An Anti-War Novel That Also Uncovers Life's Many Meanings,
Rezension bezieht sich auf: A Farewell to Arms (Audio CD)
This book clearly deserves more than five stars.
A Farewell to Arms is the semi-autobiographical tale of an American lieutenant in the Italian army near the end of World War I. Though the book's action, you will see the gradual distintegration of the hero's commitment to the conflict and his faltering attempts to create a new personna. While this is clearly one of the greatest anti-war books of all time, it transcends that genre to look more directly at the nature of life's challenges and how we meet them. As such, A Farewell to Arms ranks as one of the greatest of all American philosphical novels as well. For Hemingway aficionados, you will be fascinated to see his ornate writing style before he developed his eventual, much-admired spare form. This is stream of consciousness Hemingway at its best.
Lieutenant Henry is a man caught in the drift of events, without knowing what he stands for. He does his duty, but often out of habit rather than principle. When the full force of man and nature turn on him, he reverts to his instincts for self-survival. He wants little to do with the world, except in taking those delights that most please him. In the course of realizing and trying to overcome his emotional weaknesses, he simply isolates himself in new ways. Even love can only touch him when it is defined solely in his own terms.
Hemingway sees personal progress as only being possible through extreme pain. "The world breaks every one and afterward many are strong at the broken places." That's the good news. The bad news is that "those that will not break it kills." The world kills "the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially."
This theme is carried out by the challenges of being a lieutenant in the ambulance corps, then being wounded in a mortar attack, going through surgery and recovery, dealing with a murderous retreat, and ultimately falling in love and dealing with loss. Lieutenant Henry is increasingly overwhelmed, and finds himself willing to attempt less and less. Although the story does not carry him forward through the rest of his life, you imagine that he remains an emotional cripple from these experiences for the rest of his life . . . having little faith or interest in his fellow humans.
All of Hemingway's characters are emotionally crippled in one way or the other. Even if a shell does not hit them, they will never be the same from their war experiences. Whether they are driven by fear, love, or duty, the result is the same -- a disillusioned numbness that limits their ability to be alive. When pressed by the exigencies of the moment, each retreats to lick his or her wounds . . . cut off effectively from support. Whatever fine or infamous human emotion drives them, also condemns them.
One of the particularly haunting aspects of the book is the portrayal of war as unending and inescapable. A modern reader naturally knows when World War I ended. At the time, people wondered if it would go on for a hundred years. That despair is well captured here. Another unforgettable feature is raising the question of who the enemy really is. Lieutenant Henry discovers that those be befriends, his allies, and nature itself can be even more dangerous to him than the military enemy ever has been. You get a chilling sense of the dark side of civilization that few novels even attempt to portray.
Hemingway left Illinois at 17 to join the Kansas City Star as a reporter. He volunteered with the Red Cross in World War I at 18, first serving on the French front and later with the Italians. He was severely wounded in Italy, and was awarded the Italian Croce di Guerra. The first third of the book probably mirrors his own experiences very closely, and you will find a youthful vividness in those pages that will effectively put you amongst the battles and the boring sameness of waiting in between.
Many have considered what man's inhumanity to man really means. World War I was one of the greatest examples of this terrible tendency. Reading this book provides a good opportunity to reconsider your own views about the meaning of such times in human history, and what the right things are to do. Imagine that you are any of the characters in this book. What could and should you have done differently? What would have been the probable consequences? What would have been the meaning of your decisions and actions? What lessons can you apply from this today?
Basically, this book argues that moral progress only occurs through suffering. How else have you learned? How else could you learn? What does that mean about Hemingway's thesis?
Look for the best . . . as well as seeing the best in the worst.