thoroughly informed by the Communist propaganda that he elsewhere deplores. This is perhaps understandable however as the Revolution was written out of all histories of the Spanish Civil War until around the 1970s.
This is a good book though not a great one. It sparkles in all the right places except one. It is a shame though that Hemmingway chose to make the one flat note in this otherwise excellent novel the centrepiece of the work. The overall quality of the book serves to mask this flatness until the end when the emotions that should be boiling over in us simply don't come. I also felt that although dramatic the ending was a little pointless and was so designed simply in order to be grand and poignant and to tug on the heart strings. Maybe if I'd genuinely been bothered I wouldn't have found it contrived and just a little manipulative.
Three and half stars is possibly a fairer rating for the sheer excellence of certain sections although overall I was left with a feeling of bathos, never a sign of a good novel.
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on 3 November 2014
I first read 'The Sun also Rises' and did not rate it at all - awful people behaving badly in someone else's country. I did not like the style; it resembled that of a notebook, short repetitive sentences. However, I persevered with Hemingway and began 'For Whom the Bell Tolls'. This I have found much more satisfying. The partisans are many and varied. There are cruel, brave, cynical, philosophical and active people and the politics are interesting. Of the two women, one is intriguing - has power and perhaps a hint of the lesbian about her, the other is just a pretty girl for the hero to fall madly in love with (I am beginning to recognise these as recurring Hemingway females having seen a dramatised version of 'A Farewell to Arms' at our local theatre last week). I could hardly believe that the hero of 'For Whom the Bell Tolls' actually asked his lover if the Earth had moved for her during their love-making, and without a trace of irony. Perhaps Hemingway invented the phrase?The mountains of Spain in snow are vividly described and the primitive home-cave of the partisans became a place I could almost believe I had visited. In short, I cannot say that Hemingway has become a favourite but I certainly see more to admire in this book than the last. I shall read one more then move on.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 24 November 2008
Hemingway's novel "For Whom the Bell Tolls" (1940) is toughly realistic in its depiction of the butchery of warfare. The book has the no-nonsense, fact-intensive style of a reporter. Yet, in its themes of love, death, heroism, and human brotherhood, Hemingway's novel is, in spite of itself, romantic in outlook, but romantic with an edge.

The novel is set in Spain in 1937 during the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939). The Spanish Civil War was a multi-sided conflict between the democratically-elected government, the Republicans or loyalists, and its right-wing anti-communist opponents, the nationalists (fascists). The Republicans during this conflict had the assistance of the USSR. Their enemies, the nationalists, were assisted by Nazi Germany and by Italy. Hemingway was a correspondent in Spain at the time. His novel tells the story of Robert Jordan, a young American instructor in Spanish at the University of Montana who had earlier spent much time wandering through Spain. In 1936, with the outset of the conflict, Jordan volunteered his services to assist the Republicans and became an expert in explosives. Jordan idealizes his grandfather who had been a hero in the American Civil War. Jordan's father had committed suicide. When the novel opens, Jordan is assigned to destroy a bridge in furtherance of a Republican offensive. He works with a group of guerrillas in the mountains.

The story unfolds over a time of three days. Hemingway's book offers portrayals of a group of Jordan's Spanish compatriots, in addition to Jordan himself. Chief among them is a 48-year old woman, Pilar, physically unattractive, earthy, and strong-willed. She is the de facto leader of her group and is as central to the story as is Jordan. Pilar is the "woman" of Pablo, who was once a formidable fighter but who has become disillusioned by the conflict. The novel includes several scenes of high tension and near violence between Jordan and Pablo. In his efforts to blow-up the bridge, Jordan is assisted by Anselmo, an aged man who despairs of violence and killing but is devoted to the Republican cause. And, in the three days of the novel, Jordan meets and has a passionate love affair with Maria, a lovely 19-year old who has been saved from the nationalists by Pablo.

Hemingway is known for a terse, elliptical writing style, and it is on display in this book. But the writing is highly varied, with long stream of conscious digressions by Jordan as he reflects upon his past life and upon the conflict in which he has thrust himself. Much of the writing is both figurative and digressive. Hemingway tried to transcribe much of Spanish idiom directly into English, particularly the use of "thou" for the intimate Spanish "you." He also makes considerable use of untranslated Spanish phrases. The book captures the speech patterns of soldiers under tension, with much use of colorful language. Hemingway does not reproduce this language directly but, in English, uses phrases such as "obscenity" or "unprintable" in place of the words themselves. In addition to telling the story of the bridge and its destruction, all the characters engage in long discussions of their thoughts and their prior lives. These discussions generally are directed to the brutality of the war. In an outstanding passage, Pilar tells of the destruction under the command of Pablo of a group of fascist leaders who are forced to run the gauntlet before being thrown down a cliff.

Hemingway was in love with Spain, both for its beauty and its brutality. The novel has many discussions of bullfighting, largely told by Pilar as she recounts her experiences with earlier lovers. Pilar also has a power of clairvoyance in the story, especially as it relates to impending death. The book includes several vivid battle scenes. One of these scenes tells of the gunning-down by aircraft of a group of five of the guerillas assisting Jordan at the top of a small hill.(Aircraft has a large and fearsome presence in the book.) Another effective battle scene tells of the difficult destruction of the bridge and its aftermath.

The love relationship between Robert Jordan and Maria comes to dominate the novel. The two become passionately attracted to each other and quickly consummate their relationship. The passages describing the couple's lovemaking are central to the story and effective. The inhumanity of war is juxtaposed against human commitment and the beauty of the everyday. Robert Jordan realizes that he is in love with Maria, Spain, and with life. This love, in the book, reaches its peak in heroism and self-sacrifice. Jordan comes to realize what in life he values. It is because of his realization, that he ultimately must give up the things he comes to cherish. Within its language of toughness and machismo, this novel has the theme of inevitability and of romantic tragedy.

This is a book I read in high school many years ago when it was far beyond me. It is not an easy book, and not every part of it is successful. But it is an extraordinary novel. I am grateful that I had the opportunity to revisit the book when I was able to try to appreciate it.

Robin Friedman
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