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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.
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 BushSee all Editorial Reviews
Author Amanda Vaill tells the story of the Spanish Civil War in a chronological fashion from July 1936 in Madrid to March 1939 in Paris, Key West and Havana. Read morePublished 16 days ago by Richard C. Reynolds
It is rare to find a book that is both thoroughly researched, historically accurate and yet possessing the narrative power of a truly great novel. Read morePublished 1 month ago by Pamela Katz
This will be a short review. I had just finished The Wright Brothers, which bored me to tears. In contrast, this book held my attention, not because I wanted to learn more about... Read morePublished 3 months ago by John M. Callaway
I have been curious about the Spanish civil war since a trip to Spain several years ago where I found the war and its aftermath (the Franco era) remained very much alive for people... Read morePublished 3 months ago by T. Berlatsky
In depth information about the war in Spain and about people involved. Excellent look at Ernest Hemmingway.
All of history has its hidden corners, its neglected figures and their connections, its unnoticed moments --- and yet the absolute realness of it all, as in who felt and did what... Read morePublished 6 months ago by Mystery Veteran