I hadn’t read this one before and I once read the opening chapter. It’s among the most Hemingway of the Hemingway, and is clearly a much more mature work than either A Farewell to Arms or The Sun Also Rises, but is maybe more measured than those are. We meet Robert Jordan, an American adjunct professor who has recently joined the anti-Fascist movement in Spain. He’s not exactly a Republican, and even seems to not entire understand what a Republican is, almost equivocating between the American political party and the Spanish liberation movement, but he is grappling with the stakes.
He is employed as a dynamiter, charged in this specific mission to bomb a bridge at the onset of an assault to cut off reinforcements. This mission also a long layover for reconnaissance and planning, and in these off hours he becomes involved with a young Spanish woman named Maria. They fall in love and as it turns out this complicates his passion for the war effort.
The novel deals a lot with political ideas, language, love, youth, Americanism, world unity, and other themes. One of the more interesting and somewhat goofy things that happens throughout the novel is that the dialogue is presented almost as a kind of record or transcript. The Spanish is translated for us and attempts to capture the dialect of an archaic Castillian, so there’s a lot of convoluted phrasing, thees and thous, etc, the way an 19th century American novel might present Quaker characters. But it gets a little goofy when words are written as “swear word” or “unprintable”. Censors being what they are sure, but it’s an odd choice that stands out.
It’s a solid novel and cements Hemingway in my mind in a lot of ways. The politics of the book are oddly middle grounding given the violent nature of the plot, but mostly make sense. He seems very much to understand the stakes in the coming war with Germany and Japan in this book.