I started to read this on a train station in Leeds, I glanced at the cover and sighed. Hemingway. I read the Fisherman and the Sea a few years ago, and found myself wondering if it was going to be as long winded as the book that gave him the Nobel prize. But the pages were yellowed and the book smelt of old leather and old English bookstores tucked away in metropolitan. I balanced the heavy hardcover on my knees and flicked through until I came to the quote, the epitome of the plot. Great, I thought, and now it has a famous quote to live up to. This should be interesting.
It began with Robert Jordan, the tall, fair-haired American protagonist, lying on the soft pine needles of the great, hilly Spanish pine forests during the Spanish Revolution, a carbine over one shoulder, and a pack of dynamite over the other. Now, generally, I'm a big science fiction and fantasy fan, so I began wondering if I really wanted to read a book about some war I'd only ever heard mentioned by my pop in his old rocking chair by the wiless. But the train wasn't due for another half hour, I adjusted my suitcase, and got comfortable.
Robert Jordan, working for Golz, had come to the camp of Pablo. Pablo and his men were to help him blow a great bridge in the Spanish pine forest that would cut off the Fascist supply to their base, then proceed to wipe out any remaining Reds. However, in doing so, this means Pablo and his band of guerrilla’s must flee their base inside the caves. Pablo disagrees with this, but Robert Jordan expected as much. What Pablo was met with, was an oppressor, his woman, Pilar. The men were neither for the bridge, nor against it, as Pablo was, but they were for the Pilar, and she was for the bridge. The character Pilar is one of the most powerful characters in the book, she is an ugly, old, half gypsy woman with a flat face, and built like a mountain, but her command over Pablo's men is extraordinary. When they blow up the bridge, which takes so long one begins to wonder if it will ever happen, it is Pilar, not Pablo, who leads them through the uprising. When Robert Jordan has lost most of Pablo's men, it is Pilar that sparks anger or trust within him, and it is Pilar who takes them away when all is over. When the fight is done.
But the most succulent part of For Whom The Bell Tolls is the intricate and brutal characters it has woven. We meet Anselmo, whom is called the old man, who is a hunter and a catholic, and, to Roberto's belief, his greatest comrade. We meet Pablo, and his sadness, and discover the tension between him and his men, and what war has done to him. We meet Augustin, the joker, who curses at everything, but is the most serious man Pilar knows. There is the gypsy, a coward with a lazy, handsome face, who is neither guerrilla nor commoner, whom is loathed by Pilar, but cannot be hated. We meet Andres and hear what the war has done to him, why he looks to the fight as he looks to the Toro waiting in the ring, with dread, yet with duty. We meet Maria, the fair young girl of nineteen, abused by the fascists, yet the most wondrous gift to men. The Guerrilla’s are like no man you have met before, and yet they are everyman, just the same. How Robert describes them (though the book is not written in firstperson) is without plastic coating, you see who they are, you see their fears and their flaws and the pains of war, you see that they can never go back, and you see that as much as they loath the regime, they are tired of living as free men.
After I put this book down I had already been through Wales, and remember nothing of the trip, in fact I had flew home and my life seemed put back to normal, but the world now held a boldness about it that hadn't been there before. It was like reading Walden’s Pond again, only everything was beautifully hidden amidst the brutality of war and mankind, the bankruptcy of "science." This time, the beasts in the open pastures were anything but tame, Romulus and Remus still suckling the teat of a wolf, and Rome was still a paddock of thought.