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Book Review of For Whom the Bell Tolls

For Whom the Bell Tolls / Ernest Hemingway

Synopsis – A weary band of Spanish Civil War guerillas camp in a cave in the mountains and plan to blow up a bridge. The expected flashbacks, squabbles, betrayals, reconciliations, and hooking-up ensue. Until the day they actually blow up the bridge.

Reaction – As this is a long novel about war, it took a while for me to become invested in the characters. But I plowed through, and am glad I did. I now have a full-blown "war novel" on my "have read" list. In the printing I read, seems the expletive "fucking" was replaced with "mucking." The word "obscenity" was used as an obscenity, and somehow "milk" was also. "Whore" was (comically) left alone, though.

Recommendation – This book is a classic, so if you haven't read it, read it. As war novels go, I'd say it's among the most palatable, and best for contributing to your well-roundedness. It's part of the Western human experience.

Excerpt – “You like to hunt?”

“Yes, man. More than anything. We all hunt in my village. You do not like to hunt.?”

“No,” said Robert Jordan. “I do not like to kill animals.”

“With me it is the opposite,” the old man said. “I do not like to kill men.”

“Nobody does except those who are disturbed in the head,” Robert Jordan said. “But I feel nothing against it when it is necessary. When it is for the cause.”

“It is a different thing, though,” Anselmo said. “In my house, when I had a house, and now I have no house, there were the tusks of boar I had shot in the lower forest. There were the hides of wolves I had shot. In the winter, hunting them in the snow. One very big one, I killed at dusk in the outskirts of the village on my way home one night in November. There were four wolf hides on the floor of my house. They were worn by stepping on them but they were wolf hides. There were the horns of ibex that I had killed in the high Sierra, and there was an eagle stuffed by an embalmer of birds of Avila, with his wings spread, and eyes as yellow and real as the eyes of an eagle alive. It was a very beautiful thing and all of those things gave me great pleasure to contemplate.”

“Yes,” said Robert Jordan.

“On the door of the church of my village was nailed the paw of a bear that I killed in the spring, finding him on a hillside in the snow, overturning a log with this same paw.”

“When was this?”

“Six years ago. And every time I saw that paw, like the hand of a man, but with those long claws, dried and nailed through the palm to the door of the church, I received a pleasure.”

“Of pride?”

“Of pride of remembrance of the encounter with the bear on that hillside in the early spring. But of the killing of a man, who is a man as we are, there is nothing good that remains.”

“You can’t nail his paw to the church,” Robert Jordan said.

“No. Such a barbarity is unthinkable. Yet the hand of a man is like the paw of a bear.”

“So is the chest of a man like the chest of a bear,” Robert Jordan said. “With the hide removed from the bear, there are many similarities in the muscles.”

“Yes,” Anselmo said. “The gypsies believe the bear to be a brother of man.”

“So do the Indians in America,” Robert Jordan said. “And when they kill a bear they apologize to him and ask his pardon. They put his skull in a tree and they ask him to forgive them before they leave it.”

“The gypsies believe the bear to be a brother to man because he has the same body beneath his hide, because he drinks beer, because he enjoys music and because he likes to dance.”

“So also believe the Indians.”

“Are the Indians then gypsies?”

“No. But they believe alike about the bear.”

“Clearly. The gypsies also believe he is a brother because he steals for pleasure.”

Read the book online here.

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