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The Breaking Point: Hemingway, Dos Passos, and the Murder of Jose Robles Paperback – May 16, 2006

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Counterpoint (May 16, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1582432813
  • ISBN-13: 978-1582432816
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.1 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,176,618 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Koch's new biographic history surveys the Spanish Civil War, the decline of literary modernism, the train wreck otherwise known as Ernest Hemingway's love life and the waning career of John Dos Passos—all while plotting the moral highs and lows of 1930s American and European intellectuals, politicos and revolutionaries. This is heady stuff, made headier still by Koch's revelation that the hand pulling each of these narrative threads belongs to no less a villain than Joseph Stalin. Far from spinning conspiracy theories, Koch coolly examines scholarship, memoirs and archival material that place Stalin's propaganda operatives at the heart of almost every relationship, argument and scene rendered in these masterful chapters. Chief among the affairs is the unraveling friendship between Hemingway and Dos Passos, two literary titans who spent the years of the Spanish Civil War in opposing slides toward (Hemingway) and away from (Dos Passos) the ideologies of well-meaning leftists. There may be no "elevator pitch" for Koch's book, no single phrase to utter in the ear of a film producer that would take this story from page to screen, and that's too bad, because Koch (former head of the Writing Division at Columbia) reaps enough death, sex, booze and intrigue from his subject to feed an Oscar contender. But the best part is really Koch himself. Present in the narrative as a historical detective, connecting the dots between his various sources, Koch also excels as a literary critic, one who loves books that are morally nuanced and gets brilliantly angry when the authors he respects ruin their talents by committing themselves to shortsighted ideological points.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"A deeply thoughtful, trenchant examination... A whopping good literary tale...explored here by a master of the literary and the political." -- Kirkus Reviews, starred review

"A riveting tale of soured friendships, casually exterminated lives, and treachery run amok." -- The Denver Post

"The Breaking Point [is] stampede reading...a furious choosing of sides in the bloody past, back when history was breaking hearts." -- Harper's

"Vivid and penetrating... [The Breaking Point] has the pace and drama of a detective novel... One of the very best." -- The New York Sun

"[A] riveting account of a time when personality, ideology, and war all collided." -- Library Journal --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

47 of 50 people found the following review helpful By R. W. Rasband VINE VOICE on September 30, 2005
Format: Hardcover
"The Breaking Point" is carefully written history but it reads like a mystery/suspense novel thanks to the gifted storytelling of author Stephen Koch. The book retells the story of the misadventures of Ernest Hemingway and John Dos Passos in Spain during the Civil War of 1936-39. Koch has meticulously pieced together from primary sources the puzzle of who killed Dos Passos' friend Jose Robles, and who knew about it and tried to cover it up. The book is a tragedy of almost Shakespearean intensity as we watch the innocent killed, good men deceived and destroyed, and the wicked (temporarily) prosper. It's also a fable of the dangers of radical chic: how groupthink and intellectual fashion-mongering can maim a good cause. Civil-war Spain is where George Orwell learned all he needed to know about the Communists and the rest of the "progressive" left to write "1984" and "Animal Farm" (he makes a cameo appearance in this book.)

Dos Passos arrived in Spain in March 1937 wanting to help the besieged Republic, but he soon learned that his good friend Jose Robles, a former professor of Spanish at Johns Hopkins University, was missing. He made one fruitless inquiry after another until it was his good friend Hemingway who dropped the bombshell on him that Robles was a "fascist spy" who had been executed. In reality, the Soviets has exported their Stalinist Great Terror to Spain and were murdering thousands of left-wing non-Communist "allies" (Robles had also been a translator for a Russian general and may have known too much about Soviet intrugues in Spain.) There's no way to get around it: Hemingway is one of the villains of this book (although one whose bad character we eventually come to understand and even sympathize with, and whose greatness as a writer is never questioned.
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21 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Leonard Fleisig VINE VOICE on July 31, 2006
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
and they shall reap the whirlwind."

"Breaking Point: Hemingway, Dos Passos, and the Murder of Jose Robles" is Stephen Koch's excellent examination of the destruction of the friendship between American writers Ernest Hemingway and John Dos Passos during the Spanish Civil War. The Spanish Civil War served as a crucible on which many relationships (between people and between people and their ideology) were either forged or broken. In the case of Dos Passos and Hemingway once they entered the political whirlwind of the Spanish Civil War that friendship was irretrievably fractured.

It is not well-remembered that, at the height of his fame, Dos Passos was placed on the same pedestal as Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and Faulkner. The first two volumes of his masterpiece, the USA Trilogy (42nd Parallel and 1919) had been enormous successes. By the time Volume III, "The Big Money", was released in 1936, Jean-Paul Sartre hailed him as "the greatest writer of our time". Edmund Wilson's review went so far as to claim that Dos Passos was "the first of our writers, with the possible exception of Mark Twain, who has successfully used colloquial American for a novel of the highest artistic seriousness." Dos Passos' literary reputation began to change during the Spanish Civil War. Dos Passos, along with Hemingway and many other literary figures including George Orwell made his way to Spain to assist in the Republican cause. Like Orwell, Dos Passos was deeply affected by the brutal infighting amongst Republican supporters. In the case of Dos Passos, he was deeply distressed by murder of a friend, anarchist and Johns Hopkins Professor Jose Robles, apparently executed by Stalinist cadres for his nonconforming radicalism. Hemingway mocked Dos Passos for his unmanly concern for his friend.
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17 of 20 people found the following review helpful By R. Gutierrez on May 9, 2005
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
A fast paced, wonderful and insightful read. For those Hemingway fans who have gone through all of Hemingway, this book reads like the memory of an old friend. Hemingway is further depicted as a flawed and unlikeable man but a deeper understanding of the source of his talent and material is supported through the weaving of his personal life with the works he had produced during and shortly after the Spanish Civil War. Dos Passos is depicted as sincere and caring in his search for the truth of the demise of Jose Robles. The strained relationship between Hemingway and Dos Passos and thier reasons are carefully constructed throughout the book. The real hero of the book is Jose Robles himself, who silently haunts throughout the chapters. Dos Passos and Hemingway were American spectators of the Spanish Civil War. Jose Robles Pazos was the real thing, a Spaniard committed to his beliefs, rightly or wrongly, for the betterment and love of Spain.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Billyjack D'Urberville on August 13, 2008
Format: Paperback
Literary biography is a precipitous genre -- you get the academic overkill on one end of the scale and tabloid junk on the other. This book is neither -- it goes right down the middle stylistically, telling an important piece of American literary history in the process. Hemingway and Dos Passos in fiery Spain of the 1930s--breaking ostensibly over the murder of Dos Passos' close friend Robles-- serves as the matrix of many issues personal, political, historical, psycholgical--yet is told economically like a high level detective story. The story is told better than anyone has told it yet, or likely could ever tell it.

The basic story is well known, but here deepened by reasearch and broadened by several other word portraits of secondary figures large and small. Koch obviously has closer affinity with Dos Passos, but not far enough to be unfair. He carefully underscores his apparently "negative" portrait of Hemingway with sensitivity to the thesis Hemingway was already showing signs of the mental illness which would lead to suicide in about 24 years. This thesis is well supported by Koch and is something new, at least to the degree that it has ever been woven into any Hemingway bio this well. Indeed, the great gift of this book -- which brings it up to masterpiece status -- is the writer's maturity and sensitivity in dealing with biographical puzzles and loaded political issues. Koch has a maturity rare in literature now or ever, and is not afraid to bring in his own thoughtful analysis of the people involved to complete and highlight the story. As a person who has read several dozens of literary bios in his life, my verdict is this: as good as the genre gets, easily in the top 5 of any such book I have ever read.
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