Ernest Hemingway (1899–1961) was a celebrated author, a journalist, a Herculean drinker, and an extreme lover of life. A statement that at first blush seems ironic, given that the writer took his own life with his favorite shotgun.
During his lifetime, “Papa”, as he was known to some, published seven novels and six short-story collections, as well as a variety of non-fiction work.
Hemingway’s work over the years has gone in and out of fashion so many times that if anything, only reveals one thing, that being the true value of literary criticism.
He wrote with a distinctive style, a sort of journalistic brisk minimalism, and an approach that prided itself on understatement. Hemingway believed that it was far more important to tell a story by leaving things out.
Unfortunately, over the years, his image, and his machismo that went along with that persona, has come dangerously close to overshadowing Hemingway’s talent as a writer.
But, even without these tall tales, it’s understandable how people can get lost in Hemingway the man, versus Hemingway the writer. As a young man he was wounded in WWI while driving an ambulance for the Red Cross. He lived and worked in Paris in the 1920’s, when being a bohemian actually meant something.
During the 1930’s he embarked on various safari’s in Africa, covered the savage Spanish Civil War as a reporter, and traveled from his Key West home in Florida to Cuba, where he lived off and on for the next twenty years. In the process becoming a kind of beloved honorary citizen of Havana where he spent a great deal of time developing the Hemingway Daiquiri at the famous La Florida bar. And if that wasn’t enough, he also reported on WWII in Europe during 1944, and in 1947 received the Bronze Star for his bravery covering this war.
In the 1950’s he would go on to continue his pursuit of big game hunting, and survive two successive airplane crashes. In the midst of all of this he wrote constantly. And in 1954 he won the Nobel Prize for literature for his novella The Old Man and the Sea.
This book is Hemingway at his peak, and to many his greatest achievement. It’s a story that should be read now during these long hot summer days and nights, preferably with a Mojito and a Havana by your side.
It tells the story of an aging Cuban fisherman, Santiago, and his titanic struggle with an oversized Marlin that he is trying to catch and then bring home.
What resonates throughout this quick read is the power of a man’s will, and his desire not to be defeated, no matter what his age or the odds. It deals with the cruelty and the utter indifference that fate has towards our individual existence.
The beauty and power of this tale is that it truly is what you want it to be. It’s as simple as an old man trying to catch a fish, or as profound as how we as men choose to define our life. Either version is there, and both are equally valid.
Hemingway as a man, and even more so as a writer, was always on the search for truth. It defined him and his choices. Far too often today we talk ourselves out of that adventure or that quest because of that fear of the unknown.
If we, as “aspiring gentleman”, are trying to return to some of the traditions of days gone by, then perhaps we should all take a small page from this writer, and work towards discovering our own individual truths and let it lead us on what path it may.
In the end Hemingway suffered from a variety of ailments, both physical and mental, and the combination of these no doubt played a part in his unfortunate suicide.
Still, as a writer he left a considerable legacy, one that should be judged by his work and not his myth.
Hemingway himself said it best. “Every man’s life ends the same way. It is only the details of how he lived and how he died that distinguish one man from another.”