Hello readers and welcome back to another installment of the Reading List. As mentioned previously I have tried to work in more BIPOC and female authors on this list, but I also have a pretty big backlog of “old white dudes” sitting on bookshelves around my apartment that I need to read to round out the list. To that end, I decided to revisit a writer whose novels I hadn’t read since the first year of this experiment, Ernest Hemingway. I had long wanted to read his 1929 work A Farewell to Arms as it is considered one of his greatest novels, and now I can see why.
The story revolves around Lieutenant Frederic Henry, an ambulance driver during the Great War, and Catherine Barkley, the nurse that helps take care of him after he’s injured. But this novel is about far more than that: the pointlessness of war, the desire for human connection even in a world torn apart by it. The first time Henry is sent to the front he is injured by artillery fire in his leg; he is subsequently taken to the hospital in Milan to recover where he is reunited with Catherine and it is here they become intimate. He gets kicked out of the hospital for contracting jaundice because he drank alcohol. Henry returns to the front only to find the Italian side (for which he is fighting, as an American) is in retreat. He helps them return and they take the ambulances up to another town. After the retreat he is put into a line of officers who are considered to have betrayed the Italian army for their retreat. He jumps into a river to escape it, which leads him to a train. He makes it back to Milan and then he reunites with Catherine in a different town. They hatch a plan to get Henry out of the war zone for good and up to Switzerland, which they execute at night by rowing over a lake. At first they live in the forests of Switzerland but Catherine soon needs to have her baby. They move to another town with a hospital, where the operation to have her baby commences, and I won’t give much more away than this for those who want to read this incredible (yet tragic) work.
This was a great read for many reasons, not least of which is something I have covered before: Hemingway’s sparse prose. There is never any more than is needed to flesh out each scene, whether that’s a battlefield or the inside of a hospital or a hotel. And yet he always manages to provide enough description to set the scene from nature or within the city. This novel also reminded me of other great anti-war novels in that the main character escapes the military and is wanted for desertion, and makes his way out of the war. This is now the fourth Hemingway work I have encountered (after The Old Man and the Sea, his shorter works, and For Whom the Bell Tolls) and I am still amazed after all this time of his command of language, even if this was not my favorite of his works. I would say my initial lessons from reading this amazing author (keep it simple, using a novel to tell a deeper truth about life) still hold up.
That’s going to do it for the Reading List for this year. Thanks for sticking with me as I have found a new job and with it comes less time for reading. We’ll start this whole thing up again in the new year. Thanks for joining me on this reading adventure!
John Abraham is a published author and freelance journalist who lives in the Twin Cities with his wife Mary and their cat. He is writing a speculative dystopian novel and is seeking representation and a publisher.