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The best American novel to emerge from World War I, A Farewell to Arms is the unforgettable story of an American ambulance driver on the Italian front and his passion for a beautiful English nurseThe best American novel to emerge from World War I, A Farewell to Arms is the unforgettable story of an American ambulance driver on the Italian front and his passion for a beautiful English nurse Hemingway’s frank portrayal of the love between Lieutenant Henry and Catherine Barkley, caught in the inexorable sweep of war, glows with an intensity unrivaled in modern literature, while his description of the German attack on Caporetto—of lines of fired men marching in the rain, hungry, weary, and demoralized—is one of the greatest moments in literary history A story of love and pain, of loyalty and desertion, A Farewell to Arms, written when he was thirty years old, represents a new romanticism for Hemingway

10 thoughts on “A Farewell to Arms

  1. Meg Meg says:

    I feel like awarding the great Hemingway only two stars has officially consigned me to the seventh circle of literary hell. But I must be honest. By this website's criteria two stars indicates that a book is okay - and to me that describes this work perfectly.

    Hemingway himself is undeniably gifted. I love his succinct style (though at times it degenerates to downright caveman-speak), his honest diction and his wonderful sense of humor. That being said, he gets away with utterly ignoring most rules of writing - which I admire at times, but let's face it, some of those rules are there for a REASON. This book is overflowing with extreme run-on sentences, constant use of qualifiers (I think very might actually be his VERY favorite word), adjectives (even NOUNS!) used four or five times in the same paragraph, and long stretches of dialogue involving more than two speakers with absolutely no indication of who is saying what (if I hadn't been reading a library book, I would have color-coded the darn thing!) And besides style, the story itself just didn't grab me. I didn't give two farts about the self-absorbed, unthinking, unfeeling protagonist or his codependent, psychologically damaged doormat of a girlfriend. This is NOT a love story. In fact, I feel sorry for anyone who thinks it is. Men who hate women are incapable of writing love stories. And for the life of me, I can't derive a theme - or even a general POINT - to this book... unless mayhap it is stupid, senseless tragedy happens sometimes to people you don't care about. I did feel like crying several times while reading, though... but only because of the mention of alcohol on almost every page of text... I could literally HEAR Hemingway drinking himself to death. It broke my heart.


    We walked to the door and I saw her go in and down the hall. I liked to watch her move. She went on down the hall. I went on home. It was a hot night and there was a good deal going on up in the mountains. I watched the flashes on San Gabriele. I stopped in front of the Villa Rossa. The shutters were up but it was still going on inside. Somebody was singing. I went on home. (FOR THE LOVE WILL SOMEBODY HELP THIS GUY GET HOME????)

    I came up onto a road. Ahead I saw some troops coming down the road. I limped along the side of the road and they passed me and paid no attention to me. They were a machine-gun detachment going up toward the river. I went on down the road. (FOR THE LOVE WILL SOMEBODY HELP THIS GUY GO ON DOWN THE ROAD???)

    And now that I've slammed him so hard, here is a glimpse at the genius that allows him to get away with it all.


    If people bring so much courage to this world the world has to kill them to break them, so of course it kills them. The world breaks every one and afterward many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry.

    They were beaten to start with. They were beaten when they took them from their farms and put them in the army. That is why the peasant has wisdom, because he is defeated from the start. Put him in power and see how wise he is.

    The coward dies a thousand deaths, the brave but one... Who said it?... He was probably a coward. He knew a great deal about cowards but nothing about the brave. The brave dies perhaps two thousand deaths if he's intelligent. He simply doesn't mention them.

    Life isn't hard to manage when you've nothing to lose.

    I was blown up while we were eating cheese.

    AND MY FAVORITE SCENE: (His friend Rinaldi begins the dialogue)

    Loan me fifty lire.

    I dried my hands and took out my pocket-book from the inside of my tunic hanging on the wall. Rinaldi took the note, folded it without rising from the bed and slid it in his breeches pocket. He smiled, I must make on Miss Barkley the impression of a man of sufficient wealth. You are my great and good friend and financial protector.

    Go to hell, I said.

  2. Skylar Burris Skylar Burris says:

    The old joke proves itself upon reading.

    Q: Why did the chicken cross the road?

    A (Hemingway): To die. In the rain.

  3. Jason Pettus Jason Pettus says:

    (Reprinted from the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography []. I am the original author of this essay, as well as the owner of CCLaP; it is not being reprinted here illegally.)

    The CCLaP 100: In which I read a hundred so-called classics for the first time, then write reports on whether or not they deserve the label

    Book #17: A Farewell to Arms, by Ernest Hemingway (1929)

    The story in a nutshell:
    Published in the late 1920s, right when Modernism was first starting to become a commercially successful form of the arts, A Farewell to Arms is Ernest Hemingway's wry and cynical look at World War I, the event that most defined not only his generation but also the beginning of the Modernist movement. Semi-autobiographical in nature, the book tells the story of Frederic Henry, known to most as Tenente (Italian slang for Lieutenant), a young and gung-ho American who couldn't get accepted by the American military during the war, so volunteered to be an ambulance driver for the Italian army instead. One of the first of Hemingway's tales to define the stoic man's man he would eventually become known for, the novel basically follows Tenente through a series of thrilling escapades, made even more interesting because of the main character not seeing them as thrilling at all -- nearly having his leg torn off while at the front, saving a man's life, escaping execution by diving off a bridge, a rowboat ride to Switzerland in the middle of the night while fleeing a group of pursuers, and a whole lot more.

    Like I said, though, Hemingway's point here is not to glamorize war, but rather to highlight the mundane aspects of it all; the endless red tape, the weasely things people do to get out of actual work, the BS conversations that are always taking place among soldiers, all of them arguing over how the war is going but none of them actually possessing any factual information. At the same time, though, A Farewell to Arms is about the monstrous developments of World War I in particular, the very first large war to be fought during the Industrial Age, and therefore capable of inflicting so much more carnage than anyone thought possible. (For example, the brand-new European railway system is heavily featured throughout the book, and especially the fact that in a half-day's ride, you could go literally from the battlefront to a five-star luxury hotel, something that had never been possible before WWI.) Oh, and if all this wasn't enough, Hemingway throws in a love story too, a complicated one featuring a complicated woman, one that has been a source of heated interpretation since the book first came out 79 years ago.

    The argument for it being a classic:
    There seems to be two main arguments for this being a classic, one based on the author and one on the book itself. Because the fact is that Hemingway is considered by many to be one of the most important novelists in the history of that format, a fabled High Priest of Modernism who taught all of us to think in a punchier, shorter way, and with this mostly being for the better for the arts in general. Because let's not forget, a mere twenty or thirty years before this book was first published, it was actually the flowery and overwritten Victorian style of literature that dominated the publishing industry; and as we've all learned throughout the course of this CCLaP 100 essay series, although Victorian literature certainly has its charms and inherent strengths, it's also a whole lot of talking to say not much at all, a situation that was starting to drive artists crazy by the time the 20th century got into swing. Hemingway, fans claim, was the first Modernist to really bring all the details together in a profoundly great way -- the first to combine the exciting rat-a-tat style of pulp-fiction writers with the weighty subjects of the academic community, producing work that owes as much to Raymond Chandler as it does to Virginia Woolf but is ultimately much better than simply reading those two authors back-to-back. And by making its subject World War I, fans say, Hemingway here turns in yet another great document of those times that the early Modernists were known for -- from The Great Gatsby to All Quiet Among the Western Front, it's hard for us to even think of the artists from the Jazz Age or Lost Generation or whatever you want to call it, without thinking of this globe-changing event that was so in the middle of it. There's a good reason, after all, that many consider A Farewell to Arms one of the greatest war novels of all time.

    The argument against:
    Of course, there are others who can't even hear the words Ernest Hemingway without automatically shuddering, again for a variety of reasons that even most of his fans admit hold at least some weight -- because he is overrated by the academic community, because his personal style is a hackneyed, easily parodied one, because his man's man shtick got real old real fast, because it's now inspired three generations of a--holes (and counting) to want to be bull-fleeing, cigar-smoking woman-haters too. At its heart, its critics say, A Farewell to Arms is an interesting-enough little ditty, mostly because Hemingway himself had some interesting little experiences during the war that he basically cribbed wholesale for the book; but then this story is covered with layer after layer of bad prose, macho posturing, and aimless meanderings that get you about as far away from a traditional three-act novel as you can possibly get. With Hemingway and his critics, it's never a case of it's a good enough book but shouldn't be labeled a classic; those who dislike him really dislike him, and wish to see his work removed from academic reading lists altogether. classic label or not.

    My verdict:
    So let me embarrassingly admit that this is actually the very first book by Hemingway I've ever read, and that I was hesitant going into it because of just the overwhelming amount of bad stuff that's been said about him over the decades; to be truthful, I was half-expecting a parody of Hemingway at this point, all little words and nonsensical sentences and dudes treating girls kinda like crap most of the time. And yes, the book does for sure contain a certain amount of all this; but I was surprised, to tell you the truth, by how how tight, illuminating, fascinating and just plain funny A Farewell to Arms turned out to actually be. Wait, funny, you say? Sure; I dare you not to laugh, for example, during the scene when a huge argument breaks out between two Swiss border guards over which of their two hometowns boasts better winter sports. (Ah, you see? He does not even know what a luge is!) This is what makes it such an intriguing novel about war, after all, because Hemingway expertly shows just how many surreal moments there are during times of war as well, that war doesn't just mean the two lines of soldiers facing each other at the front but also an entire region, an entire industry, an entire population. Hemingway's World War I is not just seen from the smeared windshield of a battlefront ambulance, but from bored soldiers getting drunk in a quiet bunker, from weary villagers hoping there will be at least something left of their homes after the war is over, from armchair pundits recovering in crumbling veteran hospitals, arguing over which complicated international treaty sunk them all and which is going to save them. It's an expansive, multi-facted, sometimes highly unique look at a wartime environment, one that at least here in his early career (he published this when he was 30) belies all the complaints that have ever been made about his hackneyed personal style.

    And as far as that love story in the middle of it all, and the repeated complaints about Hemingway's characters all being misogynists...well, maybe it was just me, but I found his Catherine Barkley to be the very model of a modern independent woman (or at least modern and independent in 1920s terms), a fiercely intelligent and cynical creature who expects the same from her lovers, even while realizing that such a man is destined to either die in the environment they're currently in, or survive just to become a bitter, angry a--hole later in life. The way I see it, Catherine is simply trying to make the best of a bad situation; she needs love and intimacy in her life as much as anyone else, and especially in her role as a risk-taking, thick-skinned nurse just a few miles from the battle's front, but also understands that Tenente is destined to befall one of the two fates just mentioned, thus explaining the curious push/pull emotions she has towards him and the way she treats him throughout the novel. It's a surprisingly sophisticated relationship at work, the same thing that can be said of the novel in general; I don't know about the rest of Hemingway's work (yet, anyway), but at least A Farewell to Arms turned out to be a surprisingly cracking read, not only a definite classic but just an all-around amazing book in general. It comes highly recommended today.

    Is it a classic? Yes

  4. Ahmad Sharabiani Ahmad Sharabiani says:

    (663 From 1001) - A Farewell to Arms, Ernest Hemingway

    A Farewell to Arms is a novel by Ernest Hemingway set during the Italian campaign of World War I. The book, published in 1929, is a first-person account of American Frederic Henry, serving as a lieutenant (tenente) in the ambulance corps of the Italian Army. The title is taken from a poem by 16th-century English dramatist George Peele.

    A Farewell to Arms is about a love affair between the expatriate American Frederic Henry and Catherine Barkley against the backdrop of the First World War, cynical soldiers, fighting and the displacement of populations.

    The publication of A Farewell to Arms cemented Hemingway's stature as a modern American writer, became his first best-seller, and is described by biographer Michael Reynolds as the premier American war novel from that debacle World War I.

    تاریخ نخستین خوانش: ماه اکتبر سال 1972میلادی

    عنوان: وداع با اسلحه؛ نویسنده: ارنست همینگوی؛ مترجم: نجف دریابندری؛ تهران، سازمان کتابهای جیبی؛ 1340؛ در 276ص؛ چاپ 1344 در 346ص؛ چاپ 1362 در 410ص؛ چاپ هفتم در 410ص؛ چاپ نیلوفر، 1376، در 423ص؛ چاپ دوازدهم 1382؛ چهاردهم 1387؛ شانزدهم 1392؛ شابک 9789644480591؛ موضوع: داستانهای جنگ جهانگیر نخست - از سال 1914م تا سال 1918میلادی - سده 20م

    عنوان: وداع با اسلحه؛ نویسنده: ارنست همینگوی؛ مترجم: ر مرعشی؛ تهران، پروین؛ 1354؛ در 224ص؛

    مترجمین دیگر خانمها و آقایان: «نازی عظیما؛ نشر افق»؛ «هانیه چوپانی، نشر آسو و نشر کوله پشتی»؛ «کیومرث پارسای، نشر ناژ»؛

    رمانی نوشته «ارنست همینگوی» نویسنده آمریکایی، و برنده جایزه نوبل ادبیات است، که در سال 1929میلادی منتشر شد؛ داستان آن درباره جوانی آمریکایی، با نام «فردریک هنری» است، که با درجه ستوان، در جنگ جهانی اول، در بخش آمبولانس‌ها، در ارتش «ایتالیا» خدمت می‌کند؛ عنوان رمان از شعری برگرفته شده که «جرج پیل» در سده ی شانزدهم میلادی سروده‌ است؛ ...؛

    تاریخ بهنگام رسانی 02/07/1399هجری خورشیدی؛ ا. شربیانی

  5. Matt Matt says:

    I just finished it, and I'm disappointed. And not only disappointed; I'm also bothered by it. I guess I shouldn't be surprised at Hemingway's one-dimensional, sexist portrayal of Catherine Barker, having read much of his other work, but somehow I still am. Put simply, Catherine is a ridiculous figure, and it's no fault of her own. Hemingway gives her no opportunity to sound like anything more than a half-crazy, desperate, fawning caricature with no real desires or opinions of her own. How many times must I read lines like, I'll say just what you wish and I'll do what you wish and then you will never want any other girls, will you? issue from her lips? Does Hemingway believe women think and talk like this, or does he mean to make his female characters sound like would-be wife-pets?

    (I just read a review below that describes Henry and Catherine's dialogue as 'incantations,' the point being that the two, especially Catherine, are trying to will themselves to be happy despite an over-whelming sense of despair. It's an interesting point,and definitely makes reading the scenes with the two of them more palatable. But as much as I'd like to think that that was what Hemingway was going for, I don't know...)

    As for the rest of the book, I suppose an argument could be made for its ground-breaking sexual frankness or for the necessarily graphic depictions of the front, and I'll buy that. There are, after all, a number of great moments. Still, it's hard to accept the canonization this book as THE central WWI novel and ignore the fact that one of its main characters is very poorly written, perhaps intentionally so.

  6. Ben Ben says:

    I'm not a Hemingway guy. I yearn for internal dialogue, various and ladened spiritual questioning, and deep psychology in my characters. I prefer writing that is smooth and philosophical. Hemingway gives me little of this.

    But the settings of this book were beautiful, and the dialogue between characters, poignant. By the end, I found that Hemingway had craftily fucked with me to the point of my complete immersion into the novel.

    It made me cry.

  7. Riku Sayuj Riku Sayuj says:

    War is Boring

    Hemingway’s narrator writes not as a soldier but as a journalist-soldier, channeling Hemingway himself, recording with precision and apparent objectivity the things that happen around him and to him - practical and prosaic and always pragmatic about everything. People die and bombs explode in the same paragraph as the one where breakfast was considered with equal interest, and he takes it all in his stride.

    As best as I can tell, the action of A Farewell to Arms takes place from 1916 and before the end of the war. Place references and political references come and go without troubling the narrator too much - he is not to be bothered with such details. His context is not simply this war, but all wars and the notions of honor, heroism and patriotism - all of which he looks at with pristine incomprehension.

    War always generates backlash, even from the Mahabharata and the Iliad to the many anti-war epics over the ages - the honor and glory that war is supposed to provide is questioned in its aftermath. The bloodlust and the fever-pitch cries of honor precedes war and then they calm down into searching questions about what those terms mean or into scathing parodies.

    I am not entirely sure whether Farewell to Arms is a sober questioning of these virtues or a shambolic parody of them. It is never quite clear whether Hemingway is making fun of war or just expressing profound ennui. Especially when he combines Love with War, and both seem to get the same treatment, it becomes even harder to deduce whether Hemingway is ridiculing war and its virtues or life and its delusions in general and including love also into it. After all, the famous ending doesn’t leave us with much to pick up the pieces after.


    The narrator tells the often ugly truth about war, without even trying to be anti-war in any way. By depicting daily life, he achieves it without an effort. It is the prosaicness of action, the utter lack of drama that becomes the most significant force in the narration - even his injury is incurred not in valorous combat but while he is eating spaghetti.

    All this combines to show up war as a hideous game, but one entirely not worth the bother. There are so many subtle ways in which he trivializes war, always retaining the impression that it is not a conscious effort, as if he was not even telling us anything about the war, letting it remain in the background as a boring humm.

    “The war seemed as far away as the football games of some one else's college.”

    We are not even allowed particularly intelligent characters to liven up the drudgery of our reading, the novel is full of the Ordinary, the exceptional striking in its absence - and the readers are left disoriented, repeatedly trying to remind themselves that they are in the midst of the greatest and most destructive war humanity had yet known.

    In the end, war is exposed as not only meaningless but boring. Usually war writers exploit the Pathos of war, Hemingway walks right inside, shows us around and escorts us out after having shown us the utter blandness of the ‘heroic’ exercise.


    Even the “Love Story” is constructed out of the boring bits and of repeated bland conversations that seem almost never-ending and droll. Here Hemingway is probably playing us again: instead of the usual technique of showing the pleasant bucolic scenery of distant daily-life and contrasting that against gory war scenes and thus asking the reader to thirst for the war to end, Hemingway places both the personal and the public sphere next to each other, exposes both and yet somehow derides war through this. I am not yet sure how he does that, but my feelings wherever I encountered this tells me that he does it well.

    Hemingway’s notorious fault is the monotony of repetition, and he has always been considered a better short story writer than novelist - the short form plays into his prowess for portraying ironies in short staccato beats. In A Farewell to Arms, he brings both his strengths and weakness as a storyteller and makes them both work for him masterfully. He converts the act of boring the reader into an art form and into an exercise in supreme irony. Very effective. Almost as effective as comedy, if you ask me.

    While it is hard to interpret A Farewell to Arms as hopeful, to me it was so, though in a subtle way. It leaves us the hope that if only more soldiers could be like the Tenente and just walk away from all the boredom, even though only boredom awaits in normal life, things could be better.

    To me the most striking impression of all, in a work filled with unforgettable impressions, was the sheer acceptance exhibited by the narrator: The hustle of the war, his own life, and the entire world even seems to move past the stoic Tenente who is left a mere spectator, but who never seems to question the events that unfold.

    This captures the spirit of the war and also of the times.

  8. Steven Godin Steven Godin says:

    Damn. That ending. Even whilst still dusting off the cover (it's been lying around for ages) I already knew it's finale. It's simply been impossible to ignore. Even cropping up in three or four films I have seen over the years. Knowing it is one thing, but actually reading it is quite another. So, the big question is - did this in anyway tarnish the novel for me? In a word, No. As once I truly got stuck into Hemingway's compulsive narrative all was forgotten. His presentation of war was just as remarkable as his sincerity of presenting us with love. Both leading characters were simply two of the 20th century's most memorable - the all American hero Henry, a volunteer in the Italian Ambulance Service, and the sweet natured English nurse Catherine Barkley who adds a subtle feminine charm throughout the novel.

    All the descriptions of life on the WW1 front and in the hospitals, the talk of the officers, privates, and doctors, are crisp, clear and so natural, making for a convincing narrative the whole way through, even though Henry perhaps felt a little too mature and experienced for a young man. Catherine I saw as the more credible character, she was most skilfully modelled as the eternal feminine in nursing dress. Difficult to work out at first, but oh God how I fell in love with her. It comes as no surprise to me it was a book I found easy to read like other Hemingway books, made even easier after the head scratching and exasperation at the hands of Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury prior to this.

    Hemingway dramatically intensifies the narrative after the halfway point, and the story deepens on an emotional level as Henry patched up from a war wound returns to the Isonzo front. The year has been a serious one for the Italian army, and a breakthrough for the Germans at Caporetto spells disaster. The Caporetto retreat, which forms the background for an entire portion of the book, and furnishes the action, is simply a masterly piece of descriptive narration. After escaping death by diving into a river, and later arrest by concealing himself in a gun truck till it reaches Milan, the novel really does showcase two people very much in love. It reminded me of the deep love shown in Pasternak's Doctor Zhivago. I can't think of too many other novels I have read were I have felt a love so great and pure. Some of the scenes held such an atmospheric truth, whether in love or war, that it's easy to see why it's probably Hemingway's most read novel, even though it might not be his best.

    The story of Henry and Catherine could have been overly polished with sentimentality (one of my pet hates), and probably would have been had Hemingway been around in the Victorian era. Thankfully, there is only as much as a slight echo. This no doubt deserves to be branded as a classic, and it didn't let me down. A Farewell to Arms was simply a most moving and beautiful thing. The reason for not dishing out the five stars is that I still preferred The Sun Also Rises and A Moveable Feast. But that's just me.

  9. Diane Diane says:

    Well, that was disappointing.

    For several months I've been focused on reading more classic literature, mostly as a way to dig deep and enrich my life during these trying political times. Until now, it has been an incredibly rewarding experience. This Hemingway novel was my first dud.

    I wanted to like this book. I've been reading more on World War I this past year and thought A Farewell to Arms would fit both my WWI interest and my goal of appreciating classics. But ol' Hem (as I learned to call him in A Moveable Feast, a book of his I did like) didn't make it easy for me when he wrote the character of Catherine Barkley. Catherine plays the love interest in this novel, and she is so insipid, silly and annoying that I started dreading this book.

    The story follows Frederic Henry, an American serving as an ambulance driver in the Italian army during the war. He meets Catherine, who is a British nurse, and they fall in love. Catherine eventually becomes pregnant, and they manage to escape to Switzerland. The ending of this book is depressing, as are most war novels.

    But the sad ending isn't why I disliked this book so much. Hemingway is famous for his terse prose, but I think in this book it does him a disservice. The characters are two-dimensional, the war scenes lacked grit, and the whole novel just felt flat to me. Hem does have a few famous lines that came from Farewell (some noted below), which is what kept this book from a 1 rating for me.

    I listened to this on audio, performed by the talented John Slattery (of Mad Men fame) but not even he could make me excited to read this Hemingway book. It reminded me of when I listened to Colin Firth read Graham Greene's The End of the Affair, and Firth's marvelousness couldn't salvage that novel, either. Both are good actors doing their best with mediocre texts.

    If I were going to recommend a World War I novel to someone, I would tell them to read All Quiet on the Western Front, and to skip Farewell. I'll circle back around to some other Hem novels in the future, but for now I'm going to enjoy a break from his terseness.*

    *Note: My first instinct when writing this review was to imitate Hem's signature style, lots of fine and true and good and courage and whatnot, but frankly, Warwick wrote his review so well that I abandoned the idea and encourage you to check out his grand version.

    Good Quotes
    All thinking men are atheists.

    If people bring so much courage to this world the world has to kill them to break them, so of course it kills them. The world breaks every one and afterward many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry.

    I know the night is not the same as the day: that all things are different, that the things of the night cannot be explained in the day, because they do not then exist, and the night can be a dreadful time for lonely people once their loneliness has started.

    Final Thought
    One addendum is that I had a print copy of A Farewell to Arms that included Hemingway's introduction to the 1948 edition, and I liked those 3 1/2 pages better than I liked the entire novel. If you do give this book a chance, try to find a copy with that author intro.

    The fact that the book was a tragic one did not make me unhappy since I believed that life was a tragedy and knew it could have only one end. But finding you were able to make something up; to create truly enough so that it made you happy to read it; and to do this every day you worked was something that gave me a greater pleasure than any I had ever known. Beside it nothing else mattered.

  10. Warwick Warwick says:

    In the fall of that year we rented a house in the mountains that looked down across the river to the village below. The water of the river was turquoise and the village had a pretty campanile and beyond it rose more mountains and beyond them still more. The man who owned our cottage lived next door and made his own dry cured sausage and we would go round and eat it by the fire and talk about how fine the sausage tasted. On the hills all around there were deer, and in the evenings we would sit on the balcony of our cottage and wrap ourselves in blankets for the cold, and if we looked one way we would see the deer and if we looked the other way we would see the village down at the bottom of the valley.

    The village was called Kobarid but it also had names in other languages. The Germans called it Karfreit and the Italians called it Caporetto and I said to Hannah that it was never a good sign when so many other languages had names for one little village. Sure enough we found a museum in the village dedicated to a big battle that had taken place there during the First World War. The people at the museum pointed at the mountain slopes and I don't remember exactly what they told us but I remember feeling sick and upset and thinking that I ought to know more about what had happened there and why.

    The Italian army had gotten through a lot of ambulances during that war and one of the men who drove the ambulances at Kobarid was an American called Ernest Hemingway. Later he wrote a book about it and this is that book. The war parts are very good but gradually they recede into the background and a tragic love story comes to the foreground, and the tragic love story is difficult to enjoy because the woman is so old-fashionedly self-effacing and devoted to the hero that she seems either unrealistic or infuriating to modern readers.

    The prose is direct and world-weary and often it sounds fine and ironic and cynical like this:

    If people bring so much courage to this world the world has to kill them to break them, so of course it kills them. The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry.

    But often it just seems gratuitously pessimistic and this is especially true for the way the book ends. When I went to Kobarid we were very happy. I remember the place very well because we were on the porch of our cottage there when I asked Hannah to marry me. She said yes and our memories of that mountain and that village are very happy ones. This book does not end in the same way and although it is strong and powerful I really wish someone had told me that I should not be reading this ending while my wife is nine months' pregnant.

    (Dec 2013)