Ernest Hemingway is the notorious tough guy of modern American letters, but it would be hard to find a more tender and rapturous love story than A Farewell to Arms. It would also be hard to find a more harrowing American novel about World War I. Hemingway masterfully interweaves these dual narratives of love and war, joy and terror, and-ultimately-liberation and death.
It will surprise no one that a book so vivid and deeply felt originated in the author's own life. Hemingway served as an ambulance driver for the Italian army in World War I. Severely wounded, he recuperated in a Red Cross hospital in Milan where he fell in love with one of his nurses. This relationship proved the model for Frederic and Catherine's tragic romance in A Farewell to Arms.
The Big Read is a program of the National Endowment for the Arts designed to revitalize the role of literary reading in American popular culture. Reading at Risk: A Survey of Literary Reading in America, a 2004 NEA report, identified a critical decline in reading for pleasure among American adults. The Big Read addresses this issue by bringing communities together to read, discuss, and celebrate books and writers from American and world literature.
A great book combines enlightenment with enchantment. It awakens our imagination and enlarges our humanity. It can even offer harrowing insights that somehow console and comfort us. Whether you're a regular reader already or making up for lost time, thank you for joining The Big Read.
Ernest Hemingway in Paris, 1928 (The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston)
Ernest Hemingway in Italy, 1918 (The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston)
Lobby card for the film, 1932 (Photofest)