Friday, July 20, 2012

Happy Birthday, Papa!

Ernest Hemingway was born July 21st, 1899, which makes this Saturday his 113th birthday. Even though he died 51 years ago (three weeks shy of his 62nd birthday), Hemingway remains a potent literary presence. A new edition of what is arguably his best novel, A Farewell to Arms, was published earlier this month, and Hemingway himself keeps popping up all over the place both as the subject of serious nonfiction and as a character (leading or otherwise) in a flurry of books and films.

The first volume of his collected letters was published last fall, and it offers a fascinating firsthand glimpse into EH's boyhood in Illinois and Michigan as well his experiences in the First World War and as a cub reporter right before and after the war. Also published last year was Paul Hendrickson's excellent Hemingway's Boat: Everything He Loved in Life, and Lost, 1934-1961. T. A. Mort took a narrower view in The Hemingway Patrols: Ernest Hemingway and His Hunt for U-boats, a sympathetic examination EH's claim that his frequent fishing trips off the coast of Cuba in the early 1940s were actually undercover sub-hunting expeditions. Hemingway aside, Mort's book offers a gripping depiction of submarine warfare in the Caribbean during the Second World War.

In fiction, Paula McLain's The Paris Wife, a novel about Hemingway's first wife, Hadley Richardson, was a book club sensation last year and reportedly will be made into a film. With any luck, it will be better than Hemingway and Gellhorn, HBO's 2012 melodrama about EH's wooing of his soon-to-be third wife, Martha Gellhorn, in the midst of the Spanish Civil War.

Diane Gilbert Madsen's mystery Hunting for Hemingway considers what might happen if the suitcase full of EH's unpublished manuscripts that was lost in a Paris train station in 1922 were to turn up three-quarters of a century later. (Answer: big trouble) And if your taste runs to stronger stuff, Michael Atkinson's Hemingway Deadlights and Hemingway Cutthroat both offer well-drawn portraits of a thirty-something Hemingway at the peak of his fame getting caught up in the dirty business of smuggling, politics and murder in Key West and Spain.

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