“Across the River and Into the Trees” by Ernest Hemingway

Across the RiverTitle: Across the River and Into the Trees
Author: Ernest Hemingway
ISBN: 978068482553
Pages: 288
Release date: December 12, 1996 (this edition)
Publisher: Scribner
Genre: Fiction
Format: Audiobook
Source: Library
Rating: 2.5 out of 5

Plot Summary

Would it be too cynical to say “none to speak of”? Oh, all right. A 51-year-old army colonel goes to a town in post-WWII Italy to visit his girlfriend and go duck hunting. While there, he tries to get his affairs in order, reminiscing about his life and how he turned into such a sourpuss.


Glad we got that plot taken care of. This story is really about two relationships in the Colonel’s life: with his 19 year old girlfriend Renata, and with his own past.

The book has innumerable flashbacks to more interesting times in the Colonel’s life, featuring battles lost and won, and mistakes made that cost lives. It has left the Colonel a coldly competent but bitter man.

What the novel fails to explain is exactly what Renata sees in him. Renata is almost painfully naïve for the entire story. She apparently comes from a wealthy family, but nonetheless is happy to pose and preen for the Colonel, and finds nothing amiss about the fact that he constantly calls her “daughter” and is in fact older than her father. Here are a few examples of their not at all romantic interactions:

The Colonel said. “Turn your head sideways, beauty.”

“Like this?”

“Like that,” the Colonel said. “Exactly like that.”

And then there’s this gem:

“Walk a little ahead so I can see.”

She walked ahead and the Colonel said, “You walk like a champion before he is the champion. If you were a horse I would buy you if I had to borrow the money at twenty per cent a month.”

“You don’t have to buy me.”

“I know about that. That was not what we were discussing. We were discussing your gait.”

What a charmer! There is nothing a woman loves more than being compared to a well-bred horse!

It seems like half of their interactions are just the colonel commenting on how beautiful she is. Wouldn’t she get tired of this? I know I did.

Why a beautiful young girl from a good family can’t find better prospects than a 50-year-old colonel who occasionally drops by isn’t explained. Which is a real shame. None of their interactions feel true, and as a result Renata comes across as a very limited, flat character.  The Colonel is a bit better developed, but still isn’t exactly compelling. It doesn’t help that the characters have to do all the heavy lifting for the nonexistent plot.

Conclusion:  There are better Hemingway books to read, and I recommend you check one of those out instead.

Don’t just take my word for it! Buy Across the River and Into the Trees for yourself from an independent bookstore. Each sale from this link helps support Melody & Words.

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