Friday, 24 March 2017

The Ambulance Drivers - Hemingway & Dos Passos

Most English literature students in this country will be familiar with the work of Ernest Hemingway, less so with the work of John Dos Passos. It was nearly a hundred years ago, that the two budding authors embarked for Europe from America to do their bit in the Great World War. This new book by James McGrath Morris charts the two men's journeys - both in the literal sense, as they travelled across France, Italy and later, Spain; and in the developmental sense as they launched successful careers as authors.

The Ambulance Drivers (both men served in this capacity in the First World War) charts the development of the two authors and, later, their falling out. 

This is a good re-telling of two stories, with a particular focus on the years 1918 to 1937. Unhappily, and ironically given their First World War roles as ambulance drivers, both men had unlucky - and in John Dos Passos's case, tragic - relationships with motorised vehicles. In 1930 Hemingway ran his car off the road, with Dos Passos in it, and 17 years later, Dos Passos, temporarily dazzled by the sun, crashed his car into parked truck, killing his wife instantly and blinding himself in his right eye. Nevertheless, these incidents do not dominate the narrative which instead, and rightly so, focuses on the men's early years, their relationships with those around them, and their relationship with each other.

As well as a compelling narrative, there are some great photos in this book: the handsome lady-killer looks of Ernest Hemingway contrasting with the more geeky John Dos Passos.

This is a well-researched book made all the more helpful by copious notes and a good bibliography. For Hemingway and Dos Passos fans, this will be a must-read. For others, like me, who knew little (or nothing in the case of Dos Passos) about these two men, the book is a compelling examination of an at-times frail, turbulent and broken friendship.

The Ambulance Drivers is published by Da Capo Press at $27 or less. Read more here on the Da Capo Press website and order here from Amazon.

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