A FAREWELL TO ARMS, ERNEST HEMINGWAY, GROVE PRESS, 1997
I have spent a political lifetime arguing that the nature of modern society turned on the dramatic and deadly events that became what we know in history as World War I. A Farewell to Arms is Ernest Hemingway’s attempt to come to grips with that notion in novelistic form. He combines the two themes that he is noted for and accomplished at - love and war- and demonstrates how hard that combination is on the love side of the equation. Here we find the first flourishes of that angst, desperation and sense of futility in the persons of the main characters, a young fancy-free American officer and a British nurse who had recently lost her fiancé in battle, that would characterize the survivors of the war- the "lost generation".
When I reviewed Hemingway’s "The Sun Also Rises" I argued that Scott Fitzgerald had the truer ear for the pathos of the "lost generation" after the war. I also noted that Hemingway had a much better ear and style for the love and war combination. Here Hemingway clearly wins. Maybe it is the trauma of war that makes his sparseness of language and stripped emotion work. Maybe it is his eternal quest for honor and the other attributes of machismo closely associated with the war experience. Maybe it is because he could just flat-out write a hell of a war story. But, damn, you had better read this novel if you want to know what writing is all about.