For Whom The Bell Tolls : Ernest Hemingway



qué puta es la guerra’ Agustin said. ‘War is a bitchery’

And that was to me one of the finest sentences in the novel. In a book full of memorable passages and dialog, this stood out for having captured the entire essence of what the story talks about. This is not an apology for war but rather a vivid description of what war does to men and women. A story of roughness : in living, in loving, in thinking and ultimately in dying. That was to me For whom the bell tolls.

It frustrated and fascinated me in equal measures to read this book. Frustration because the story keeps meandering and moves into channels and tributaries of thought which end up going nowhere. You waddle through the slush of Hemingway’s thoughts to reach a cross roads and wonder what the hell you are doing there. Sometime yesterday afternoon, I almost gave up on the book but then there is that little imp of conscience that kept nagging at me until I picked it up again. And I am glad I did ! It fascinated me for a writer who employs such stripped-to-the-bones prose could tell you all about the human condition in a few hundred pages. 

There is love in these pages, intensely physical and satisfying love which sometimes does not reach the brain of the protagonist. There is the horror and futility of combat in these pages which the protagonist relishes more than the arms of his woman. Robert Jordan is someone whose reflections I have seen in a lot of soldiers, commanders and leaders of literature. He warms up to companionship and love but there is a part of his brain that is cold and ruthless. The part that plots and plans and calculates. The part of the brain that usually wins wars and can be quite merciless in how it does it. The finest moments are when Jordan talks to his mind and we are invited for a journey along its circuitous passageways. These are the thoughts that frustrated me too for they tend to go on and on. Would this be the way Theseus felt when he followed Ariadne’s pool of thread out of the labyrinth ? 

This is vintage stuff. Powerful, intoxicating and a heady mix of Hemingway !

No man is an Iland, intire of it selfe; every man is a peece of the Continent, a part of the maine; if a Clod bee washed away by the Sea, Europe is the lesse, as well as if a Promontorie were, as well as if a Mannor of thy friends or of thine owne were; any mans death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankinde; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee ~ John Donne


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