Book Review: "A Farewell to Arms"

Questo è un riassunto del libro “Addio alle Armi” di Ernest Hemingway. Il libro è considerato "un classico" perché fu scritto più di cento anni fa. La storia racconta la relazione tra il tenente Frederick Henry e Catherine Barkley. Henry è un soldato americano nell’esercito italiano durante la Prima Guerra Mondiale. Barkley è un'infermiera inglese. I personaggi instaurano una relazione stretta e amorosa durante i periodi di guerra. La storia continua mentre i personaggi si trasferirono in Svizzera dopo la guerra. Molti lettori dicono che la storia è ben scritta perché descrive la vita attuale di Hemingway quando era un soldato in Italia e incontrò la sua amante Agnes von Kurowsky. Nel corso della storia, i lettori sentono le forti emozioni nei personaggi perché dicono che Hemingway scrisse con il cuore.

There are many war novels written from just about every imaginable perspective. The ones I find the most compelling are those written from the viewpoint of the common soldier, the one on the front line, the grunt. One of my favorites is “A Farewell to Arms”. Unfortunately, it was written a hundred years ago by Ernest Hemingway.

It isn’t that I dislike Hemmingway; he and John Steinbeck are my two favorite authors. What is unfortunate is that many modern readers dismiss his work. Perhaps it is because we were forced to read “Old Man and the Sea” when we were young. Most young readers who could not relate to its deeper message were bored. Since that first bite of the apple was so disagreeable, not wanting another is understandable. Others dismiss his work because of its journalistic style, repeating the myth that Hemmingway wrote in short staccato sentences. While I admit that his background as a journalist comes through in his writing, the criticism of his sentence structure is overblown. 

Many may skip over “A Farewell to Arms” simply because it is old. They’re not into the classics. They need something more modern. We have all seen the old movie or read the critiques. Isn’t the whole love-in-the-time-of-war thing a tired old trope? Do we really need to read it? I would say yes. If you are interested in reading well-written books, you should read “A Farewell to Arms”. While its theme may be well-worn, Hemmingway’s perspective, as well as the beauty of his prose, make it stand out from the rest. 

“A Farewell to Arms” is the love story of Lieutenant Fredrick Henry, an American serving in the Italian Army during WWI, and Catherine Barkley, an English nurse. Lieutenant Henry, who runs an ambulance team, meets Catherine on the Italian front. While their romance is just beginning, the lieutenant is injured and sent to a hospital in Milan. While it may seem somewhat contrived, the fates arrange for Nurse Barkley to be reassigned to the same hospital where they continue their romance. Just as Lieutenant Henry has recovered well enough to be sent back to the front, he learns that Nurse Barkley is pregnant.

During his second tour of duty at the front, his ambulance crew is sent forward to the Battle of Caporetto. This battle took place in the autumn of 1917 near the town of Kobarid between the Kingdom of Italy and the Central Powers. The Austro-Hungarian and German forces broke through the front lines and routed the Italian troops. The Italian Army retreated 93 miles, reducing its effective strength from 1,800,000 to 1,000,000. Lieutenant Henry deserts during this retreat, declaring a separate peace. After reuniting, he and Catherine escape to Switzerland. What happens beyond this point I will leave for the reader to discover. 

While the theme of “A Farewell to Arms” may be familiar, what sets it apart is Hemmingway. It was the product of the confluence of his living the story and having the writing talent to capture the pathos of the events. The basis of the story is his real-world experience. Just like Lieutenant Henry, Hemmingway was an American serving with the Italian army as an ambulance driver. While hospitalized in Milan, he meets and falls in love with a nurse, Agnes von Kurowsky. Hemmingway returns to the U.S. expecting Kurowsky to follow him so they can marry. Several months after his return, however, Kurowsky writes him, saying that she has become engaged to an Italian officer. According to Hemmingway’s son Jack, it was “the great tragedy” of his father’s life. 

In “A Farewell to Arms”, Hemmingway uses his considerable writing talents to bring home the reality of love and war. It isn’t a cynical view of romance or a diatribe against war. Neither is it a passionate love story or a jingoistic call to arms. At times you see the word games played between lovers. At other times you see the pain of loving someone. Although Hemmingway presents the camaraderie between soldiers, he also shows a soldier’s despair. 

Despite being written 100 years ago, “A Farewell to Arms” is a rewarding read that speaks to our age. It is a powerful work that, at times, brought tears to my eyes. It is a classic I strongly recommend you read.