Hemingway writes this collection of short stories in a true macho fashion. Hemingway loved his big sports and we venture in this book into many short tales, apparently many autobiographical, of hunting and fishing trips, of bullfights and horse-racing tracks. Sometimes we have to forgive the tough, crude use of language of the era. Wops and Niggers are weaved into the tale and overall the descriptions are oft brutal. This is a man’s book and the tales are all male-orientated. Hemingway never fails to capture the descriptive magic of a scene and even if a tale is only a brief couple of pages, our readers’ imaginations are left with a well-constructed fantastical imager, so typical of the simplistic literal style we associate with this great fiction writer.
This Hemingway adventure is set in Cuba and involves a wily sailor who is involved in the murky smuggling business between Havana and his home port in Florida. Harry Morgan is a man in conflict with his morals. He is a family man, fully supportive of his wife and daughters and he aims to put food on his table. But, how he does this, is with a selfish immoral attitude. After a chartered fishing expedition goes wrong and his client fails to pay, Harry is left to make up his income in any way possible. The dark episodes in the story are sudden and explosive and the murky world of criminals, murder, revolutionaries, smuggling and rummy alcoholics jumps out of the pages at you with venom. There is a contrasting world of high society where things aren’t so desperate, but equally there are sinister undertones here too. The main tale ends in tragedy though one can tell that Harry has been riding his luck for a while. To Have And To Have Not is a vivid tale and makes one question morals. Harry, the antihero, goes from bad to worse, yet, as a reader you are always looking our for him and hoping he gets through and achieves salvation.
My journey through Hemingway’s works continues and ‘Men Without Women’ was no let down. The testosterone is flowing in this collection of short stories and the author’s narrative is constantly catching the macho emotions amid the standard Hemingway vivid scene description. We move from bullfighters, to gangsters, to boxers, to road trippers. Often the stories are based in the romance of continental Europe, a place for which, it is clear, Hemingway has a special affinity. very often we leave the story abruptly with a typical open-ended cliffhanger, allowing us to ponder the future development of the characters. Each of the stories could quite easily become a novel in themselves and in that sense ‘Men Without Women’ leaves us thirsty for more.
This is only a short book and I read it in a couple of hours. The brevity doesn’t, however, take away from it being a great tale. An old fisherman heads out to sea off his native Cuba and endures an epic battle with a Marlin, the first fish he has caught in over 80 days. He is alone at sea, his unsuccessful fishing meaning that his child partner can no longer go out to sea with him. The man faces a battle with his aging body and mind in addition to the fight he has with the graceful, strong fish. After three days of hard labor, he finally lands the Marlin. Unable to fit on the boat he has to strap the fish to the outside and, having drift far too out to sea for comfort, he faces a long struggle home, where his real battle against the elements of the sea begin. Sharks are the danger and, as the dead catch releases its scent and blood into the water, the scavengers of the ocean set out to undo the old man’s work. He repels the attacks using every weapon to hand but they are too plentiful and finally he reaches shore, with just a skeleton remaining of the giant Marlin. He is glad to be home and exhausted, he can face his community with a little more pride as from the skeleton they can tell that he is still a great fisherman.
Hemingway weaves his magic, using simple language and colorful prose imagery. He obviously has a deep love for fishing and his knowledge of the sea comes direct from his own fishing experience. The novel captures the reality of ocean-fishing and with the loneliness of the sea offset by the old man’s fondness of baseball and his dreams of lions on the beach in Africa, we read a cleverly weaved tale and it is no surprise to me that Ernest Hemingway was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature as a direct result of writing this masterpiece.
My love affair with Hemingway continues and Fiesta is the latest work of his that I have thrown myself into and conveniently it is all about a love affair. The tension of the love between Jake and the wild aristocratic Brett builds up in the city of Paris. We see a high life throughout this book. The chief protagonists certainly understand how best to enjoy their time. Washing machines and home cooked dinners are not on the agenda. We flit from bar to bar, restaurant to restaurant and the mouthwatering selection of food and drink is so succulently described that by the time Jake hit San Sebastian towards the end of the book I could actually savor the taste of his drinks. Hemingway is rich on description and all of his writing very cleverly conjures up mental images describing in detail the environment his characters inhabit. Fiesta is no different and if anything the landscape described in this book is perhaps richer. We can see that the author knows his terrain well. He is passionate about France and Spain and nowhere does this passion manifest itself more than at the Festival of San Fermin at Pamplona. From ‘Death In The Afternoon’ I know that Hemingway deeply admires bullfighting. The sejour at San Fermin allows this knowledge and love of La Corrida to manifest itself in fiction. Jake, an American, is rare as a foreigner, in that he is an initiate of this cultural sport. The relationship with Montoya, in whose hotel they reside, is poignant in the way Jake and Montoya interact as they discuss the intricacies of the weeks long activities centered upon the bulls. The wild partying of the week long fiesta culminates in an anarchic breakup of the group of friends. the boxer loses his temper, there is an excess of alcohol and Brett, who is the center of attention for all the men, decides to run off with the festival’s leading young bullfighter. They split away and head off in their own directions and it is Jake who comes to the rescue of Brett as she winds up in Madrid. It is obvious throughout that they deeply care for each other but their very lifestyle doesn’t allow them to be together. As the book ends with them travelling down a Madrid street in a cab, the accidental bump in the road brings them together at last? But it is only chance, the tension is never resolved and Hemingway leaves it to our own imagination as to where the story continues. The conclusion wasn’t quite as dramatic as I know Hemingway can be. there was no real heavy twist and the book just nicely wound down. I like Fiesta as it describes regions of the world I am familiar with and love. It is a happy book which leaves the reader content and satisfied and feeling as though he has been on the same journey as this group of wild party people.
This very brief work is a collection of Hemingway’s writings as a foreign correspondent for the Toronto Star. The author’s bright prose lights up what I believe to be the most fantastic city on earth, during the turbulent times of the 1920s. Paris was in a post-Versailles dilemma, the politicians fighting for German reparations and dangerously questing into the Ruhr valley. Hemingway vibrantly details the glamorous life in the French capital. The post-absinthe hedonism, the cafe culture, the nightlife of the Moulin Rouge. He contrasts the French joie de vivre with that of other European capitals and with a flamboyant passion for Paris, he brings to life this exotic city for all his readers.
Farewell to Arms is said to be Hemingway’s best book. Set in the Spanish Civil War, Robert Jordan is an American fighting in the International Brigades for the Republicans. He is tasked with blowing a bridge behind enemy lines and joins a band of guerrillas based in a cave, nor far from the chosen target. He falls in love with a rescued young girl and for three days enjoys true love. The book is feted as the best fictional account of the Spanish Civil War. I feel that Hemingway truly captures the feelings of this conflict. He worked as a war correspondent during the actual war and For Whom The Bell Tolls contains his accurate observations from the field. From the Madrid luxuries of the (primarily Russian) General staff, to the isolation, bonding, disputes and emotions of the guerrilla band, Hemingway weaves a splendid tale of loyalty, betrayal, fear, elation, romance and the horrors of war. I really enjoyed the Spanish language being used in conversation and it really helped to set the scene to hear the people cursing with real Spanish phrases. This work could be used in Translation Studies. It demonstrates the spirit of the Spanish people during their civil war. There is a sense of reality that these people were dealing with many foreigners and it is interesting to see how Robert Jordan, an American or ‘Ingles’, who spoke perfect Spanish, was so well-received and respected by the close-knit band of warriors. For me the ultimate conclusion was disappointing. The tragic twist was quite not as stomach-churning as in that of Farewell to Arms, for example, yet was perhaps the pessimistic outcome that Robert Jordan had envisaged as events conspired against him. Perhaps the book is an accurate description of the desperation of the Republicans as they on the whole unsuccessfully dealt with the formidable fascist foe with all their superior military equipment and force. Farewell to Arms is a great book but I am sure that in the Hemingway archives there is better work still to discover.