A spellbinding story of love amid the devastation of the Spanish Civil War.
Madrid, 1936. In a city blasted by a civil war that many fear will cross borders and engulf Europe - a conflict one writer will call "the decisive thing of the century" - six people meet and find their lives changed forever. Ernest Hemingway, his career stalled, his marriage sour, hopes that this war will give him fresh material and new romance; Martha Gellhorn, an ambitious novice journalist hungry for love and experience, thinks she will find both with Hemingway in Spain. Robert Capa and Gerda Taro, idealistic young photographers based in Paris, want to capture history in the making and are inventing modern photojournalism in the process. And Arturo Barea, chief of Madrid's loyalist foreign press office, and Ilsa Kulcsar, his Austrian deputy, are struggling to balance truth-telling with loyalty to their sometimes compromised cause - a struggle that places both of them in peril.
Hotel Florida traces the tangled wartime destinies of these three couples against the backdrop of a critical moment in history. As Hemingway put it, "You could learn as much at the Hotel Florida in those years as you could anywhere in the world."
From the raw material of unpublished letters and diaries, official documents, and recovered reels of film, Amanda Vaill has created a narrative of love and reinvention that is, finally, a story about truth: finding it out, telling it, and living it - whatever the cost.
Vaill tells the story of the Spanish Civil War through three couples. Photojournalists Gerda Taro & Robert Capo; writers Ernest Hemingway & Martha Gelhorn and political activists Arturo Barea & Ilsa Kulcsar. As a device it works very well; Taro & Capa spent a lot of time at the front line so we get first hand accounts of the conditions faced by combatants. Hemingway & Gelhorn are trying to raise international awareness of the conflict and secure support for the republican side which allows us to get a sense of media coverage and how the thing looked from the perspective of Western democracies and Barea & Kulcsar were part of the Republican political machine so we can follow the political infighting within the Spanish left as well as the government's problematic relationship with Stalin. All complex stuff that I didn't know much about before this listen.
That could all sound a bit dry but the three couples are very well chosen. Taro & Capo are part of the European bohemian diaspora, they're inventing modern photojournalism and they share a kind of raffish glamour that pulls the listener along. Gelhorn is a talented, entitled and driven young woman with very sharp elbows who is redeemed by being just as insightful about herself as she is about those around her. Hemingway is a colossal ar*e. He is, in fact, the colossal a*se in front of which other colossal ars*s should bow down. So bad that you just want to keep listening to see what he'll do next. Barea and Kulcsar are the ethical centre of the story; good people who give up stable lives to support a cause they believe in and who refuse to carry on supporting it blindly when their side chooses to buddy up with Joe Stalin and adopt his methods of coercion, torture and murder to keep the populace in line.
This works as military history, social history and a story about three couples facing turbulent times. The narration seemed a little slow paced at first but after a while the story hooked me and I stopped noticing. So one less star for that but still a highly recommended listen.
3 of 3 people found this review helpful
What did you like most about Hotel Florida?
The story of the Spanish Civil War is fascinating and terrifying at the same time. This is an interesting take based around some of the 'superstar' photographers and writers who covered the hope and the horror including Ernest Hemingway and Martha Gellhorn.
It is hugely informative on the itinerant lives of many young Europeans in the 20s and 30s and a timely reminder of a world where the idea of socialism did not seem like a just a pipe dream, but a liveable reality.
I did not know about Robert Kapa or Gerda Taro before this book and they come across as a charismatic and fascinating pair. I would certainly like to learn more about them.
I also enjoyed having my personal prejudice further confirmed that, great writer though he was, Hemingway was an entirely self-involved, s**t with a cavalier attitude to the lives of others, an arrogance that masked his own crippling insecurity and an unhealthy obsession with killing animals!
What did you like best about this story?
This is a riveting, engaging and tragic story. The lives of the ambitious but generally optimistic and driven young people tied up in the way that Spain's conflict devoured the country and set the spark that would later engulf all of Europe.
Did Christopher Kipiniak do a good job differentiating each of the characters? How?
Christopher Kipiniak's narration was generally clear. Most of the speech is reported, so he did not need to characterise the voices much, he generally steered clear of accents and voices. The delivery was more akin to that of a straight history book than a fiction.
My biggest criticism of his work in this case is some gratuitous mispronunciation that was not picked up either by the performer or his producer - the name Cockburn for example is pronounced Co-Burn. There was also occasionally a feeling that the narrator was reading paragraphs for the first time, as there was random and slightly irritating mispronunciation of common words.
The narrator also read with extreme caution, now I would agree that a slow reader is better than one who gabbles but in this case I think that the momentum of the story might have been better suited to a less lugubrious reading.
Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?
No, there was too much information and anyway, it is a long book!
Any additional comments?
I would recommend this book for anyone looking to deepen their knowledge of a fascinating part of European history that still affects the world so much today. It is a cracking story, well written and informative. It is slightly let down by the narration, but still very much worth a listen.
1 of 1 people found this review helpful