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Hotel Florida: Truth, Love, and Death in the Spanish Civil War [Kindle Edition]

Amanda Vaill
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (75 customer reviews)

Print List Price: $30.00
Kindle Price: $14.99
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Sold by: Macmillan
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Book Description

A spellbinding story of love amid the devastation of the Spanish Civil War

Madrid, 1936. In a city blasted by a civil war that many fear will cross borders and engulf Europe—a conflict one writer will call "the decisive thing of the century"—six people meet and find their lives changed forever. Ernest Hemingway, his career stalled, his marriage sour, hopes that this war will give him fresh material and new romance; Martha Gellhorn, an ambitious novice journalist hungry for love and experience, thinks she will find both with Hemingway in Spain. Robert Capa and Gerda Taro, idealistic young photographers based in Paris, want to capture history in the making and are inventing modern photojournalism in the process. And Arturo Barea, chief of the Spanish government’s foreign press office, and Ilsa Kulcsar, his Austrian deputy, are struggling to balance truth-telling with loyalty to their sometimes compromised cause—a struggle that places both of them in peril.
     Beginning with the cloak-and-dagger plot that precipitated the first gunshots of the war and moving forward month by month to the end of the conflict. Hotel Florida traces the tangled and disparate wartime destinies of these three couples against the backdrop of a critical moment in history: a moment that called forth both the best and the worst of those caught up in it. In this noir landscape of spies, soldiers, revolutionaries, and artists, the shadow line between truth and falsehood sometimes became faint indeed—your friend could be your enemy and honesty could get you (or someone else) killed.
     Years later, Hemingway would say, "It is very dangerous to write the truth in war, and the truth is very dangerous to come by." In Hotel Florida, from the raw material of unpublished letters and diaries, official documents, and recovered reels of film, the celebrated biographer Amanda Vaill has created a narrative of love and reinvention that is, finally, a story about truth: finding it, telling it, and living it—whatever the cost.


Editorial Reviews Review

Amanda Vaill
Five Things I Learned About Hemingway While Writing Hotel Florida by Amanda Vaill

1) He was a classical music maven.

Although I knew his mother had been an aspiring opera singer and had taught piano and voice in the Hemingways' Oak Park, Illinois home, I didn't realize that classical music was Hemingway's go-to soundtrack for relaxation and distraction. But when shells were whistling over the Hotel Florida in Madrid, where he and Martha Gellhorn were staying during the Spanish Civil War, what did Hemingway put on the Victrola to drown out the bombardment? Chopin's Opus 33 mazurka, number 4, and the ballade in A-flat minor, opus 47.

2) He was an agent of the KGB.

In public Hemingway had always strenuously resisted the idea of writing anything from "a Marxian viewpoint" – something he derided as "so much horseshit." But in 1937, when he was in Spain covering the Civil War for the North American Newspaper Alliance and writing the script for Joris Ivens's documentary film, The Spanish Earth, Ivens had tried to enlist him as a propagandist, and possibly more, for the Communist Party, which had been supporting the Spanish government against Franco's rebels. And according to internal KGB files studied by a former Soviet agent, Alexander Vassiliev, Hemingway was recruited by the KGB in 1941 and given the code-name "Argo." It was hoped he could report on Nazi activity in Cuba and the Caribbean during World War II, but he never generated any useful intelligence and his cover was terminated in 1950.

3) He couldn't cook paella.

In April of 1937, at a Rioja-fueled lunch party at the Madrid restaurant Botin, a spot Hemingway loved (and had celebrated in The Sun Also Rises), the writer insisted on leaving the table – where the company included the photographer Robert Capa and Capa's beautiful girlfriend and professional partner Gerda Taro –- and going into the kitchen to help prepare paella. "Less skillful in the kitchen than at the typewriter," was the tactful verdict of the restaurant's owner, Emilio Gonzales.

4) His affair with Martha Gellhorn was less than a great romance.

He might have run off with Gellhorn to Spain, beginning an affair that culminated in marriage three years later, after he divorced his second wife, Pauline; but apparently the Gellhorn-Hemingway romance could have used some couples therapy. Gellhorn later claimed her "whole memory of sex with Ernest [was] the invention of excuses and failing that, the hope that it would soon be over." Which it was, by 1944, when Gellhorn scooped her husband by getting a ride on a hospital ship to the D-Day beaches while he gazed at the coast through binoculars from the deck of an attack transport.

5) He originally began the manuscript of his most successful novel, For Whom the Bell Tolls, which draws on his experience in the Spanish Civil War, in the first person.

He changed his mind, choosing the detachment of a narrative in which the protagonist is "he," not "I." It was the best and most truthful decision he could have made. To understand why, of course, you have to read the book. Or books. His, and mine.

From Booklist

As if civil war wasn’t torturous enough, the Spanish Civil War had the misfortune to become entangled in larger global issues of ideology on the eve of WWII. That subtext added to the complexity of deciphering who was friend or foe as Francisco Franco overthrew the government and leftist rebels fought back. Thousands of miles away, Ernest Hemingway saw the war as a way to revive a flagging career and get back his zest. Martha Gelhorn, an ambitious young journalist, also saw a career opportunity and a chance to make a lover of Hemingway. In Paris, Robert Capa and Gerda Taro, lovers and idealistic photographers, saw a chance to capture history in the infancy of photojournalism. Arturo Barea and Ilsa Kulcsar were press officers torn between telling the truth and struggling to support their crumbling cause. Vaill taps unpublished letters and diaries as well as official documents to bring intimacy and immediacy to a new look at the war from the perspective of three couples whose paths crossed. This is high drama and an assemblage of characters uniquely suited to appreciate and record it. --Vanessa Bush

Product Details

  • File Size: 4186 KB
  • Print Length: 465 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0374172994
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (April 22, 2014)
  • Sold by: Macmillan
  • Language: English
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #122,186 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
49 of 50 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Covering the war... April 29, 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
The Spanish Civil War, a prelude to WW2, began in 1936 and ended almost three years later. In the war years, Spanish cities and towns were turned into battlegrounds and hundreds of thousands of Spaniards were killed. Also killed in the fighting were foreigners sympathetic to one or the other sides in the war and had traveled to Spain to take part in the war. The "International Brigades" were made up of men from the US, Britain, and European countries, wanting to help the Republicans, fighting off Franco and his Nationalist troops. The Germans sent men and materiel as well; looking forward to their own coming war, they tested out new weapons on the hapless Spanish. In addition to the fighters, the press came to Madrid and other Spanish towns. Writers and photographers hoping to both let the world in on what was happening in Spain. And if they also gained a bit of fame while covering the war, well, that was good, too. Certainly many war correspondents who became famous in the following big war, gained experience in covering the Spanish Civil War.

Amanda Vaill, author of two other superb works of non-fiction, looks at three "couples" who were part of the press coverage of the war in her new book, "Hotel Florida: Truth, Love, and Death in the Spanish Civil War", Two of the six were writers, Ernest Hemingway and his soon-to-be third wife, Martha Gellhorn. Two were photographers, Hungarian Robert Capa (he changed his name from Endre Friedmann when he began his career) and his companion and photographic partner, Gerda Taro. The other two highlighted by Vaill, were Spaniard Arturo Barea, who ran the press office in Madrid. He was joined by an Austrian woman, Ilsa Kulcsar. The Hotel Florida was the main hotel in Madrid, used by the correspondents and photographers covering the war.
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34 of 36 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars No photos in a book about photographers June 6, 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Amanda Vaill deserves better from Amazon. She has written an engrossing book about an important time and some of the individuals whose lives were changed by it. Two of those individuals were photographers yet Amazon has chosen not to include any of the photos from the print version in the e-book. Whoever made this decision needs to be told to find another job and Amazon needs to fix this and send revised copies to those who mistakenly opted for the e-book version. If the photos had been included this would be a 5 star book.

Update: I have had an exchange of e-mails with the author over the missing photos and she is as apalled as I am that they were not included. She did point out that a poor rating is more likely to affect her than the screw-ups at Amazon so I have changed my rating. I cannot give it five stars, though the writing deserves that. So - a five star book with the photos, not a five-star book without the photos. I doubt anyone at Amazon cares about this, since they don't seem to care anything anymore about books.
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45 of 50 people found the following review helpful
The Hotel Florida, like the mythical Hotel California in the song by The Eagles, is one of those places where “you can check in but you can never leave.” Or so it seemed for the foreigners who used it as their home base in Madrid during the Spanish Civil War: Ernest Hemingway, Martha Gellhorn, John Dos Passos, Robert Capa. War makes every day vivid, and the Spanish Civil War was especially vivid --- you didn’t have to be a seer to grasp that what was happening in Spain in the mid-1930s was a dress rehearsal for a much larger war between Fascism and Freedom.

“You could learn as much at the Hotel Florida in those years as you could anywhere in the world,” Hemingway said, and in “Hotel Florida: Truth, Love, and Death in the Spanish Civil War,” Amanda Vaill learns all it has to teach. [Disclosure: Never reveal a woman’s age, but Amanda Vaill and I go way back. Here’s the thing: I don’t like a writer’s book because we’re friends, I’m friends with writers because I like their books.]

It’s a complicated story, largely because the Left is splintered into factions. The distinctions were important to the participants; they seem academic now. Fortunately, Vaill tells the story through personalities, and they are more than sufficiently riveting to keep you turning pages --- okay, skipping a few --- as if you were reading fiction.

These are the people you’ll meet:

Ernest Hemingway. Oh, you think you know him, but you meet him fresh here: a terrible husband, manipulative lover, jealous friend, headline-seeking egotist. In short: the great writer as world-class jerk.

Martha Gellhorn: Hemingway’s lover. Young and ambitious, a collector of mentors, an inveterate shopper, and, in Spain, a better journalist than Hemingway.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Immersed in the Spanish Civil War May 29, 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I never quite understood the Spanish Civil War until I read this very intriguing and interesting book. All the characters are real and the account of their heroism and recklessness is documented in their own documents. The Hotel Florida in Madrid is only one setting for the book. I think the author and editor could have come up with a much better title. I don't really like to read accounts of war, but I enjoyed this one. It turned out to be a "page turner" and I highly recommend it to any one interested in European history in the 20th Century.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Most enlightening
An historical account involving famous people that reads like a novel. Few Americans understand or even know of the Spanish Civil War, the millions that died, and its role in the... Read more
Published 4 days ago by William L. Shankel
5.0 out of 5 stars From Six Interesting Subjects You Get The Big Picture
Just finished reading the book "Hotel Florida - Truth, Love and Death in the Spanish Civil War," (2014) by Amanda Vaill. Read more
Published 5 days ago by Mark Pearce
4.0 out of 5 stars Spain's Tragedy Told through the Stories of 3 Romantic Couples
The hotel of the intriguing title is in the background as the horror and tragedy of the Spanish Civil War is shown through the stories of three couples. Read more
Published 11 days ago by Loves the View
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Published 20 days ago by Alexis Ellis
5.0 out of 5 stars superb and surprising details about war correspondents in spain's...
superb and surprising details about war correspondents in spain's civil war. as a Spaniard very much a journey of discovery about all those larger than life personalities
Published 21 days ago by marcos a. zuazu
3.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating, but over filled with dates, facts, people and places
I learned a lot about the Spanish civil war and events leading up to world war two, but often I felt like I was back in school reading a text book. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Albion by the Sea
4.0 out of 5 stars A Marvelous Biographical History
Amanda Vaill has done it again. In Hotel Florida, she lends her story telling ability to render biographies just of individuals but also a time and place--the Hotel Florida, home... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Terin Miller
5.0 out of 5 stars fascinating and informative story of the Spanish Civil War and ...
fascinating and informative story of the Spanish Civil War and several of the heroes and heroines who reported on it, an exciting page turner, especially if you are interested in... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Leo Morris
5.0 out of 5 stars brilliant history - and what a s*** Hemingway was - ...
brilliant history - and what a s*** Hemingway was - and what a poseur - however great a writer
Published 1 month ago by C Thomson
4.0 out of 5 stars Good story, with lots of adventure
Good story, with lots of adventure.
A few too many characters to keep up with,
so, keep a list of them nearby.
Published 2 months ago by molly
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More About the Author

AMANDA VAILL is the author of the bestselling EVERYBODY WAS SO YOUNG: GERALD AND SARA MURPHY - A LOST GENERATION LOVE STORY, which was a finalist for the National Book Critics' Circle Award in biography, and SOMEWHERE: THE LIFE OF JEROME ROBBINS, for which she received a Guggenheim Fellowship. She is also co-author of SEAMAN SCHEPPS: A CENTURY OF NEW YORK JEWELRY DESIGN, an illustrated study of the work of her designer grandfather; and she has edited or contributed to a number of other books in the field of arts and culture. Her screenplay for the feature-length PBS documentary JEROME ROBBINS: SOMETHING TO DANCE ABOUT received an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Writing for Nonfiction Programming, and the film won an Emmy, a CINE Golden Eagle, and the George Foster Peabody Award.

Before becoming a full-time writer in 1992, Ms. Vaill was Executive Editor of Viking Penguin, where her authors included Ingmar Bergman, T.C. Boyle, Blanche Wiesen Cook, Iris Murdoch, and William T. Vollman. Her journalism and criticism have appeared in such publications as Architectural Digest, ArtNews, Ballet Review, Esquire, New York Magazine, Town & Country, and The Washington Post. She lives in New York City, and has just finished her next book, a narrative history entitled HOTEL FLORIDA: LOVE AND DEATH IN THE SPANISH CIVIL WAR, whose protagonists include the writers Ernest Hemingway and Martha Gellhorn and the photographers Robert Capa and Gerda Taro.

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Topic From this Discussion
Does this kindle edition contain the illustrations that the Contents say...
There are no illustrations in the book. Shame on Amazon. After all, an important part of the story is about the pictures that Capa and Taro took.
Jun 6, 2014 by Stan Jones |  See all 2 posts
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