In sixty-two years (1899-1961) Ernest Hemingway lived enough lives for many men.
A young journalist swept up by the First World War. An injured war hero awarded the Italian Silver Medal of Bravery. A young ex-pat enjoying the spoils of a lush, booze and Jazz filled 1920s Paris, brushing shoulders with F. Scott Fitzgerald, Pablo Picasso, Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, James Joyce, Sherwood Anderson, and Ford Madox Ford, just to name a few.
A life-long bull-fighting enthusiast. A prolific fisherman known to break records and a voice in the scientific community in regards to the study of Caribbean Sea life. A war correspondent during the Spanish Civil War. A reporter on the frontlines of the Second World War. A big-game hunter in Africa. A survivor of two-consecutive plane crashes, using his head as a battering ram to escape the wreckage.
A Nobel Laureate who had homes in Idaho, Key West, Cuba, Paris and Spain. A writer who was able to write some damn good books along the way. A man who chose to end his own life. Ernest Hemingway lived many lives, all of them his own.
The task of documenting all of these lives seems to me a daunting one. Surely no one book can truly encapsulate the man that was Ernest Hemingway. But there are a few authors who gave it a go—painting the picture of a legend.
A few of these writers did a better job than others. These five books are the best of the bunch:
Papa Hemingway by A.E. Hotchner (1955)
“. . . in the end I was guided by what Ernest had told me when I wondered whether he should be as frank and open as he was about Scott Fitzgerald. ‘Every man’s life ends the same way,’ Ernest had said, ‘and it is only the details of how he lived and how he died that distinguishes one man from another.’
He said that for him there was only one way to account for things—to tell the whole truth about them, holding back nothing; tell the reader the way it truly happened, the ecstasy and sorrow, remorse and how the weather was, and, with any luck, the reader will find his way to the heart of the thing itself.”
Hotchner’s book is as much a personal memoir as it is a biography on Hemingway. The two met in Cuba in the spring of 1948. Hotchner was dispatched on behalf of Cosmopolitan magazine to write a piece on Hemingway. They had dinner and drank together, soon becoming friends. Their friendship would continue for the remainder of Hemingway’s life.
This book details Hemingway’s reflections on his own lives; the things that never quite made it onto the pages, and the things that bled through into the words from the margins, were all divulged to Hotchner straight from Ernest himself and they are all here in Papa Hemingway. Controversial, immediate, enlightening, personal and beautifully rendered, Hotcher’s book is a must for anyone that’s a fan of America’s finest writer.
With Hemingway: A Year in Key West and Cuba by Arnold Samuelson (1984)
A young writer with huge ambition travels across the country to seek out wisdom from America’s favorite literary son, already a legend in his early thirties. Arnold Samuelson was that young writer and you can guess who the latter was.
One early morning Samuelson knocked on the door of Hemingway’s Key West home. Adorned in his robe and favorite slippers, Hemingway opened the door to a starved, dirty and wide-eyed young man. Ernest must’ve of seen something in him because he hired Samuelson as a fist mate of sorts aboard the Pilar. The two sailed back and forth between Florida and Cuba for many months.
With Hemingway is a truly gorgeous account of this adventure, written in prose that’ll make the toughest literary critics swoon. The book ends with Samuelson leaving Hemingway, ready to write the next Great American Novel.
Sadly, for the young writer, his life didn’t turn out the way he thought it might. He died in relative obscurity, impoverished, alone and with only a few well-received short stories to his name, all of which are out of print. Paul Hendrickson writes a heartbreaking account of Samuelson’s end in Hemingway’s Boat.
Hemingway’s Boat by Paul Hendrickson (2011)
The book’s subtitle is “Everything He Loved in Life, and Lost”. And in a life in which so much was gained, it is true that even more was lost.
Hendrickson details the life of not the writer, but instead his beloved fishing boat, Pilar. The biography of a boat may not seem like riveting stuff, but with Hemingway as its captain, it certainly is.
Not only an infamous fishing vessel, but Hemingway also used Pilar to hunt German U-boats. Hendrickson argues that the time of Pilar’s construction can also serve as the beginning of Hemingway’s end. Pilar played a major role in the writer’s life right up to his death.
Hemingway in Love by A.E. Hotchner (October 2015)
It turned out there was more to the Hotchner/Hemingway saga than initially recorded. Some fifty odd years after Papa Hemingway, Hotcher wrote Hemingway in Love, a sequel of sorts to his first effort.
The author’s reason for doing so was that he was afraid that the material in his new book might’ve hurt or besmirched the reputation of those surrounding the events in question, who were alive during the publication of Hotchner’s first book.
This Hemingway account details the end of the writer’s first marriage to his one and only true love, Hadley. It’s Hemingway on some of the more controversial moments of his life. Whilst married to Hadley, Hemingway moved in his soon to be second wife, Pauline. This is only scratching the surface of what unravels within the pages of Hemingway in Love, an absolute must read.
“Ernest raised his head and nodded a few times, as if acknowledging some inner thought or yearning or admission. ‘Pecas,’ he said in a soft, barely audible voice, ‘tell me this: How does a young man know when he falls in love for the very first time, how can he know that it will be the only true love of his life? How can he possibly know? How can he know?’”
A Moveable Feast, The Restored Edition by Ernest Hemingway (2009)
“This book contains material from the remises of my memory and of my heart. Even if the one has been tampered with and the other does not exist.”
Nobody writes better about Hemingway than Hemingway. Most of his fiction stems from his own life, but there are some autobiographical writings; none more important that A Moveable Feast. It is one of the last things Hemingway worked on. He set out to document his life as a young man in Paris in this memoir but died before its completion. Despite this, what is left is still one of the best accounts of Hemingway we have. It is also a masterful piece of work, detailing the ups and downs of a young man moving through a world ravished by a war, on the brink of another, which seems to spin so much quicker than one can keep up with.
“I’ve seen you, beauty, and you belong to me now, whoever you are waiting for and if I never see you again, I thought. You belong to me and all Paris belongs to me and I belong to this notebook and this pencil.”