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The Ambulance Drivers: Hemingway, Dos…
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The Ambulance Drivers: Hemingway, Dos Passos, and a Friendship Made and…

by James McGrath Morris

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Showing 4 of 4
Really enjoyed this. I wish the book was longer. ( )
  lemonpop | Nov 22, 2017 |
Rivals to the End

"There can be no covenants between men and lions, wolves and lambs can never be of one mind, but hate each other out and out an through." - Homer as translated by Samuel Butler

"There are no pacts between lions and men." - Brad Pitt as Achilles in "Troy" (2004), screenwriter David Benioff

"The Ambulance Drivers" is a dual biography of the writers Ernest Hemingway and John Dos Passos that concentrates on their interactions from primarily the end of the First World War (1914-1918) to the middle of the Spanish Civil War (1936-39) after which they mostly broke off contact. The reason for the break was over the death of José Robles (1897-1937), an academic friend of Dos Passos who acted as a Russian interpreter during the Spanish Civil War. Robles' insider knowledge gained in his translation duties was the likely reason he was purged by the Russians, who acted as military advisors to the Republican forces. This whole topic is covered in depth by Stephen Koch's "The Breaking Point: Hemingway, Dos Passos, and the Murder of José Robles" (2006).

Hemingway was constantly using his real life friends as material for his fiction, often resulting in hurt feelings and breakups. If the friend was a writer whose standing could be knocked down a peg or two as well then that was a bonus. As many before, Dos Passos became a target and was portrayed as the ineffectual writer Richard Gordon in "To Have and Have Not" (1937).

There was a temporary truce when Katy Dos Passos was killed in a car accident in 1947. Hemingway sent condolences to widower Dos Passos but behind his back cursed that his childhood crush (Hemingway knew her as Katy Smith in his teenage years) had been killed by the reckless driving of her husband.

Dos Passos managed to get his own back by painting an unflattering portrait of Hemingway as George Elbert Warner in "Chosen Country" (1951) but Hemingway was able to strike from beyond the grave by labelling Dos Passos as the treacherous pilotfish in "The Pilotfish and the Rich" section of "A Moveable Feast" (posthumous 1964, restored extended edition 2009).

James McGrath Morris has done an excellent job in telling the real-life stories of these two authors merged with the blows traded in the fictional world. Hemingway's life is the better known so having the life of Dos Passos filled in for you is the greater gain here. It may also serve to encourage readers to explore the otherwise almost forgotten works of the latter. ( )
  alanteder | Apr 9, 2017 |
I knew only the basics about Ernest Hemingway and even less about John Dos Passos so this book was interesting to read, despite Mr. Morris's unmistakable preference for Dos Passos over Hemingway. The commonality of ambulance driving is an excellent starting point to the lives of the two men, tying them together through their shared, yet profoundly different experience of war.

Dos Passos was a bit older than Hemingway and was able to join the American Volunteer Motor Ambulance Corps and serve under fire in France and Italy. He found the war horrifying and evil, driven by greed and stupidity. Like many other liberals of the period, he embraced the ideals of communism and even went to the USSR to study.

Hemingway lied about his age to join the war but was still too late to experience the war in Europe at its worst. He was seriously injured very soon after his arrival in Italy, and was proclaimed a hero. This was all rather grand and Hemingway developed an idea of war as exhilarating and manly.

Dos Passos continued to hate war and other forms of oppression but over time he came to realize that under Soviet communism the end justified the means, even if the means were vile. Hemingway when faced with the reality of the Spanish Civil War, recognized that war is brutal and stupid.

This interweaving of political opinions amid the ups and downs of their very different writing careers, forms the basis of Mr. Morris's work. Once strong, over time the men's friendship failed, and if we are to believe Mr. Morris, it was Hemingway who severed the tie with his jealousy and reluctance to celebrate Dos Passos' (or anyone's) success.

I enjoyed Mr. Morris's discussion of the very different writing styles of Hemingway and Dos Passos and I find myself interested in rereading Hemingway, a writer I have ignored for a long time.

I received a review copy of "The Ambulance Drivers: Hemingway, Dos Passos, and a Friendship Made and Lost in War" by James McGrath Morris (Da Capo Press) through NetGalley.com. ( )
1 vote Dokfintong | Mar 28, 2017 |
Thank you Net Galley for the opportunity to read and review this excellent work. So completely readable you lose track at times that this is non-fiction, until you arrive at the pages of sources, citations and end notes at the conclusion. Readers hesitate to embark on another examination of Hemingway, but framed as this was in the context of his relationship with Dos Passos it created boundaries and a focus. Perhaps because I was not familiar with Dos Passos life, I felt at times as the book was skewed toward him, but that may not be true. Nor was that a complaint, since I learned more there, and so enjoyably. I have Three Soldiers, but haven't read it yet. I can't say that the descriptions of his other, more experimental, works really appeal to me, thus damning me forever to the ranks of the popular reader, and not the literary eagle I dream to be. However, when the author describes what Dos Passos wanted to do with Manhattan Transfer, mixing in news and related other items and media, I was floored. Maybe I'll try that. I'm not really sure what to say about the Hemingway side of things. I don't remember anything really stunning me as new and exciting, Hemingway is not new territory for me. I really recommend this for readers familiar or not with these authors - it would be a great entre as well for the curious. ( )
1 vote MaureenCean | Mar 21, 2017 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0306823837, Hardcover)

Rich in evocative detail--from Paris cafés to Austrian chateaus, from the streets of Pamplona to the waters of Key West--The Ambulance Drivers tells the story of two aspiring writers, Ernest Hemingway and John Dos Passos, who met in World War I and forged a twenty-year friendship that produced some of America's greatest novels, giving voice to a generation shaken by war.

In war, Hemingway found adventure, women, and a cause. Dos Passos saw only oppression and futility. Their different visions eventually turned their private friendship into a nasty public fight, fueled by money, jealousy, and lust. This is not only a biography of the turbulent friendship between two of the century's greatest writers but also an illustration of how war inspires and destroys, unites and divides.

(retrieved from Amazon Sun, 05 Feb 2017 22:56:08 -0500)

"After meeting for the first time on the front lines of World War I, two aspiring writers forge an intense twenty-year friendship and write some of America's greatest novels, giving voice to a 'lost generation' shaken by war. Eager to find his way in life and words, John Dos Passos first witnessed the horror of trench warfare in France as a volunteer ambulance driver retrieving the dead and seriously wounded from the front line. Later in the war, he briefly met another young writer, Ernest Hemingway, who was just arriving for his service in the ambulance corps. When the war was over, both men knew they had to write about it; they had to give voice to what they felt about war and life. Their friendship and collaboration developed through the peace of the 1920s and 1930s, as Hemingway's novels soared to success while Dos Passos penned the greatest antiwar novel of his generation, Three Soldiers. In war, Hemingway found adventure, women, and a cause. Dos Passos saw only oppression and futility. Their different visions eventually turned their private friendship into a bitter public fight, fueled by money, jealousy, and lust. Rich in evocative detail-- from Paris cafes to the Austrian Alps, from the streets of Pamplona to the waters of Key West-- [this book] is a biography of a turbulent friendship between two of the century's greatest writers, and an illustration of how war both inspires and destroys, unites and divides." -- Amazon.com.… (more)

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