A Farewell to Arms
© 1929 Ernest Hemingway
Beyond The Old Man and the Sea and his short story “The Snows of Kilamanjaro”, I haven’t read very much of Hemingway at all. A Farewell to Arms seemed like a good place to start, being the novel that made Hemignway’s name as a writer. Set in Italy during the Great War, Farewell combines wartime romance and disillusion. It’s not a war novel in the same way that Jeff Shaara writes a war novel; the war sets the stage and constantly presses in on the characters, but our narrator – an American serving in the Italian army as an ambulance driver — is rarely in combat,. After a slow beginning, the story picked up steam when Henry and his compatriots were shelled in the presumed safety of their dugout. By the time Henry returns to the front, the war is going south for Italy, and the retreat is made more dangerous by Italian troops who accuse any straggling retreaters of desertion, and shoot them. Henry and the nurse with whom he falls in love both have to make tough decisions.
A Farewell to Arms is considerably more interesting to me than The Sun Also Rises (which I’ve been halfway through for ..er, two years), and while I didn’t know how it would end, I wasn’t too much surprised at the nature of the finish – which is consistent with the other Hemingway stories I’ve read. There was humor here, something I’ve not yet encountered with Hemingway, although I don’t know if it’s intentional. The entire exchange Henry has at a border crossing – his repeated assertion that he enjoys The Winter Sport, and the guards’ argument between themselves as to what constitutes Winter Sport and what town they would recommend he visit to best enjoy The Winter Sport — border on the good kind of absurdism. I think I’ll remember the story, at any rate, and that’s always a good sign for a novel, even it’s definitely not a favorite.