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Saturday, October 5, 2013

A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway...a compare and contrast exercise

Having just finished Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms this morning while holding my nose I decided to see what other reviewers had to say about it. I found the original New York Times book review written by Percy Hutchinson on September 29, 1929. I also read a Washington Times book review written by Martin Rubin on August 3, 2012 on the occasion of Scribner reissuing the book with the original book cover.

What the reviewers say
What I say
War story with a romance
Romance story set during a war.
Rationale for the genre selection.
“Suffice it to say, however, that Mr. Hemingway has concerned himself with a phase of the war not yet much used, the collapse of the Italian front in 1917, and that, in consequence, so far as his novel is to be regarded solely as a war book, it has the freshness of depiction in a new field.” –NYT book review 1929
The majority of book focuses on his relationship with Catherine. He even deserts the war effort to be with her.
Why has the book stood the test of time (84 years)?
“In the end, it’s the writing; that spare prose packed with layered emotions, that makes it a true classic.  Hemingway…knew that while even the most earth-shattering events take place, everyday life goes on.” -Washington Times Book Review, 2012
Hmm…not sure, but I suspect it is just because it was written by Hemingway.
Level of excitement
“Dramatic as are the pages dealing with the Caporetto debacle, the war, however, is but a background for the real story, and this in spite of the fact that this story is itself an outgrowth of the war. The love of Lieutenant Henry for the nurse Catherine Barkley, a love so great… could only have come in the war and out of the war. The story of this attachment is poetic, idyllic, and tragic.” -NYT
Boring. Even the bits during the retreat from the war front.
Use of language
“…a narrative method …which is chiefly to be characterized by the staccato nature of sentences, and its rigid exclusion of all but the most necessary description.” -NYT
Dialogue that reminded me of conversations between young teens in their first love relationship. “Do you love me?” “Are you sure you love me?” “Do I kiss better than her?” I found it tremendously tedious.
What about the ending?
“And the novel’s ending, as heart-rending to read today as the first time I encountered it a half century ago, revolves around an everyday tragedy, nothing to do with war or its consequences.” -WT
OK. I confess that I shed a tear or two but then was left cold by the abrupt ending.
How does this compare to other Hemingway works?
The author of the review confesses that he prefers The Sun Also Rises for its unique qualities. -NYT
I remember liking The Old Man and the Sea when I read it in junior high. The only other Hemingway work I've read is A Movable Feast which is a collection of essays written during the years he lived in Paris in the 1920s, but not edited and published until 1959. I liked both better than this novel.
“It is a moving and beautiful book.”   -NYT
No, I will not recommend this book for high school readers.  I think this book needs the help of a good college English class discussion to be fully appreciated.

Obviously, I am not a fan. Someone who liked the book or is a Hemingway fan, I'd love to hear from you.

Disclosure: A Farewell to Arms on Books on Tape, read by Alexander Adams; checked out from the public library.

Works cited:
-Hutchinson, Percy. "Love and War in the Pages of Mr. Hemingway." New York Times 29 Sept. 1929: n. pag. New York Times on the Web.  Web. 5 Oct. 2013.
-Rubin, Martin. "BOOK REVIEW: 'A Farewell to Arms: The Hemingway Library Edition'"The Washington Times. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 Oct. 2013.


  1. Great review, it made me smile! I am also not a Hemingway fan so won't be reading this one :-)

  2. What a clever review! I love that you went back to find the original review from 1929 -- makes my librarian heart happy!

    Joy's Book Blog

  3. I read a bunch of Hemingway in college, including this, and was a big fan. But my husband and I recently re-read The Sun Also Rises with our teenagers, and we all thought it was pretty bad. So now I'm afraid to revisit the rest of his books.

  4. Very interesting way to review this book. I love it! I think this is a really good way to review classic books too!


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