Title: A Farewell to Arms

Published: 1929

Author: Ernest Hemingway

Challenge status:  #20 on  Radcliffe Publishing Course Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century and frequent target of banning attempts according to the ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom. Book #10 on Summer of Banned Books ’13.

Why:

  • Challenged in NY (Vernon-Verona-Sherill School District) as a “sex novel.” (1980) and in Texas (Dallas Independent School District) (1974). Also challenged in 1987 at the Baptist College in Charleston, SC due to  “language and sexual references in the book.”
  • Banned in Italy (1929) apparently due to the description of the retreat from Caporetto. Also banned in Ireland (1939) and in Boston (1929).
  • Burned in Germany (1933)…by Nazis.

First line: “In the late summer of that year we lived in a house in a village that looked across the river and the plain to the mountains”.

Synopsis: Bite me, Hemingway.

No, seriously, I get it. Hemingway’s a total genius – who writes mind-numbingly boring books. Without looking-up literary crit, I’m guessing that Hemingway’s pioneering style is this flat, factual first person narrative that is literally observational with a minimum of messy internal dialogue. Hence his characters are always thus: A man of clear action! But of ambiguous character, morals, empathy, or capacity for growth. (Similar to descriptions of Hemingway himself, actually). Also: Why is this book described as romantic?

Anyway, look, I know my memories of reading Hemingway and Faulkner in high-school/college create a terrible lens through which to appreciate new works, but let me also explain – the ending was so abrupt I laughed out loud (I think maybe the only time I laughed while reading the book), and felt a sudden kinship w/the main character of Silver Linings Playbook in this perfect summary of my feelings about this book. The reaction I mean. I don’t require optimistic outcomes out of all of my fiction. Rather, I appreciate work with a takeaway value: an inspiration. A lesson. Something I can appreciate that I didn’t have before.

I will say, though, that the book does provide an interesting point of view of World War I Italy. The main character Lt. Henry is – strangely – an American serving in the Italian army, as an ambulance driver/mechanic. Lt Henry spends a great deal of the novel in a convalescent state, a leg injury that pulls him off the front – but then he later returns to the front just in time for a rout of the Italian army and a confusing retreat that puts him, an American, in an awkward suspicious position and eventually leads to his desertion and escape from Italy — something he’d been thinking about anyway, because then he could spend more time with his girlfriend/nurse/future wife Catherine. There is never quite enough time spent on the critical relationships in the book, between Frederic and his fellow soldiers, between Frederic and his family, between Frederic and Catherine. But, of course, that’s not Hemingway’s style, to elaborate on connections – he is, as always, more focused on the exogenous variables: weapons, wounds, weather,  and words.