The Old Man and the Sea – Ernest Hemingway

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Ernest Hemingway was an American modernist author in the 20th century. He published The Old Man and the Sea in 1952 and he won the Nobel Prize for Literature for this book in 1954. He published 7 novels, 6 short story collections and 2 non-fiction works. After his death, another 3 novels, 4 short story collections and 3 non-fiction works were published. Many of his works are considered classics of American literature.

Hemingway lived quite the life. He was a journalist before joining the army as an ambulance driver. In 1918, he was seriously wounded in Italy and came back home. Later, he married the first of his 4 wives: they moved to Paris where he worked as a foreign correspondent. They divorced, and he married an American journalist. He went to the Spanish Civil War as a journalist, came back, divorced the journalist, published a book, and married his third wife in 1940. During the second World War, he went to London, where he met and married his fourth wife, another writer and journalist. Shortly after the publication of The Old Man and the Sea, he and his (fourth) wife went on a safari to Africa, where they were both injured in two consecutive plane crashes. Seriously bad luck: their plane went down, and the plane taking them to the hospital crashed as well. They then moved to Idaho, where Hemingway killed himself in 1961.

Wow, right? And believe me, I left out the less interesting things. Hemingway was quite the celebrity in his day! He was a journalist, writer, serial monogamist, alcoholic, modernist, ambulance driver, war hero, heartbreaker, adventurist, … and also the writer of one of my favourite quotes about books:

There is no friend as loyal as a book.

Like I said earlier, Hemingway won the Nobel Prize for Literature for this book in 1954. He also won the Pulitzer Prize in May 1952 and it became a book-of-the-month selection, making him an international celebrity. He wrote the draft for this book in eight weeks, saying it was “the best I can write ever for all of my life.” He wrote this particular book because he was furious at the negative reviews he was getting for Across the River and into the Trees, the book he published right before.

Did you know Hemingway wasn’t completely happy winning the Nobel Prize? He had wanted to win it for years, but he felt like he won it because of circumstances. Remember when he went on a safari and got 2 plane crashes? When he eventually arrived at the hospital, the press was there covering his death and obituaries were in every major newspaper and magazine around the world. Hemingway felt like this influenced the academy’s decision in giving him the Nobel Prize. He also didn’t go to Stockholm to accept the prize, because he was still suffering from the accidents. Instead, he prepared a speech to be read, which included another famous quote:

Writing, at its best, is a lonely life.

Now, let’s turn back to The Old Man and the Sea. As a graduate in English literature, I’m supposed to say I loved this book, right? Well, not so much. I can appreciate the effort that went into it and the fact that Hemingway managed to write a 100-page book about a man catching a fish. But I didn’t think there was much of a story to it, not a to-read if you read for plots. If, however, you like to read books with underlying themes and a clear, journalistic writing style, then check this book out! (it’s about loneliness, struggling against all hope and the strength of man)

What is it about? It’s about an older, experienced fisherman named Santiago who hasn’t caught any fish for 84 days. The people of Cuba have started seeing him as unlucky, so he really needs to catch a fish. He goes into the Gulf Stream and catches a big marlin around noon. But he can’t haul the fish in because it is so strong, and it pulls him forward for a two days and nights. He finally manages to kill the fish, straps it to the side of the boat and sets off for home. But his bad luck isn’t over yet, sharks are attracted to the remains of the fish and they devour the fish step by step (even though Santiago manages to kill five of them, but they keep on coming). Eventually he reaches the shore, leaving the fish carcass on the shore. He returns home and falls into an exhausted sleep. The other fishermen find the skeleton the next day, and measure it to be 18 feet long (5,5m). And that is the end of this 100-page book.

So, have you guys read this book? If not, have I convinced you to read it or not at all? Let me know in the comments.

Happy reading,

Loes M.

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