The Ambulance Drivers
Hemingway, Dos Passos, and a Friendship Made and Lost in War
After meeting for the first time on the front lines of World War I, two aspiring writers forge an intense twenty-year friendship and write some of America's greatest novels, giving voice to a "lost generation" shaken by war.
Eager to find his way in life and words, John Dos Passos first witnessed the horror of trench warfare in France as a volunteer ambulance driver retrieving the dead and seriously wounded from the front line. Later in the war, he briefly met another young writer, Ernest Hemingway, who was just arriving for his service in the ambulance corps. When the war was over, both men knew they had to write about it; they had to give voice to what they felt about war and life.
Their friendship and collaboration developed through the peace of the 1920s and 1930s, as Hemingway's novels soared to success while Dos Passos penned the greatest antiwar novel of his generation, Three Soldiers. In war, Hemingway found adventure, women, and a cause. Dos Passos saw only oppression and futility. Their different visions eventually turned their private friendship into a bitter public fight, fueled by money, jealousy, and lust.
Rich in evocative detail -- from Paris cafes to the Austrian Alps, from the streets of Pamplona to the waters of Key West -- The Ambulance Drivers is a biography of a turbulent friendship between two of the century's greatest writers, and an illustration of how war both inspires and destroys, unites and divides.
Two of the most significant writers of their generation, John Dos Passos and Ernest Hemingway, are described by Morris (Pulitzer) in his evocative, lively volume about how differently they emerged from the crucible of WWI. Those differences, and their disparate personalities, affected how each wrote about that monumental event: Hemingway reveled in the adrenaline rush of danger and heroism, while Dos Passos came away sickened by the wanton destruction and the banality of the military machine. As Morris perceptively argues, "Unlike Hemingway, who sought to describe the desolate world with honest clarity, Dos Passos wanted his writing to change it." The writers met briefly as ambulance drivers during the war and became friends in the vibrant expatriate community of postwar Paris. Morris's narrative demonstrates how, despite jealousies and differences, the two men found common ground, only to split over their opposing views of the Spanish Civil War. Both worked feverishly to find a voice for their "lost" generation and lead a literary revolution, albeit in divergent ways. Dos Passos will be the less recognizable name to most readers, and Morris does a great service by reinserting him into the picture of post-WWI American writers.