A Fairwell to Arms

A FAIRWELL TO ARMS. 

Published in 1929
My rating: ★★★✫✫ 3/5. I highly recommend it.

Review for Back to the Classics, A Classic in Translation. Yes. I listened to this book in Spanish (Adiós a las armas). It was familiar all along. I believe I’ve seen the movie.

I’m my age type of reviewer. I talk about books in reference to what they provoke in me. I read for pleasure, but not only, it’s also intertwined into a greater goal. I read to grow, and it’s difficult to explain sometimes why I pick what I do, others it’s easier. This time I thought it was about time to read something by Hemingway.

I know next to nothing about Hemingway. I know some of his books were made into movies. I have seen the movie based on this book, or read the book when very young, and also, I’ve seen the dubbed and black and white movie, the amazing Por quien tocan las campanas (For Whom the Bells Toll).

In a recent podcast, Andrew Kern mentioned he read this book when he was young for different reasons as the ones he read it again later in life. As a more mature reader, he could see more in the text which in part it’s a reaction to the previous more elaborated style literature. I know we can learn much, as Andrew Kern said too, from books that have become the chosen ones to represent a decade, a century, an era. That’s why I felt I wanted to read some Hemingway. And truthfully, one cannot escape the worth of the book, separated from our like or dislike of it.

That much was said about the book, that Hemingway uses a casual, journalistic style. I don’t know if I was looking for it, but I found it. His sentences are short, and that gives the character a sense of despair and detachment. He is an American fighting in Italy in the WWI, and he reminded me much of the man in The Stranger, by Camus, but Camus must have been inspired by Hemingway, since he published The Stranger in 1942.

I thought about that totally by myself! (I’m elated, I found this, where I read that Hemingway and Melville were favorites of Camus.) Last year I read half of Moby Dick, but I find Melville’s writing different. That an author is a favorite of another author, I guess doesn’t translate into copying the style, but the similarities in the way Frederic Henry (Hemingway’s main character in this novel), and Meursault (Camus’ main character in The Stranger) expressed similar thoughts like, “I don’t believe in God”, “I wanted to eat and sleep”, “I did not feel love”, etc., told me that both authors probably shared or overlapped some of their view of life, and chose to convey them in that similar cadence and language. (Maybe it’s just that the book had, I believe, the same reader. Yes, I think it was the same narrator, who, by the way, did an excellent job in my opinion. It was a young male voice that to me, since both The Stranger and A Farewell to Arms are written in the first person, sounded like the main character was talking to me.

I don’t want to give away spoilers, I will only say that the reader gets a feel at the beginning of the book, and Hemingway stays true to the tone of the book until the end.

Has the book taught me anything?

Hmmm.

I believe it has taught me something about the first war, about men and women, about what it is to live without hope.

There’s a conversation between Frederick Henry and an old millionaire friend he has, an Italian Comte. The old man says that the older he gets, the easier for him it is to speak in his mother tongue, Italian. Frederick asks him if he is scared to die. The old man says he is not afraid, but he loves his life (although old age comes with a sort of bodily inconveniences he suffers). He says he doesn’t aspire to life after death, but that he’d love to live forever.

It’s so different for me. I do love life, I live a very good life, but I would not like for a second to be offered to live eternally. Not in this temporal world. The word existentialism it’s becoming clearer after reading these two novels. The burden it’s not the cross, but to have the weight of the whole world, your life, other people’s suffering, on your shoulders. There’s no happiness in living to make another person happy, or making your own happiness dependent on someone. His Law gives us peace and freedom. Nothing, no other man or woman can make us complete. Only Him can make us whole.

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7 comments on “A Fairwell to Arms

  1. You think deep thoughts, Sivia, and I enjoy reading them. I've never read Farewell to Arms but after reading your review I'm thinking it will go on my “to be read” pile.

    I have read The Old Man and the Sea, the only Hemingway title I've read, and liked it. I wouldn't rate it necessarily in my top 10 but it's definitely worth reading. My daughters did not like it when they read it in high school. I think age has a lot to do with it!

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  2. I read Farewell to Arms while taking care of my mom, who was deep in one of her depressions, and my kids were still in school. I remember thinking “Now I understand war,” particularly the First World War. The chaos of it, the darkness, the senselessness. Now that I have read The Paris Wife, I understand Hemingway a bit better and thus, his writing.

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  3. Linda, Kathy!!!! I do get so excited every time you both come to comment on my blog!

    I read the post again and realized I left a thought incomplete,

    this

    That an author is a favorite of another author, I guess doesn't translate into copying the style, but the similarities in the way Frederic Henry (Hemingway's main character in this novel), and Meursault (Camus' main character in The Stranger) expressed similar thoughts like, “I don't believe in God”, “I wanted to eat and sleep”, “I did not feel love”, etc., told me that both authors probably shared or overlapped some of their view of life, and chose to convey them in that similar cadence and language. (Maybe it's just that the book had, I believe, the same reader. Yes, I think it was the same narrator, who, by the way, did an excellent job in my opinion. It was a young male voice that to me, since both The Stranger and A Farewell to Arms are written in the first person, sounded like the main character was talking to me.

    I do believe both authors share that sad outlook of life. But Kathy, it only makes sense that those who lived any of the wars first hand would be scared forever. I don't want you all to think I'm saying “it's just because they are not true Christians that they hurt”, (I don't think a christian is exempt from depression, etc.), but these two authors in particular, specially Camus, show us a world without any God or any morality. Both men in these two books, are not “bad people” at all (they love their fellow men), but it's like they only think about the immediate, (satisfying their physical impulses without hurting others), and they realize -only late-, that no matter what we try to do, there's something else -soul, conscience- to be accounted for.

    They present us with the crude life of the person without convictions.

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  4. I think you're right, Sylvia, there are strong connections between the two characters – I read L'Etranger in college a very long time ago. I remember a very heated argument we had in class about whether Meursault deserved death – and I, psychology student that I was, argued that he suffered from a mental illness and could not be held responsible for his actions. Certainly he benefitted from the structure of prison life. I have always thought it was a particular character, not necessarily a world without soul but a character who rejects the idea of meaning to the point of refusing to search for it or even create it for themselves that fascinated Hemingway and Camus. Some existentialists, most I think, admit that people must create their own meaning and that people who refuse to do so end up like these two main characters. I tend to believe that the utter pointlessness of WWI must have played a huge role in the development of this philosophy, although my favorite existentialist, Victor Frankl, developed his philosophy at Auschwitz. I am looking forward to reading “A Meaningful Life” to round out my view of this philosophy and its antithesis – that meaning is everywhere if you only look for it.

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  5. Hmmm, so interesting.
    It's true that Meursalt can be seen as a “sociopath?”, he shared traits with Sherlock, but he was different, I don't know if mentally ill, to me, it's like impossible for a person to suspend morality. Henry was different, he tried to construct that meaning, but found out it had a short life in the middle of adversity after adversity.

    The antithesis is intriguing, and that title too, “A Meaningful Life”.

    I said no soul but it is more a suspension of moral judgment, or morality residing in a supreme being or God.

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