War as ultimate test: Over the River and into the Trees

Over the River and into the Trees is a man’s novel.  Ernest Hemingway does not glorify war, but revels in it as an ultimate test of  combattants’ physical, mental, and emotional resources.

A war-scarred veteran of many battlefields and equally scarred victim of military bureaucracy, Colonel Richard Cantwell has come to Venice, his favorite Italian city, to do some duck hunting.

Cantwell is not a man who suffers fools gladly. At 50, he finds the only people with whom he actually is comfortable are people who have been through wars. He can be brusque or worse even to the beautiful Renata, the Italian countess with whom he has fallen deeply in love.

The Colonel passed an Army physical the day before his Venice trip, but he knows his days are numbered.

Renata knows too. She passes him the pills that keep him going and begs for stories of the experiences that shaped his life.

Cantwell tells her stories about the camaraderie of war and the colossal stupidity of military men with no experience of war. In every encounter, the bureaucrats win; the loyalty and discipline of military life won’t allow any other outcome.

That insight keeps this brooding, unhappy novel relevant to each new generation of readers.

Across the River and into the Trees
By Ernest Hemingway
Charles Scribner’s Sons,  1950
308 pages
1950 #3 bestselling novel
My grade B+

© 2010 Linda Gorton Aragoni