Having just returned from Cuba (have I mentioned that?!) It seemed wholly appropriate that my first book review should be suitably Cuban. Although not Cuban himself there can be few writers who have greater associations with Cuba than Mr Ernest Hemingway.
Whenever I travel I try to read books connected with the place I’m visiting. There is something about reading a book in the setting it was written or written about which brings it to life. I recently read Mrs Hemingway by Naomi Wood (which I highly recommend by the way), it put me in the mood for some classic Hemingway.
I carried this little book around with me for much of my time in Cuba and read it in one sitting on a bus ride to Havana – it seemed appropriate. It also seemed appropriate to photograph it in La Bodequita del Medio, a bar frequented by Hemingway and other famous sorts in need of a thirst quenching Mojito.
Anyway, the book. The Old Man and The Sea is set in the Gulf Stream off the coast of Havana, and is the story of an old man, a young boy and a giant fish. Hemingway won the Nobel Prize for Literature for this story. The Sunday Times bills it as “The best short story Hemingway has written…no master-work could have been done better or differently”. High praise indeed.
The old man hasn’t caught a fish for 84 days. For the first 40 days of this barren period the young boy sailed with him. After 40 days without a catch the young boys parents told him to go in another boat. The young boy obeyed his parents but he loved the old man and continued to visit him and care for him daily.
“It made the boy sad to see the old man come in each day with his skiff empty and he always went down to help him carry either the coiled lines or the gaff and harpoon and the sail that was furled around the mast. The sail was patched with flour sacks and, furled, it looked like the flag of permanent defeat”
Finally the day comes when out at sea on his own the old man catches a fish. The most enormous fish he could have imagined. What follows is a colossal tussle and journey of desperate emotion as the old man faces the repeated challenges of nature in his attempt to bring the fish home. The reader has the privilege of being party to the old mans internal and external dialogue as he bargains with the fish and faces the biggest battle of his life.
“‘Fish,’ the old man said. ‘Fish, you are going to have to die anyway. Do you have to kill me too?’ That way nothing is accomplished, he thought. His mouth was too dry to speak, but he could not reach for the water now. I must get him alongside this time, he thought. I am not good for many more turns. Yes you are he told himself. You’re good forever.”
Whilst in Cuba I extolled the greatness of this book to my husband (regularly) and any one else who would listen. This is a beautiful story. The story is simple and yet immensely moving, and the writing is tight and honed to the to the bare essentials. If you have never read Hemingway, I urge you to consider giving this a go.