Hotel Florida: Truth, Love, and Death in the Spanish Civil War
The Hotel Florida, like the mythical Hotel California in the song by The Eagles, is one of those places where “you can check in but you can never leave.” Or so it seemed for the foreigners who used it as their home base in Madrid during the Spanish Civil War: Ernest Hemingway, Martha Gellhorn, John Dos Passos, Robert Capa. War makes every day vivid, and the Spanish Civil War was especially vivid --- you didn’t have to be a seer to grasp that what was happening in Spain in the mid-1930s was a dress rehearsal for a much larger war between Fascism and Freedom.
“You could learn as much at the Hotel Florida in those years as you could anywhere in the world,” Hemingway said, and in HOTEL FLORDIA: Truth, Love, and Death in the Spanish Civil War, Amanda Vaill learns all it has to teach.
"Fortunately, Vaill tells the story through personalities, and they are more than sufficiently riveting to keep you turning pages --- okay, skipping a few --- as if you were reading fiction."
[Disclosure: Never reveal a woman’s age, but Amanda Vaill and I go way back. Here’s the thing: I don’t like a writer’s book because we’re friends, I’m friends with writers because I like their books.]
It’s a complicated story, largely because the Left is splintered into factions. The distinctions were important to the participants; they seem academic now. Fortunately, Vaill tells the story through personalities, and they are more than sufficiently riveting to keep you turning pages --- okay, skipping a few --- as if you were reading fiction. [To buy the book from Amazon, click here. For the Kindle edition, click here.
These are the people you’ll meet:
Ernest Hemingway. Oh, you think you know him, but you meet him fresh here: a terrible husband, manipulative lover, jealous friend, headline-seeking egotist. In short: the great writer as world-class jerk.
Martha Gellhorn: Hemingway’s lover. Young and ambitious, a collector of mentors, an inveterate shopper, and, in Spain, a better journalist than Hemingway.
Robert Capa: He took the famous photo of a soldier as he’s fatally shot. In these pages, he’s heroically committed to his work and, equally, to his lover.
Gerda Taro: the photographer who was Capa’s lover and creative partner. She is admirable in every possible way.
Arturo Barea: chief of the Loyalist press office. Intensely moral, he’d rather report truth than propaganda. If this book has heroes, Barea and Ilse Kulcsar, his deputy and lover, surely qualify.
Add to the cast Orson Welles, George Orwell and a dozen others, and you might be overwhelmed. To focus on what’s crucial, I tossed questions across the park to Amanda Vaill. Click here to read the interview.
Reviewed by Jesse Kornbluth on April 24, 2014