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Hotel Florida: Truth, Love, and Death in the Spanish Civil War

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A spellbinding story of love amid the devastation of the Spanish Civil War

Madrid, 1936. In a city blasted by a civil war that many fear will cross borders and engulf Europe―a conflict one writer will call "the decisive thing of the century"―six people meet and find their lives changed forever. Ernest Hemingway, his career stalled, his marriage sour, hopes that this war will give him fresh material and new romance; Martha Gellhorn, an ambitious novice journalist hungry for love and experience, thinks she will find both with Hemingway in Spain. Robert Capa and Gerda Taro, idealistic young photographers based in Paris, want to capture history in the making and are inventing modern photojournalism in the process. And Arturo Barea, chief of the Spanish government's foreign press office, and Ilsa Kulcsar, his Austrian deputy, are struggling to balance truth-telling with loyalty to their sometimes compromised cause―a struggle that places both of them in peril.
Beginning with the cloak-and-dagger plot that precipitated the first gunshots of the war and moving forward month by month to the end of the conflict. Hotel Florida traces the tangled and disparate wartime destinies of these three couples against the backdrop of a critical moment in a moment that called forth both the best and the worst of those caught up in it. In this noir landscape of spies, soldiers, revolutionaries, and artists, the shadow line between truth and falsehood sometimes became faint indeed―your friend could be your enemy and honesty could get you (or someone else) killed.
Years later, Hemingway would say, "It is very dangerous to write the truth in war, and the truth is very dangerous to come by." In Hotel Florida, from the raw material of unpublished letters and diaries, official documents, and recovered reels of film, the celebrated biographer Amanda Vaill has created a narrative of love and reinvention that is, finally, a story about finding it, telling it, and living it―whatever the cost.


464 pages, Hardcover

First published April 22, 2014

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About the author

Amanda Vaill

12 books98 followers
AMANDA VAILL's most recent book is Jerome Robbins, By Himself, a selection of the letters, journals, and other writings of the legendary choreographer-director. She is currently completing a dual biography of the Schuyler sisters, Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton and Angelica Schuyler Church. She is the author of Hotel Florida: Truth, Love, and Death in the Spanish Civil War; Somewhere: The Life of Jerome Robbins; and the bestselling Everybody Was So Young: Gerald and Sara Murphy – A Lost Generation Love Story, which was a finalist for the National Book Critics’ Circle Award in biography. She is also co-author of Seaman Schepps: A Century of New York Jewelry Design, an illustrated study of the work of her designer grandfather, and has edited or contributed to a number of other books in the field of arts and culture. Her screenplay for the feature-length PBS documentary Jerome Robbins: Something to Dance About received an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Writing for Nonfiction Programming, and the film won an Emmy, a CINE Golden Eagle, and the George Foster Peabody Award. She is currently developing a television series about the Schuyler sisters for TriStar.

Ms. Vaill has also worked in the non-profit world, as executive director of the House of SpeakEasy Foundation, and in book publishing, where her authors included Iris Murdoch, Ingmar Bergman, Blanche Cook, T.C. Boyle, Joan Silber, Roxana Robinson, and Angela Carter. Her journalism and criticism have appeared in such publications as The American Scholar, Architectural Digest, ArtNews, Ballet Review, Esquire, New York Magazine, Town & Country, and The Washington Post. She lives in New York City, and is a past fellow of the Guggenheim Foundation, the NYU Center for Ballet and the Arts, and the Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers at the New York Public Library.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 145 reviews
Profile Image for Sketchbook.
679 reviews226 followers
May 18, 2014
The Spanish Civil War was a dress rehearsal for WW2. The Allies stayed "neutral" -- saw it as a fight tween Communism & Capitalism -- as German & Italian fascists supported the Conservative-Catholic 'right' while the Russies aided the 'left' until their betrayal (surprised ?) ~~ It was a very bloody, brutal war (1936-39), and few in the US know anything about it or give a damn. They focus on WW2 -- too dumb to see this as the shocking Permiso-Prelude.

This ambitious book - a failure, alas - is not trying to be a history of the SCW. As a basic text book, it is a revelatory addition to modern history. Problem : it reads like a basic text book. Flat, boring writing. A collection of facts instead of a selection of facts.

This is a serio problem with most US biographies, thanks to dimwit American publishers. Size queens. Here, FSG is the culprit. (It's the 3d FSG bio I've read recently that "lacks." Also, the edition is rather cheesy with a typeface you can barely see).

TIME, Inc, in its heyday, had reporter-researchers who gathered pages and pages of FACTS which were then turned over, finally, to a Writer who stylishly condensed and summed up in 800 vivid words or less. The great writer-journalist Otto Friedrich (City of Nets, Before the Deluge) is a classic example of How To Do This. If only, if only, he had been the Writer of this important subject.

So, what we have are pages and pages of choking facts from assorted archives (names, dates, titles, streets, battles) that jam together in an incoherent blur). Oxygen, please ! ~~

Author focuses on 3 couples: Hemingway & Gellhorn, we-know-'em newsies. ~~ Robert Capa & Gerda Taro, photogs. (She's such an Up Yours pest, I was relieved when she Exited. Capa himself can't live without a war to cover. He loves to lens death. An annoying guy).

The two remarkable players are Spanish press censor Arturo Barea and his Austrian sidekick-translator Ilsa Kulcsar. As lost souls, they give the book substance; they're "stars" who lift it out of the confusing clutter.

It's time we studied the SCWar : can we learn anything? Probably not. Stalin, naturally, executed post-SCW, his mouthpieces in Spain. He makes Hitler seem like a Nice Guy. But don't suggest that to Lillian Hellman. She'll sue.

A moving book, "The Life and Death of a Spanish Town," by Elliot Paul is not be missed.

Profile Image for Michelle.
2,340 reviews57 followers
May 11, 2014
This was EXCELLENT. I was hoping it'd be good. I have always been interested in the Spanish Civil War. It was actually a useful thing for me--as an idealistic, leaning-socialistic young kid who admired the Left---well, the Right in the Spanish Civil War was easy to hate. But, then, what was I to do when I discovered the Left wasn't perfect either? Anyway. This author is sympathetic to the Republican cause, and was able to draw her mostly leftist subjects with clarity and precision. But she was not at all blind to the failings of the Left and the total betrayal by Stalin. This leaves her free to dig in and show the good things done by her six main subjects, but also to show when they were used or used poorly. This was an extremely readable work--it read almost like a novel, I could hardly put it down. At first, since the only figures I was at all acquainted with were Hemingway and Gellhorn, I was worried about keeping everyone straight. But this turned out to be no problem. In fact, I almost think I'd recognize them if I ran into them. This is a terrific effort.
Profile Image for Douglas Perry.
Author 11 books49 followers
June 2, 2014
In the author's note that kicks off "Hotel Florida: Truth, Love, and Death in the Spanish Civil War," Amanda Vaill lays out her hopes for the 400 pages to come: that "the heroes -- whoever they are -- are visible."

Vaill is being coy, of course. She puts her heroes front and center -- though they might not be who you expect.

Ernest Hemingway and Martha Gellhorn are the big names of the three couples chronicled here, and they're presented as exemplars of the Ugly American at work and play. Hemingway, a decade after publication of "The Sun Also Rises," is vain and full of bluster as a foreign correspondent during Spain's civil war; he's more than willing to use his novelist's imagination to tell a better story than he actually finds. Gellhorn comes off even worse. The "leggy" young writer is a viper focused only on what she wants next. Her own father tells her, "There are two kinds of women, and you're the other kind." She and Hemingway -- who will marry in 1940, a year after the Spanish war peters out -- clearly deserve each other.

That leaves two other sets of lovers to root for: Robert Capa and Gerda Taro, and Arturo Barea and Ilsa Kulcsar, who are all trying to stand out from the crowd of journalists, spies and assorted poseurs who hang around war-torn Madrid's marble-clad Hotel Florida in 1936 and '37.

This being group biography, you'll choose favorites as you go along, but you won't be tempted to skip over the others' stories. That's one of Vaill's most impressive accomplishments. She's a skilled storyteller who makes you care about people and events even when they're unappetizing.

Barea, for example, is the Spanish government's press censor -- not a job likely to provoke your sympathies. Further, he cheats on his bland wife out of self-pity and takes up the Republican cause more out of convenience than idealism. Yet he's likable anyway, and you'll want him to embrace his better self as the story unfolds. Similarly, you might blanch at how Capa stages the "Falling Soldier" photograph that will make him famous -- and at his carelessness with the safety of Taro, a fellow photographer as well as his lover. Still, his romantic attitude proves winning.

Vaill, author of the acclaimed history "Everybody Was So Young," recognizes that she can't count on readers knowing much about the Spanish Civil War, which pitted a leftish, democratically elected government against the reactionary forces led by Gen. Francisco Franco. As a result, "Hotel Florida" starts ominously, with a three-page chronology, followed by three more pages listing the "principal characters," followed by the author's note. Sure enough, the book does occasionally bog down in asides and minor characters. You may find yourself wondering why Vaill chose the three couples that drive her narrative. They don't really have anything to do with one another, and plenty of other couples -- such as the novelist John Dos Passos and his wife, who have a dramatic confrontation with a self-righteous Hemingway -- could have been substituted.

One reason for Vaill's choice of subjects: She is fascinated by the liberated intellectualism and sexuality of Gellhorn, Kulcsar and Taro. She revels in their confident commandeering of love affairs for ideological and professional gain. The author seems to want to be these groundbreaking, patriarchy-busting women, investing them with superhero-like powers. "If you loved Gerta, you forgave her, no matter what," she writes of the risk-taking, fidelity-challenged Taro, who's a heady combination of Pippi Longstocking and the Artful Dodger. Kulcsar, when introduced to her future lover, chastises him for calling her senorita, proffering "a mischievous, little-girl grin." "We're all comrades here," Kulcsar says.

Vaill takes some minor liberties to keep the narrative humming along, paraphrasing her subjects' thoughts and opinions with surprising frequency, presumably to avoid using quotations that don't fit as well as she'd like. For the description of Capa's and Taro's first trip to the front, the author uses the details from a similar, better-documented journey made earlier by three other adventurers, which readers won't realize unless they dig into the end notes.

To be sure, the result is vivid, consistently engaging popular history. And the search for true heroes in this terrible conflict ultimately leads us into familiar territory, revealing the Spanish Civil War as a kind of warm-up event for the cynical media age that will follow. The Internet and reality TV aren't available to the three ambitious couples of "Hotel Florida." They have to make do with the primitive, soon-to-be-outdated tools at hand: smarts, daring and passion.

-- Douglas Perry

Full review at OregonLive.com
Profile Image for Mark.
9 reviews
May 31, 2014
This does not try to give a comprehensive history of the Spanish Civil War but instead focuses on six lives between the start of the Nationalist rebellion and the Republican surrender. They are all involved in "media"; American writers Ernest Hemingway and Martha Gellhorn, European photo-journalists Robert Capa and Gerda Taro, Spanish press officer Arturo Barea and his Austrian deputy, Ilsa Kulcsar.

The author, Amanda Vaill, presents information in strict chronological order. She avoids speculation and has based her account on letters, diaries and other writings,both from the main characters and from others who met them.

She also avoids judgement but questions arise naturally from her narrative. What are the ethics of getting a story, taking a photograph in a war zone? How is an individual to live, and love, and create, in the context of conflict and international politics.

Hemingway and Gellhorn get most attention; probably due to their volumes of words. That made me slightly uneasy - the extent to which Spain became a playground for Amercian liberals. Vaill certainly doesn't shy away from presenting her characters' flaws. Hemingway, in particular, emerges as a man of great energy and passion, but possibly not judgement or maturity.

If the author has a favourite it's Artuto Barea, the only Spaniard of the main cast. He begins the book in search of direction and ends it, on the losing side but clear about the truth that he needs to tell.

I want to read more Hemingway and Gellhorn, and look out for Capa and Taro's photographs. But I'd probably start with Barea's "The Forging of a Rebel".

Profile Image for Carol Storm.
Author 28 books194 followers
July 30, 2022
Some great gossip about Ernest Hemingway and Martha Gellhorn in Spain, during the Spanish Civil War. And some heart-rending passages about young lovers who lost their lives, drawn to the struggle against Fascism from all over Europe.

Amanda Vaill is a gifted writer, but she often seems more interested in gossiping about the beautiful people than explaining why the good guys lost the war. She puts it all down to England and France being too timid to intervene directly, and aid the Loyalists the way Germany and Italy helped General Franco. But she never even hints at the reasons the Spanish peasantry had to submit to Franco in the end -- mainly loyalty to the Catholic Church and hostility towards foreign ideas and change.

Another problem is that a lot of the stories that are meant to build Martha Gellhorn up only make her sound ridiculous. Her endless letters to Eleanor Roosevelt make you wonder how anyone could be so spoiled and so entitled. I mean, Eleanor was old, ugly, and had been through an awful lot of misery. But all Martha does is talk about her own problems. She's always shrill and indignant but never seems to feel anything but scorn and outrage. Hemingway is drunk and mean a lot of the time but at least he's not writing to Eleanor Roosevelt to complain every five minutes.

The strange thing is that For Whom the Bell Tolls is fiction, but it feels a lot more real than this.
Profile Image for Richard.
Author 2 books51 followers
July 24, 2015
The Hotel Florida, Madrid, Spain: rendevous, clubhouse, home, hot bed of intrigue - personal and political - between 1936 and 1939, doesn’t actually figure much into the book of the same name but does provide an anchor of sorts for the period. We can be pretty sure that anyone who was anyone in Madrid passed through at one time or another.

A little background: 1931, fair and free elections rid the Spanish people of a corrupt government run by the military and monarchy. Five years of political reform and turbulence follow. By 1936 Nationalist (read: fascist, read: bastard fascist) generals under the command of Francisco Franco, soon to become Generalissimo Franco, and aided by the bastard fascist governments of Hitler, and Mussolini, engage the Republic in all out war. Coming to the aid of Spain’s legitimate government are France (for a short while,) and Russia ‘til the end game sell out. Because every other government decides to play it safe and let events develop on their own, International Brigades are formed and enter the conflict with a modicum of training from the Russians, but often with no training at all. The drama will be played throughout the country, but the cities will be key, and Madrid the key to the kingdom.

Author Amanda Vaill guides us through the three years of conflict known as the Spanish Civil War by connecting us to the public and personal stories of a set of high profile writers and bureaucrats, who are or become couples during the proceedings.

Ernest Hemingway, in something of a slump, saw the war as an opportunity to write the truth about something (anything), and revivify his career. The fact that he was as much a propagandist as a truthful writer tends to get obscured by his own bloviating, but he and Gellhorn were not strangers to truth-stretching, and fabrication for the cause. Martha Gellhorn, a successful novelist and journalist, and opportunist of the first rank, met Hemingway in Key West. They began a flirtation that became an affair, and traveled to Spain together. Hemingway and Gellhorn both made a bundle with their dispatches, and eventually married, and divorced. After the war Hemingway used his material to craft the great novel For Whom the Bell Tolls, continued his career and eventually blew his brains out with a shotgun. Gellhorn became the pre-eminent war correspondent of the 20th century, and commited suicide at the age of 89.

Hungarian photographer Robert Capa (formally known as Andre Friedman ), and Gerta Taro (formally Gerta Pohorylle), met cute in Paris, traveled to Spain, changed their names, and wrote the book on wartime photojournalism, consistently risking life and limb to get the shots. Capa’s maxim was: If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough. Controversy exists around Capa’s most famous shot of a Loyalist soldier taking a bullet. Was it or was it not staged? Was it a staged shot that turned into an actual death? Seems to have been the latter, but the argument goes on. If the truth was bent, it was the last time in Capa’s career.

Here's a link to the photo in question: Falling Soldier

Capa’s career is historic. He was embedded with the first wave of the Normandy landing, co-founded the Magnum Photo Agency with Cartier-Bresson and others, and covered the major mid-20th century conflicts. He died a land-mine victim in Indochina in 1954. Gerta’s life was vibrant, and short lived. She learned photo-journalism as Capa’s slightly older partner (and lover), contributed highly charged photos to the archives, and was crushed by a tank while covering a Loyalist retreat. Her loss almost destroyed Capa, and he never got over the love of his life.

Arturo Berea, the only Spaniard in the cast, and his paramour Hungarian national Ilse Kulcsar were Communist functionaries who ran the press office in Madrid, and dealt first hand with the preening journalists, would be writers, and actual hard-core reporters who covered the war. They, too, had complicated relationships that led to divorces and their eventual marriage. Their job was a tough one, trying to balance truthful reporting with the needs of the party, and fighting none other than Uncle Joe himself in order to get the truth out to the world. Of course, Uncle Joe always won and Berea and Kulcsar fled the country before the end of the war, political exiles in Paris, frightened for their lives. Berea went on to become a successful journalist and novelist, and a primary source for Civil War history. Kulcsar’s career continued in its own right.

Players like John Dos Passos, Lillian Hellman, Dorothy Parker, and Langston Hughes flit in and out of the narrative, but the three couples are the ink of the matter.

Author Amanda Vaill weaves the personal stories into the political and combat narratives with great success, and never loses the thread by veering into tabloid territory. It’s a terrific balancing act. I learned more than I expected, and was quite taken by the story, and story-telling. It was worth the price of admission to learn about Gerta Taro who was, to me, the true spirit of the times.


Recommended as literary as well as political history.

Profile Image for Rick.
778 reviews2 followers
August 15, 2014
Previously Ms. Vaill wrote a book about Gerald and Sara Murphy, they of living well is the best revenge fame with a circle of friends that included Picasso, Fitzgerald, and Hemingway. The book was well received and while I haven’t read it I will soon because I thoroughly enjoyed Hotel Florida, a book about the Spanish Civil War through the lenses of three intriguing couples: Ernest Hemingway and Martha Gellhorn, Robert Capa and Gerda Taro, Arturo Barea and Ilsa Kulcsar. Two writers, two photographers, and two government censors. Only Barea is Spanish, a native of Madrid. Hemingway and Gellhorn are Americans, Capa is Hungarian, Taro is German Jew, and Kulcsar is Austrian.

All are on the Republican (or Loyalist) side opposed to Franco’s military rebellion, which was underwritten by fellow fascists Hitler and Mussolini. Spain’s government was socialist and La Causa attracted ad hoc interest and support from anti-fascists the world over as writers and artists flocked to Spain to report the war and others from all walks of life enlisted in the Republican international brigade as combatants. Western governments, however, declared and maintained neutrality, despite the heavy involvement by Germany and Italy, which included not just money, but arms, warplanes and tanks, training and combatants. On the Republican side, beyond the volunteers, Western neutrality opened the door for Joseph Stalin. The Soviet Union provided the Republicans with military support and its operatives would soon hijack the war’s prosecution, including savage purges that served Stalin but not the cause. In the end the Soviets represented a Catch-22 for the Republicans: couldn’t fight the war without them and couldn’t win it with them.

Hemingway and Gellhorn had met just before the war in Key West and became lovers in Spain. Capa and Taro, the second couple, were photojournalists and lovers as well. Capa was besotted with the fiercely independent Taro. All four practiced partisan journalism, striving to increase sympathy and support for the Republican government. Hemingway, recruited by Dos Passos, once his friend but already being treated more like a frenemy by Papa, worked on a propaganda film, The Spanish Earth, and reported for various American media outlets. Dos Passos, however, learned that a close friend of his has disappeared, first reported arrested and later admitted that he had been executed. No reason is given and Dos Passos’s loyalty to his friend and his friend's family results in his withdrawal from Spain. It also results in an end to his friendship with Hemingway and some shitty treatment by both Hemingway and Gellhorn.

The most intriguing couple is the least famous of the three, Barea and Kulcsar. Barea believes that the Communist directed censors have it wrong in suppressing bad news. He fights and wins some battles to be more open about Republican defeats and Hitler and Mussolini's support of Franco, arguing that transparency helps the cause. The western democracies, however, will not budge from their official neutrality. It soon becomes clear the Rebels (Franco's fascists) will win and Stalin, already having removed the Spanish government’s gold reserves to “safety,” turns his attention to his developing pact with Hitler, becoming more interested in purges and limiting Soviet engagement. Barea and Kulcsar are forced to flee Spain if they want to survive the war.

It’s a compelling book that turns a clear eye on the three couples and the larger issues of the Spanish Civil War. Vaill is a great synthesizer of sources and a brilliant story-teller--her side story of a meeting between the Soviet’s main operator in Spain and Josef Stalin is chillingly emblematic of the kind of terror cultivated by the dictator. It is what popular history should be at its best: reliable, focused, informative, and eminently readable. It also does what only the best do: inspires further reading. I’ve already re-read The Fifth Column and Four Stories of the Spanish Civil War and For Whom the Bell Tolls, revisited Capa’s and Taro’s amazing photographs, and ordered Barea’s memoirs.
Profile Image for Katrice.
214 reviews25 followers
August 3, 2017
I have only two real requirements from a book that tries to cover/explain historical events. One is that when I come to the end, I kinda feel I now have a better grasp of just WHAT was going on. The second is that it be readable. That reading it is a pleasure and not a chore. Hotel Florida more or less fulfills the requirements.

Have to admit, it fills the second requirement a little better. It is really an interesting read. The narrative is cohesive and compelling. There are times it is really hard to put it down.

Did it fulfill the first requirement? Yes, but maybe not that much. I still kinda find the whole Spanish Civil War confusing. Though that might not necessarily be the fault of the author, but because the Spanish Civil War was complex and confusing period. For one thing, as I was going along I had to keep reminding myself that the legit government was actually the "liberals" who liked democracy. . . or you know, communism and socialism. . . while the "rebels" wanted the monarchy back. . . or fascism. . . the sides are really not too clear to me though.

What it does do a pretty good job of is illustrating/illuminating how tied in the whole conflict was to WWII. How the ties/lines between the Allies and Axis' feel as they did. In that sense, the Spanish Civil was almost like a mini-WWII or pre-WWII I suppose. Did not realize that, so, there learned something.

Also learned something about Ernest Hemmingway and his taste in women. He did kinda like them smart and adventurous, they were all journalists of some stripe or another. . . and he basically had affairs with all of them in the guise of mentorship. Though Martha Gellhorn comes off as really cool because her motive seems to be equal part infatuation with Hemmingway and also a real journalistic spirit of I want to see/write about what people need to hear about. In fact its kinda implied that that's what eventually led to the split, Hemmingway becomes exasperated with her journalistic spirit and Gellhorn feels stifled. . . So I guess I learned something about the both of them through this book.

Anyway. Would recommend it.
Profile Image for Tuck.
2,225 reviews211 followers
January 2, 2015
an accessible entry into spanish civil war, using 6 characters who were there, reporting, photographing, working for the republic. author tries to synthesize much past writings and histories, to a bit uneven affect, to help illustrate what happened, how western press may or may not have helped the republic, and some aftermath of the debacle. a good starting point for this history, though payne and preston perhaps have been over all this ground in much more depth We Saw Spain Die: Foreign Correspondents in the Spanish Civil War Spain: A Unique History and barea's autobigraphy has to be one of the most compelling and gutsiest of The Forging of a Rebelinside the war Spain: A Unique History

Profile Image for Laura Zlogar.
59 reviews
March 10, 2016
This is a book I wanted to like. Having read George Orwell's Homage to Catalonia, I thought this book would provide me with a lively account of the Spanish Civil War. While author Amanda Vaill does give us a sense of the war from the perspective of journalists and Spanish loyalists, the book just didn't work for me. First, its disjointed narrative shifting from one character's viewpoint to another was bothersome. Second, I was bothered by the novelistic way in which the story unfolds. Some readers may like the way this nonfiction work reads like a novel, projecting internal thoughts and feelings onto Ernest Hemingway, Martha Gelhorn, Robert Capa, and others. I did not. While the author includes pages and pages of notes to indicate the sources for her depictions, I still questioned the credibility of such speculations.

I found this book a slog and forced myself to finish. I was also hoping that the book would disabuse me of my inherent dislike for Hemingway. It only confirmed that he was petulant, egocentric, petty, bullish, and resentful of anyone else's success.
1,135 reviews12 followers
June 5, 2014
The telling of the story of the Spanish Civil War through the eyes of several different people including Ernest Hemingway, his girlfriend Martha Gellhorn, a couple talented young photographers, a member of the Spanish government official and a few others. What they all have in common is that from time to time they stayed at the Hotel Florida in Madrid. This is a well researched work about the unsettled world of Spain during that era as well as the unsettled lives of the major characters portrayed. The reading of the book is well worth the investment of time required to look into their compelling lives.
Profile Image for Annie Garvey.
309 reviews
June 11, 2014
I have a naive understanding of the Spanish Civil War. I thought that Spain was used as a testing ground for Nazi armament. I didn't realize that Russia was doing the same thing. It started out as a Socialist state Spain being attacked by Spain's military lead by Franco. Vaill does a great job of explaining this. It's a shame that this was nonfiction. Most of the characters deserved happy endings.
Profile Image for Moniek.
337 reviews17 followers
Want to read
August 11, 2022
DNF @ 64%

Chciałabym wytłumaczyć swój problem z tą książką. Podziwiam Amandę Vaill za jej głęboki, wszechstronny research do tej pracy oraz to, ile informacji potrafiła przekazać czytelnikowi. Naprowadziła mnie na nowe tropy, historie i postacie, które bardzo mnie zainteresowały.
Jednak coś mi nie pasuje w stylu autorki. Okropnie mnie zmęczył, nie chciało mi się już otwierać dalej tej książki, nie jest dla mnie, może nie atrakcyjny, ale ciekawy. Rozumiem, czemu może komuś się przypodobać, może wam też się spodoba, ale ze mną bardzo się gryzł. Myślę, że można było tę historię przedstawić w sposób ciekawszy.

Zostawiam na liście do przeczytania, może jeszcze kiedyś się zmotywuję, żeby dokończyć.
Na razie za to poczytam sobie coś Barea, coś Spendera, książkę o Capie i Taro, i tak uzupełnię sobie ich historie.
Profile Image for Stephen Jerrett.
5 reviews1 follower
July 6, 2023
Interesting view of the Spanish Civil War from the journalists perspective. Probably the first major conflict to be covered by the media. Aware of Hemingway but his role eclipsed by others. He came across as a self seeking blowhard rather than the hero previously portrayed.
Also gives a taste of the conditions the international brigades endured.
Profile Image for Jill Meyer.
1,171 reviews107 followers
August 5, 2019
The Spanish Civil War, a prelude to WW2, began in 1936 and ended almost three years later. In the war years, Spanish cities and towns were turned into battlegrounds and hundreds of thousands of Spaniards were killed. Also killed in the fighting were foreigners sympathetic to one or the other sides in the war and had traveled to Spain to take part in the war. The "International Brigades" were made up of men from the US, Britain, and European countries, wanting to help the Republicans, fighting off Franco and his Nationalist troops. The Germans sent men and materiel as well; looking forward to their own coming war, they tested out new weapons on the hapless Spanish. In addition to the fighters, the press came to Madrid and other Spanish towns. Writers and photographers hoping to both let the world in on what was happening in Spain. And if they also gained a bit of fame while covering the war, well, that was good, too. Certainly many war correspondents who became famous in the following big war, gained experience in covering the Spanish Civil War.

Amanda Vaill, author of two other superb works of non-fiction, looks at three "couples" who were part of the press coverage of the war in her new book, "Hotel Florida: Truth, Love, and Death in the Spanish Civil War", Two of the six were writers, Ernest Hemingway and his soon-to-be third wife, Martha Gellhorn. Two were photographers, Hungarian Robert Capa (he changed his name from Endre Friedmann when he began his career) and his companion and photographic partner, Gerda Taro. The other two highlighted by Vaill, were Spaniard Arturo Barea, who ran the press office in Madrid. He was joined by an Austrian woman, Ilsa Kulcsar. The Hotel Florida was the main hotel in Madrid, used by the correspondents and photographers covering the war.

Vaill does an excellent job at looking at all six main characters, as well as secondary-to-the-story characters. She doesn't only write about what was happening in Spain; she puts her subjects in Madrid only after telling how they got there. In most cases, their lives were building to the point of covering the battles, and most enjoyed success after the war was over. And by writing in shortish chapters, giving month, year, and place, she is able to control the narrative.

She writes with a bit of a cutting edge, but that makes her book even more interesting. Amanda Vaill has written a superb look at people and places in a certain time.

By the way, if the Spanish Civil War is of special interest, you might like to look into the work of Rebecca Pawel, who has written four mysteries starring a Nationalist police officer in Madrid, at the end of the war. The first book is called, "Death of a Nationalist" and is a great book about a man who fought for a cause he believed in. Most of the readers would not be sympathetic to the character but Pawel writes with such nuance that her characters and plots are excellently drawn.

Also, Amanda Vaill refers to the International Center of Photography in New York City. Begun by Robert Capa and continued after his death in 1954 by his brother, the museum is filled with the photographic work of Robert Capa and other war photographers. A great place to spend a few hours.
Profile Image for Louise.
1,672 reviews301 followers
January 14, 2015
The hotel of the intriguing title is in the background as the horror and tragedy of the Spanish Civil War is shown through the stories of three couples.

Arturo Barea is juggling a wife and a mistress as the war begins when he falls in love with Ilsa Kulcsar. Ilsa, a leftist activist from Austria, left her marriage to go to Madrid for the anti-fascist cause. Robert Capa from Hungary and Gerda Tam of Poland met in Paris, the first destination for anti-fascist expats on their way to Spain. Ernest Hemingway traveled to Spain in part for the republican cause and in part for romantic (with both small and capital "r"s) adventure. Marsha Gellhorn a writer in her own right, traveled with her famous writer partner Hemingway to cover the war. The women show bravery, commitment, and enterprise, at least equal toand maybe greater than their more famous partners.

In the beginning the expat situation is defined by Barea as he opines that they were "self-satisfied posers, playing at helping the war effort; they didn't really care what happened to Spain." This is borne out by the accounts of lunches, dinners, shopping and furs. As the war grinds on, these accounts wane (although where there is Hemingway, there is booze) and many of the expats show enormous courage. Gerda gives her life and everyone but Hemingway takes significant risks with theirs.

This author has done a very good job. The war itself has a simple premise: should a general be able to make war on his country's democracy in order to attain power? Unfortunately the politics of it, so well portrayed in this book as seen through the experiences of these 6 people, were not so straightforward.

While the writing is good throughout, it does take a while to get into the narrative and there are a few lulls. Overall, the book is pulls you in because you come to understand and care about the characters and the deplorable abandonment of Spain by the world's leading democracies (who later had to face the war with fascism that they had tried to avoid in Spain). The ending describing the stream of refugees and the purges that followed overwhelmed me.

There are good photos, several showing the power of Capa's and Tam's work. The index got me all the info I needed. The list of principal characters is helpful.

This is a heavy read and an achievement for the author. It is recommended for those interested in this period and/or the 6 people profiled.
Profile Image for Dick Reynolds.
Author 15 books37 followers
September 21, 2015
Author Amanda Vaill tells the story of the Spanish Civil War in a chronological fashion from July 1936 in Madrid to March 1939 in Paris, Key West and Havana.
Ernest Hemingway and Martha Gellhorn are major characters, exposing themselves constantly to danger while covering the war, writing about it, and managing to have a romantic affair between battles. Hemingway was still married to his second wife, Pauline Pfeiffer, but that didn’t seem to bother him much. He was intrigued by her gorgeous legs—“they start at the shoulders,” he once remarked. She didn’t care much for having sex with him and only wanted to get it over with quickly. Writing was her real passion.
Renowned combat photographer Robert Capa is also at the front lines with his colleague and lover, Gerda Taro, inventing modern photojournalism. Their startling and dramatic pictures often graced the covers of Life, Time and other international magazines. Also playing major roles are Arturo Barea and Ilsa Kulcsar, Madrid’s foreign press chief and his deputy, respectively, trying to get the truth out to the world which conflicted with loyalty to their cause. One of the interesting features of this book was learning how Nazi Germany and Faciist Italy were providing weapons and air support to the combatants, using Spain as a rehearsal and proving ground for their coming activities in WWII. Joe Stalin’s spies were also lurking in the shadows of Madrid, adding a bit of spice to this witches brew.
Vaill provides maps, a chronology, a list of Principal Characters, an Epilogue telling what happened to our characters after the war, black & white photos, and a detailed set of footnotes confirming her meticulous research. Although the book is clearly nonfiction, it often reads like an exciting novel.
Profile Image for Terry Curtis.
71 reviews2 followers
June 15, 2014
This is an extremely fine, tragic, and (saddest of all) relevant book -- a historical page turner where the fact that we know how badly it turns out for Spain and might know the fate of its six major figures doesn't hold the narrative's power back for a moment. Hemingway, Gelhorn, Capa, Taro, Barea, and Kulcsar -- Vaill forces you to re-evaluation those about whom you know something and truly illuminate those you don't. This is personal history on the highest order -- how politics, art, and friendship intersect at a crucial moment in world affairs. One can read this and think of Iraq and Egypt today. Or, alas, one can read this and realize that the divisions in Spain at that moment were as deep and as evenly divided as we are today; that the reforms of the Republic were as essentially and necessary and welcomed by half as those in our country; and that half a country can take an action which will doom the whole country for half a century. Full disclosure: Amanda is a close and old friend. She knows (and you who are my friends know) I do not bestow such praise lightly or out of acquaintance.
Profile Image for Michael.
218 reviews46 followers
December 8, 2014
The author brings segments of the Spanish Civil War to life through the lives of three couples (Hemingway and Gellhorn, Barea and Kulcsar, Capa and Taro) and their associates, whose lives intersected at the Hotel Florida in Madrid. She has done a remarkable job of turning material from diaries, letters, news reports, and films into a gripping narrative of the competing interests that tore apart Spain in the bloody prelude to World War II. The book includes a few of the photographs of Capa and Taro, as well as useful notes and a bibliography. While usually evenhanded in her portrayal of her characters, she does seem to be a bit too negative in her assessment of Hemingway. Both Orwell's Homage to Catalonia and Furst's Midnight in Europe make nice companion readings for this fine historical work that reads like a novel.
Profile Image for Katie Stafford.
129 reviews3 followers
June 15, 2014
Hotel Florida is the book I wanted to write, but it appears Amanda Vaill has beat me to it, and with great success. The book recapitulates the experiences, participation, and actions of six renowned journalists during the Spanish Civil War and their own personal struggles with integrity, truth, fear, and love in a brutal Civil War. I found the book to be quite well written, and I especially enjoyed the portraits of Hemingway and Taro. Vaill does a good job covering and questioning how adventurous foreigners used or exploited the Spanish Civil War for their own personal desire to find meaning in life and adventure. She does a good job of capturing the complexities of the war, but without falling into cynicism.
Profile Image for Fran Johnson.
Author 1 book9 followers
June 13, 2014
The Hotel Florida is where Hemingway met Martha Gellhorn, a very accomplished war correspondent herself. But most of the action takes place in Spain during the Spanish Civil War where idealistic young people find their lives are changed forever. This is the story about six individuals, three couples...Hemingway and Gellhorn, famed war photographer Robert Capa and the talented Gerda Taro, and Arturo Barea, the Spanish government's foreign press chief and Ilsa Kulcsar, his Austrian deputy.

Spain was the testing ground for things that later happened in WWII. It's a sobering book about war and what it does to people, civilians, soldiers, newspaper correspondents, and photographers.
Profile Image for Ollie Z Book Minx.
1,819 reviews17 followers
January 12, 2016
Engaging and accessible but lacking a sorely needed introduction and/or conclusion. I can see some of what the Hotel Florida represents as a symbol but it would have been better if I hadn't had to tease it out for myself. The end of the war ends the tale much too abruptly. Also, I would've liked some background on how/why Ms. Vaill chose this subject and the figures central to her story.

The elements of the theme around truth, and the manipulation thereof, are well written. I got a bit tired of the name dropping (eg why is Fitzgerald in this?) and the "love" aspect of the subtitle at times ran away with the narrative (eg why does Pauline Hemmingway have such a large role?).
50 reviews1 follower
May 26, 2014
Very good narrative of the 1936-1939 Spanish Civil War; told through the eyes of several participants on both the Fascist and Communist sides of the conflict, as well as war correspondents, including Ernest Hemingway, Martha Gellhorn and combat photographer Robert Capa. If you are not familiar with this conflict, as I was not, the book starts slowly, until you figure out the characters and ideologies they espouse. Worth the time and effort to read.
Profile Image for Estelle.
252 reviews19 followers
January 12, 2016
A gripping description of the Spanish Civil War and its implication for the rest of Europe as seen not through the eyes of the combatants, but through the eyes of three couples who wrote about it and photographed it. This felt more "up close and personal" and made sense out of a very confusing time period. Very readable. Pictures were included in the edition I read.
Profile Image for The Advocate.
296 reviews21 followers
May 12, 2014
"Amanda Vaill has written a book full of truth. Given the current state of the world, reading it is an act of citizenship."
Read more here.
Profile Image for Colin Fisher.
Author 2 books
July 4, 2018
Although taken largely from secondary sources I found the book to be surprisingly original in its approach (the Spanish Civil War as seen through the experiences of three relationships) and enjoyable to read too.
Profile Image for Bill.
175 reviews
June 21, 2014
Great account. Vail writes truthfully and with heart.
Profile Image for Sarah.
7 reviews
May 21, 2014
Top-notch research by the author made this book of the year for me and the year isn't even half over.
Profile Image for Richard.
210 reviews42 followers
April 17, 2016
Amanda Vaill tells the story of the Spanish Civil War (1936 to 1939) through the experiences of six main characters, who lived as three couples during the time covered by the book. These three couples experienced the war in different contexts, although they would all come to know each other and form friendships among themselves. The most notable were Ernest Hemingway and Martha Gelhorn, who met during 1936 in Key West Florida, at Sloppy Joe's Saloon. Hemingway was by this time a world-renowned author, although he hadn't written a novel in years. Gelhorn was just starting her journalism career, but Hemingway took an instant liking to her. His wife Pauline had to endure his continued association with Martha when she lingered a while in Key West after the conclusion of her family vacation.

Earnest was at this time making arrangements to go to Spain to cover the Civil War there as part of the filmmaker Joris Ivens' retinue engaged in making a film on the war, and he had also wrangled some paying contracts to write reports on the war. Hemingway was entirely sympathetic to the Loyalist cause and also was anxious to get to the war before it was over because it was a new risky opportunity to show off his manhood. He also needed a new source of writing inspiration. Gelhorn began a romance with Earnest and it was decided she would accompany him to Spain and report for "Collier's" magazine.

These lovers/journalists settled in at the Hotel Florida in Madrid. Reporters, curiosity-seekers and leftist soldiers were traveling to Spain in droves at this time, and the Hotel Florida became the billet for many photographers, writers and Loyalist air force pilots. Hemingway ran his unofficial salon in his and Martha's two rooms, where late-night card games and drinking took place to the tune of Chopin records. In the morning, the media people would head out to various locations where they tried to find fighting occurring. Most of the journalists in Madrid were sympathetic to the Loyalist cause, and any way, their dispatches would not have been allowed to leave the country if they did not pass the purview of the Republican censors. This was no problem for Hemingway, who identified strongly with "la causa". His collaboration with Ivens and others, including John Dos Passos and Archibald MacLeish on the film "The Spanish Earth" was intended to produce a propaganda documentary showing the depredations of the Fascist Nationalists on the ordinary Spanish people.

The cause that drew people from around the world to see the fighting in Spain, or even to join the soldiers in the front lines, was anti-fascism. Vaill makes it plain that she is not presenting a history of the Spanish Civil War, since that subject can be studied in depth in any number of other books. Nevertheless, one can gain a good basic understanding of the war from reading "Hotel Florida". As indicated in the first paragraph above, she has chosen to show how some notable characters reacted to this struggle, and how they interacted with each other. In the meantime, she presents a brief, clearly laid-out background of how the volatile political situation in early-to-mid 1930's Spain led to a power struggle between leftist and rightist opponents. By 1936, the Popular Front leftists won a fragile control over the government and gave their pro-fascist enemies in business, the military and the Catholic Church an opening to lash back at them, partly because of the unprecedented social reforms they enacted without a sizable political majority. In effect, the Republican, Loyalist, legally ruling faction faced a revolt by the Army's generals, whose Nationalist forces fought under the leadership of General Francisco Franco.

The interesting media and other characters who form the basis of this book are all sympathetic to the Loyalist cause, which is fighting not only against the rebelling Spanish Army, but arms and personnel supplied by Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. One reason why the Civil War became increasingly ugly and violent is because of the "dress rehearsal for World War II" assistance/interference subjected to both sides of the conflict. The original Loyalist forces comprised mostly of militia volunteers became a leftist regular army, supplemented by international volunteer brigades, with sizable shipments of arms and military advisors from Russia. The Nationalists had Italian army forces to fight alongside the Spanish military, backed up by considerable air force support from Germany's Condor Legion.

Hemingway and Gelhorn have already been depicted in at least one movie based on their work, and romance, in Spain. A good case can be made also for the dramatic presentation of the lives of Arturo Barea and Ilsa Kulczar. Barea was a leftist Spanish bureaucrat who tried to find a place for himself in support of the Loyalists after the outbreak of the war. He ended up as the head of the Spanish government's censorship office. Kulczar was an unhappily married Austrian journalist who came to Madrid and quickly became Barea's interpreter/assistant, and lover. The dramatic tension Vaill reports in their lives derives from the well-meaning devotion of Barea to getting admittedly censored reporting of the struggle against the fascists out to the world's media outlets, during which the catastrophic near-defeat of the forces guarding Madrid provided him with an opportunity to personal advancement to the head of the government's press office. He would work, and live, under the watchful eye of one of Stalin's trusted operatives and his non-membership in the Communist Party and ultimate skepticism of how the war effort was led would endanger his, and Ilsa's lives.

The other couple who rose together from obscurity to world wide recognition of their work consisted of the Hungarian Endre Friedmann, and the German Gerda Pohorylle. They were truly extraordinary people and it was enjoyable to read how Vaill validated their lives. They both had anti-fascist leanings as a result of their bad experiences in their home countries with the anti-semitism being unleashed in Europe. They had met in Paris in 1935. I believe it was Gerda who came up with the idea of changing their names to make their work, especially Endre's photography, more appealing to intolerant western audiences, so they reinvented their identities as Gerda Taro and Robert Capa. They were a photo team, both taking world-class pictures for international news publication, in Spain. It wouldn't be an exaggeration to state that the visual images many people conjure up of the Spanish Civil War are based on the photos these two people produced while constantly exposing themselves to danger in the war's fighting. As the book jumped back and forth to the unfolding stories of the main protagonists as the war proceeded chronologically, I found myself most satisfied in finding each new chapter on Taro/Capa.

The misery inflicted on Spain and her people no doubt was tragically prolonged by the continued, competing interference from Moscow, and Berlin/Rome. The military aid to the Loyalists from Russia was especially grounded on cynical motives, since Joe Stalin's government had duped the Spanish finance minister to send Spain's national precious metal treasure, dating back to the Conquistadores, to Moscow for "safekeeping" in return for military aid. Stalin and Hitler both had reasons for keeping the war going in Spain, as Vaill makes clear. Stalin was on his anti-Trotsky witch-hunt, and wanted the world press to remain preoccupied with the events in Spain instead of looking into his mock trials and purges in Russia. His success in deflecting attention away from his crimes, and the only too willing acceptance of western Communists and sympathizers to believe Uncle Joe's lies is one reason most international coverage of the war flattered the Loyalists. Hitler, for his part, was delighted to be able to test the lethality of his aircraft on Guernica and other Spanish military and civilian centers. His diplomatic outrages in the Rhineland and Austria proceeded while so much journalistic attention was being placed on Spain.

Russian military aid started drying up in 1938, and the Naitonalists kept taking more and more territory until they prevailed. Stalin had seen the cowardly response of Great Britain's government to the Sudenten crisis of that year in the wake of the head-in-the-sand non-intervention policies of England, France and the United States toward the Spanish War, and he was infuriated that no one outside Spain was standing up to Fascism. In a turn-about of strategy, he recalled his military and diplomatic personnel, and had his loyal generals who fought the good fight against the Fascists in Spain arrested and executed, in anticipation of the negotiations he had started with Hitler for a non-aggression pact.

Amanda Vaill's extensive research has produced a solid foundation of authenticity in her description of the war and also to the biographical sketches of the main characters in the book. I found it to be a thoroughly enjoyable and informative reading experience.

Profile Image for Audrey Ashbrook.
184 reviews3 followers
June 18, 2022
Hotel Florida by Amanda Vaill is a non-fiction book about three couples who stayed at the Hotel Florida during the Spanish Civil War from 1936-1939. Ernest Hemingway and Martha Gellhorn, writers and war correspondents. Robert Capa and Gerda Taro, photographers who invented modern photojournalism. Arturo Barea and Ilsa Kulcsar, radio broadcasters in Madrid who fought to tell the world the truth behind the Spanish Civil War. 

What a compelling book! I loved learning about how these couples risked their lives to cover the war; they each fell in love and faced death over and over for the cause. I'd just read Hemingway's The Fifth Column and Four Stories of the Spanish Civil War so I was curious to know the true story, and was delighted to get to know about his fellow war correspondent, Martha Gellhorn, the photographers Capa and Taro, and the radio broadcasters Barea and Ilsa; what fascinating and dangerous lives they lived, all entangled at the Hotel Florida in Madrid. 

On to watch the movie Hemingway and Gellhorn and read Death in the Making, the book that Capa published of his and Taro's war photographs following her death in 1937.
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