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on 19 July 2017
you have to be a big Spanish civil war afficinado to enjoy this book thankfully I am and read it from cover to cover but I can imagine someone new to the subject getting bogged down it is very detailed and exceedingly well researched and with information that I didn't know about the six people covered in this factual book
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American author Amanda Vaill's 'Hotel Florida' focuses on three couples who stayed at the Hotel Florida in Madrid during the Spanish Civil War, using it as a base for their reporting activities and, through the eyes of these six people, the author cleverly tells her story of the Civil War. Most well-known of the group to arrive at the hotel was the famous American writer, Ernest Hemingway who, with his latest books having achieved poor sales, was keen to find a subject that would supply him with "the best novelistic material there ever was", and felt the situation in Spain might just provide it. He was later joined by a young Martha Gellhorn, a writer who had made her name as a journalist writing a piece for the 'Spectator' about the lynching she was supposed to have witnessed of a seventeen-year-old black sharecropper in Mississippi, entitled 'Justice at Night', and who had arrived in Spain not solely to report on the war, but also to embark on a love affair with Hemingway. Already having been in and out of Spain at the time of Hemingway's arrival, were photojournalists Robert Capa (originally the Hungarian Andre Friedmann, who reinvented himself as the fictitious and famous American photographer Capa) and his lover, Polish woman, Gerda Taro, both of them armed with their cameras - Capa with his Leica and Gerda with her Rolleiflex - and both taking ground-breaking, powerful and emblematic photographs of the war and its participants. The third couple, and less well-known outside of Spain, were Arturo Barea (the only Spaniard of the main players), the chief of the Republican government's foreign press office, and his assistant and later wife, Ilse Kulscar, an Austrian socialist journalist and multi-linguist who had come to Spain to "bear witness". Add to these couples a host of supporting characters such as: Stephen Spender, Antoine de Saint-Exupery, John Dos Passos and Kim Philby, and Amanda Vaill's well-researched non-fiction account takes on, at times, an almost novelistic flavour.

Amanda Vaill tells us in her introduction that she has not tried to write a history of the Spanish Civil War, but a narrative examination of the Civil War experiences of her six subjects and some of their close confederates. She is keen to add that although 'Hotel Florida' is a narrative and not an academic analysis, it is not fiction, or even fictional; it is a reconstruction. And a very good reconstruction it appears to be with a depth of research that seems very impressive. Vaill writes convincingly of the characters of Hemingway and Gellhorn, making no bones about the fact that although neither could fail to be moved by some of the scenes they witnessed, their reasons for coming to Spain were not entirely altruistic. She also does not flinch from discussing the veracity of one of the most famous photographs taken by Capa - but then seems to pose the question of how much it really matters when the picture more than fulfilled the intentions of the photographer. Leaving the perhaps more well-known characters aside, it is the story of Barea that is the most profound and affecting in this book, but I shall leave his account for prospective readers to discover for themselves. Well-written and rich in atmosphere, I found Amanda Vaill's 'Hotel Florida' an involving and thought-provoking read. Recommended.

4.5 Stars.

If this book has aroused an interest in Martha Gellhorn, I would recommend the detailed and insightful biography by Caroline Moorehead:Martha Gellhorn: A Life
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on 1 September 2014
A lovely book, totally original in its assembly of main characters and their interlocking lives during the Spanish Civil War, with that hotel on the Gran Vía of Madrid as the pivot for a wonderful account of the travails of the war seen through the eyes of six characters who have found their author. I've never liked Hemingway, whom I regard as a tormented though laughable caricature of hard-boiled tough guys, whose attempts to seal that role for perpetuity were like viscous mud trying to cling to a wall and whose turgid novel about the war, 'For Whom The Bell Tolls' is its own homage to catatonia.. Of the others, the forlorn figure of Arturo Barea is the most noble and appealing to my mind, a person torn by personal conflicts, uncertainties and contradictions, but who resolved them as far as he could in his writing.

I live in Barcelona (Spain) so I was glad to see that Miss Vaill got all the Spanishisms and historical and geographical details right, with one trivial exception: Mora la Nueve (nine) instead of Nueva (new.)

Highly recommended!
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 30 April 2014
The Spanish Civil War, a prelude to WW2, began in 1936 and ended almost three years later. In the war years, Spanish cities and towns were turned into battlegrounds and hundreds of thousands of Spaniards were killed. Also killed in the fighting were foreigners sympathetic to one of the sides in the war and had traveled to Spain to take part in the war. The "International Brigades" were made up of men from the US, Britain, and European countries, wanting to help the Republicans, fighting off Franco and his Nationalist troops. The Germans sent men and materiel as well; looking forward to their own coming war, they tested out new weapons on the hapless Spanish. In addition to the fighters, the press came to Madrid and other Spanish towns. Writers and photographers hoping to both let the world in on what was happening in Spain. And if they also gained a bit of fame while covering the war, well, that was good, too. Certainly many war correspondents who became famous in the following big war, gained experience in covering the Spanish Civil War.

Amanda Vaill, author of two other superb works of non-fiction, looks at three "couples" who were part of the press coverage of the war in her new book, "Hotel Florida: Truth, Love, and Death in the Spanish Civil War", Two of the six were writers, Ernest Hemingway and his soon-to-be third wife, Martha Gellhorn. Two were photographers, Hungarian Robert Capa (he changed his name from Endre Friedmann when he began his career) and his companion and photographic partner, Gerda Taro. The other two highlighted by Vaill, were Spaniard Arturo Barea, who ran the press office in Madrid. He was joined by an Austrian woman, Ilsa Kulcsar. The Hotel Florida was the main hotel in Madrid, used by the correspondents and photographers covering the war.

Vaill does an excellent job at looking at all six main characters, as well as secondary-to-the-story characters. She doesn't only write about what was happening in Spain; she puts her subjects in Madrid only after telling how they got there. In most cases, their lives were building to the point of covering the battles, and most enjoyed success after the war was over. And by writing in shortish chapters, giving month, year, and place, she is able to control the narrative.
She writes with a bit of a cutting edge, but that makes her book even more interesting. Amanda Vaill has written a superb look at people and places in a certain time.

By the way, if the Spanish Civil War is of special interest, you might like to look into the work of Rebecca Pawel, who has written four mysteries starring a Nationalist police officer in Madrid, at the end of the war. The first book is called, "Death of a Nationalist" and is a great book about a man who fought for a cause he believed in. Most of the readers would not be sympathetic to the character but Pawel writes with such nuance that her characters and plots are excellently drawn.

Also, Amanda Vaill refers to the International Center of Photography in New York City. Begun by Robert Capa and continued after his death in 1954 by his brother, the museum is filled with the photographic work of Robert Capa and other war photographers. A great place to spend a few hours.
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on 30 July 2014
This book is superb. For the first time I really have got a grip on the Spanish civil war and it's place in history and the people whose lives where touched by it. More exciting it lead me to read the poetry of Lorca, Neruda and I'm still only a third of the way through the book! it is a very important and readable account that will lead to new discoveries. Excellent.
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on 19 March 2015
From the side of the International Brigaders. See my review also of Antony Beevor's book on the Spanish Civil War elsewhere on my Profile page - they both say Stalin changed the game he was playing with Spain mid-conflict. See also my review on Martha Gellhorn. It is worth remembering that both Hemingway & Gellhorn committed suicide separately - these things get to you.
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on 14 May 2014
This book tells the stories of six individuals whose lives intersect during the Spanish Civil War. Ernest Hemingway, Martha Gellhorn, Robert Capa and Gerda Taro are writers and photographers covering the war, while Arturo Barea and Ilse Kulcsar work for the Republican government’s censorship office. Their paths cross in Madrid’s Hotel Florida, home to foreign media during the war. The book is a heady mix of front line action, political intrigue and tangled love lives.

We discover that wartime reporting exists in a surreal world where journalists take trams to the front lines before returning to their hotel to file stories and unwind over drinks. They endure the privations of a city under siege including food shortages and harrowing bombardments, but when the all-clear sounds can get a little shopping done on Madrid’s Gran Via.

The book raises interesting questions about the role of journalism in wartime, where photos might be staged, facts twisted and suffering exploited for the benefit of a good story. Although all six characters share a passion to defeat fascism, other motivations are present: The desire for fame, adventure, love and even money are all there to varying degrees. Hemingway in particular comes across as the embodiment of macho thrill seeking.

We meet these people at pivotal moments in their lives. Hemingway gets a moribund career back on track, and will parlay his wartime experiences into a great novel. Martha Gelhorn is writing the stories that will earn her reputation as one of the twentieth century’s greatest war correspondents. Robert Capa launches his career as the 20th century’s most famous war photographer, and his partner Gerda Taro will achieve fame in her own right as the first female photojournalist to cover a war. And Arturo Barea, will one day produce a classic of post civil war spanish writing.

The characters are linked not just professionally but romantically. Hemingway and Gelhorn are having an affair and Spain is about the only place they can do so without drawing the attention of the American media or Mrs Hemingway. Capa and Taro are young and in love but there are ups and downs and the end will be traumatic for Capa in particular. When Barea meets Kulcsar he is transformed and with her support and inspiration reinvents himself as a writer and broadcaster. Their relationship will endure.

Inevitably all six become disillusioned with the Republican cause, as its leadership falls increasingly under the sway of the communist party, as much an enemy of democratic ideals as the fascists. By the book’s end, one of our subjects will be dead, two will have to flee their own side’s secret police, and the others, with the end no longer in doubt, will turn their attentions to the even bigger story about to engulf the rest of Europe.

Presented as a series of overlapping ‘dispatches’ the action bounces back and forth from battlefront to home-front, and does get a bit relentless after a while. Likewise, the amount of detail the author has squeezed into the story is impressive but sometimes feels like too much. For example, countless descriptions of car, train, plane and boat journeys add a little colour but not much else to the overall story. That said, this is a highly readable book that offers much for Hemingway fans, for those curious about the Spanish Civil War, and for students of the ethics and evolution of war reporting. Or for readers who just like a rattling yarn about lovers in dangerous times.
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on 2 December 2014
If you are interested in the Spanish civil war this will be a great read. It is a factual account of this conflict through the eyes of famous people who were involved including the great photographers Capa and Gerda, the novelist and adventurer Ernest Hemingway and may others. It is a long, comprehensive account but well worth the read.
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on 9 May 2014
Superb, evocative, heart breaking, well written.

The book gives a fantastic understanding of Capa and Hemingway and their entourages during the Spanish Civil War.

Enjoyed every page.
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on 23 April 2016
Hotel Florida has a wealth of detail concerning three couples that stayed there during the Spanish Civil War. The author must
have done a huge amount of research. However I found it confusing at times and hard to follow. This may have been down to the short
chapters that seemed to jump from one person to another I think it would have been better to have stuck with a character for longer periods.
For sure this was done to stick to the time frame of unfolding events in the war but for me the narrative suffered badly.
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