The Ambulance Drivers
Hemingway, Dos Passos, and a Friendship Made and Lost in War
James McGrath Morris
Da Capo Press, Boston, 2017, 336 pages
Book Review published on: September 22, 2017
“Hemingway saw the flash first and then heard the roar that followed. The heat was intense, and the ground seethed upward, wood beams splintered, and the men were tossed about like rag dolls. The detonation killed the Italian Soldier who had been standing between Hemingway and the mortar. Another Soldier’s legs had been blown off. Hemingway lay in the dirt unconscious. The war he so wanted to witness had found him.” This excerpt from chapter six of James Morris’s The Ambulance Drivers exemplifies how the author uses a biographical approach to tell the tale of two of the most famous authors of our “grandfather’s” generation who carved the narration path of post-world War I through the power of words using fiction and nonfiction novels, articles, and narratives. Their written works filled the book shelves of America after World War I and remain some of the most sought-after reading today. Morris provides a unique perspective by narrating the two authors’ life experiences in a way that all veterans can relate to after returning home with the scars of war.
The book sets the stage by explaining how the two main characters—Ernest Hemingway and John Dos Passos—received Ivy League educations, volunteered for war, and connected their paths in postwar Europe. Hemingway, one of the most famous authors of the time, gained a close friendship with Dos Passos. Their story sheds light on the daily struggles of dealing with the effects of war as they relate to personal relationships and while earning fame and fortune along the way. Dos Passos is not as recognized by most, but he remains one of the most influential writers in the early and mid-1900s who shaped America today.
The Ambulance Drivers is a must read for anyone transitioning from the military because it clearly depicts how most Americans truly value service to their country and respect those who sacrificed to defend the constitution of the United States. The characters used their service as a springboard for recognition of their literally works, and they both catapulted into lucrative careers as novelists. Morris continually weaves in the story line of Europe as it served to bring the two main characters closer together. However, in the end, their personal beliefs terminated almost two and one-half decades of friendship; this is described in the latter passages of the book.
This book is a must for anyone with interest in the early portions of the 1900s and how the “Great World” and the “war to end all wars” shaped the world we live in today. Morris does an outstanding job of relating the real-life experiences of the two main characters throughout the book to lay the ground work for further investigation of Hemingway’s and Dos Passos’s written works. I highly recommend this book because of the unique perspective it gives to those who struggle today after transitioning to civilian life after service to our country.
Book Review written by: Lt. Col. Jason E. Pelletier, U.S. Army, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas