Hemingway's Second War: Bearing Witness to the Spanish Civil War
Borchard, Gregory, Journalism History
Vernon, Alex. Hemingway's Second War: Bearing Witness to the Spanish Civil War. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2011. 263 pp. $29.95.
Alex Vernon's Hemingways Second War: Bearing Witness to the Spanish Civil War tells part of the story of Ernest Hemingway's experiences as a reporter during the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), offering new insight for understanding Hemingway's role in creating the movie documentary The Spanish Earth on behalf of pro-Republican forces. An associate professor of English at Hendrix College in Conway, Arkansas, Vernon has authored several books on military reporting, and Hemingway's Second War demonstrates his familiarity with the complexities of writing about war from the perspective of a journalist. Vernon writes with a clear command of the biographical details surrounding the celebrated American novelist's life, as well as the historical context of the time in which he wrote. Yet, the organization of the book - in three loosely interdependent parts - complicates the focus of its narrative. While each of the three parts contributes to a better understanding of the important events surrounding both Hemingway's life and this difficult era of Spanish and world history, the book as a whole could read more easily with a unified thesis from beginning to end.
As a correspondent for the North American News Alliance, Hemingway made four trips to Spain in 1937 and 1938. Along with reporting on the war, Hemingway codirected with Joris Ivens and John Dos Passos The Spanish Earth, a propaganda film with commentary from Hemingway as well as narration from legendary film figure Orson Welles. Vernon's primary contribution to literature about Hemingway includes the exploration of his role in helping to create the film, which the filmmakers designed to tell the story of Spanish farmers and to attract sympathy for the democratic resistance entrenched in the fight against the Nationalist leader Francisco Franco. Upon its release, the film received a mix of both praise and criticism - the former for its innovative documentary style, the latter for the film's unsubtly propagandist message, but Vernon suggests the experience of making the film also played an influential role in Hemingway's later career as a novelist. Juxtaposing material from the film with story elements in For Whom the Bell Tous, Hemingway's most public reflections on Spain, Vernon succeeds in linking the two; however, with the storyline moving in different directions from time to time, this particular relationship between Hemingway's nonfiction and fiction could be cast as either academic rumination or history. …