Book review: Ernest Hemingway

ERNEST HEMINGWAY—A Biography by Mary V. Dearborn (Knopf, New York, 2017) [Photograph by Edith-Mary Smith]

Ernest Hemingway: A Biography — by Mary V. Dearborn

Only after visiting ‘Hemingway House’—Ernest Hemingway’s former home, now a museum, in Key West, Florida—did I become a keen fan of Ernest Hemingway, the writer.

For me, the appeal came partly from his writing (crisp sentences, blunt and to the point), and, to a much larger extent, from how he lived his life. He lived the writer’s life as he envisioned it: Daring in that he went to war (in Spain and Europe as a war correspondent and ambulance driver); brave in that he boxed and went to bull fights, sometimes risking himself in the arena; bohemian in that he lived in Paris in the golden years of such artists as Dali and Picasso, and of such writers as F. Scott Fitzgerald and, to give credit where it’s due, as Ernest Hemingway. From his own life, he drew the inspiration for the characters of the novels that he wrote.

Dearborn’s biography spans the entire life of Ernest Hemingway, from birth to suicide, and she pulls no punches.

Wars and bull fights are covered in detail, as are each of Hemingway’s four wives. (All American.) The count starts with Hadley Richardson—The Paris Wife—so engagingly portrayed in Paula McLain’s novel of that name. Then Pauline (Fifi) Pfeiffer, the woman responsible (according to Hemingway’s account in A Moveable Feast) for breaking up his first marriage.

Hemingway was with Pauline when he first moved into ‘Hemingway House’ in Key West—now a tourist stop and shrine for Hemingway enthusiasts, as well as for cat lovers.

Martha Gellhorn, the well-known war correspondent, came to Key West as a tourist. She became Ernest Hemingway’s third wife.  His fourth and final wife, eventually to become his widow, was the journalist-author Mary Welsh. [For an account of Hemingway’s wives, also check Naomi Wood’s Mrs. Hemingway.]

Dearborn’s biography covers the lost manuscripts, Hemingway’s confusion over gender, his fetish about hair, his manic depression, and his being oddly prone to accidents (car crash in the London Blitz and plane crash in Africa, to mention but two), and, of course, the biography covers all of the novels and many short stories.


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In the news: Memorial Day 2019

Military working dog Rronnie prepares to be hoisted up to a helicopter. [Public domain]

We honour our troops and veterans on Memorial Day, Monday 27 May 2019.

The photo to the left shows working dog Rronnie with his handler. The use of dogs in warfare goes back to ancient times, even as far back as the Greeks, and the Egyptians.

During World War I, the Belgians used their Bouviers des Flandres to haul machine guns to the front. In World War II, dogs were used to warn of ambushes and to detect arms caches.


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Book review: Sleeping Beauties

Sleeping Beauties — by Stephen King and Owen King (Gallery Books, 2017) [Photograph by Edith-Mary Smith]

Sleeping Beauties — by Stephen King and Owen King

The first novel by Stephen King that I chanced upon and read some years ago was Salem’s Lot—a book about vampires. It was written well before vampires came back into fashion and I loved it.

Salem’s Lot was the first novel that King wrote and the second novel of his to be published. Carrie was the first to be published, and I loved it, too, and have been a fan of King’s ever since.

His recent book, Sleeping Beauties, is co-written with King’s son, Owen King and does not disappoint. One cannot help being drawn in by the first line of the back-cover pitch: “IN A FUTURE so real and near it might be now, . . .”

The premise is simple and devastating: Women across the world (all of them!) do not awake after they fall asleep.

Is humanity being punished by a vengeful God? Is what is happening a witch’s curse? Is it a virus of some kind?

Whatever it is, the public start calling it Aurora, after Princess Aurora in the folk tale, Sleeping Beauty.

The plot of this fast-paced thriller is centred in a women’s prison (where else?). It stars two key women (both desperate to stay awake!). One is Janice Coates, the head warden of the Dooling Correctional Facility for Women. The second woman is Lila Norcross, who is the local sheriff. The leading male character is the prison psychiatrist. His name is Dr. Clinton Norcross and he is the husband of the sheriff. (It is easy to keep track of who’s who but, in case you have trouble, the Kings have thoughtfully provided a list.)

Key to the story is the one woman in the world who is able sleep and then, afterwards, wake up as usual. Her name is Eve. (Think ‘Garden of Eden.’) She is mysterious, perhaps supernatural, perhaps a witch. She has magical powers.

She has a piece of advice for women everywhere: “You better kiss your man before you go to sleep. You better kiss him goodbye while you still have the chance.”






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In the news: Remembrance Day/Veterans Day–11 November 2018

Poppies in Manitoba [Photo: Edith-Mary Smith]

Sunday 11 November 2018 — Remembrance Day

Once again, we gather to remember that eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, when the guns fell silent and the Great War ended.

It is time to honour and remember the veterans of all wars and to hear the words of John McCrae’s poem In Flanders Fields recited beside cenotaphs and war memorials around the world.

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Book review: Mrs. Hemingway

Mrs. Hemingway by Naomi Wood (Penguin, NY, 2014) [Photograph by Edith-Mary Smith]

Mrs. Hemingway — by Naomi Wood

Ernest Hemingway maintained that the mark of a good writer was the ability to focus on key details, those unique, perhaps evocative, observations that would stand out and render each scene more memorable. (For example, Hemingway’s reference to the ‘clean whiteness of the thigh bone’ in his description of the wounded matador —page 20 of Death in the Afternoon, later recalled in Ernest Hemingway on Writing, edited by Larry W. Phillips). In her enchanting and highly readable novel, Mrs. Hemingway, author Naomi Wood puts Hemingway’s dictum into practice. The novel is dotted with little gems of description. Examples from Mrs. Hemingway include the ‘dusty mule sausages’ when referencing the Spanish Civil War, how ‘green light filters through’ the opened bottle of champagne in Hemingway’s room at the Paris Ritz, and how Hemingway’s last wife, forced to improvise when applying her make-up in wartime London, had ‘worked up burnt cork with some water for her lashes.’

Hemingway believed that, to be a writer, one had to live the ‘writer’s life,’ meaning, for him as a man, one had to go to war, to attend bull fights, to box, and to drink large amounts of alcohol. He had four wives in total and, despite the title of Naomi Wood’s Mrs. Hemingway being in the singular, the novel spans all four: Hadley (‘The Paris Wife’ and mother of Bumby), Fife (the writer for Vogue whose real name was Pauline; she showed up in Paris and stole Ernest away), Martha Gellhorn (the war correspondent from both the Spanish war and World War II), and Mary (the American journalist who, like Martha, had experienced the war in Europe).

Naomi Wood leaves no alleyway unexplored: the salon of Gertrude Stein, for example, or the bookstore, Shakespeare and Company, beloved not only of Hemingway but also of writers such as James Joyce and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Wood leaves no stone unturned, notably the issue of Hemingway’s suicide. She covers locations—Paris, Key West, Cuba, Idaho—in order, and the reader experiences the great writer from the point of view of each wife, in turn. Wood’s novel will delight fans and would also be an interesting introduction to Hemingway for those who have never read his work.


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Book review: Camino Island by John Grisham

Camino Island by John Grisham (Dell, 2018) [Photograph by Edith-Mary Smith]

My list of all-time favorites by thriller writer John Grisham includes The Pelican Brief, The Firm, and The Rainmaker. All are about lawyers and the law.

Last week, I read one of his more recent novels: Camino Island (Dell Books, 2018). Here, Grisham firmly breaks with tradition. Camino Island has nothing to do with lawyers.

It does, though, involve a robbery (of priceless manuscripts from the Princeton University library). It involves a young writer. Her name is Mercer Mann. It also involves a bookshop (on a pretty island off the coast of Florida) and that bookshop’s owner, Bruce—a possible love interest for Grisham to dangle in front of the lonely Mercer.

Camino Island does not disappoint. Hardened Grisham fans, perhaps expecting yet another law-firm thriller, will find the book enjoyable and alive with detail.



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In the news: Memorial Day 2018

Military Working Dog Quaid T183 [Photographer: Markus Rauchenberger, Public domain]

We honour our troops and veterans on Memorial Day, Monday 28 May 2018. The photograph shows  US Army Staff Sergeant Agnieszka Sosnowska of the 131st Military working Dog Detachment. She is praising Military Working Dog Quaid, who has just completed the training program in  explosive detection.

The use of dogs in warfare dates to ancient times. The US K-9 Corps was created on 13 March 1942.


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Book Review: Les Parisiennes — by Anne Sebba

Les Parisiennes —– by Anne Sebba (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, UK/St. Martin’s Press, NY, 2016) [Photograph by Edith-Mary Smith]

What is it that Rick (played by Humphrey Bogart) says in the movie Casablanca when Ilsa (played by Ingrid Bergman) asks if he remembers Paris?

Rick says, “I remember every detail. You wore blue; the Germans wore grey.”

Those lines were spoken in a movie about a memorable time in the history of Paris, the City of Light, which was very much a city of women during 1940—1944, when Paris was occupied by the German army.

Anne Sebba has written a remarkable book, Les Parisiennes, describing Paris and the lives of its women during that dark period, les Années Noires.

So many Frenchmen had been captured or were fighting overseas or were forced to work in factories, far from home. To a large part, it was left to the women to face the conquerors. Increasingly desperate for food, the women of Paris, whether wealthy or poor, became engaged in the everyday struggle to survive.

Sensitive as well as thorough, Les Parisiennes records the details of the world of women in wartime Paris, from Elizabeth Arden’s paint-on stockings to the cost of a packet of cigarettes, from French traitors to heroines, such as Odette, and let’s not forget the German women of Paris, the Blitzweiben—so-called ‘little Grey Mice’—who were posted to the city and saw Paris from the eyes of the foreign tourist. Neither does Anne Sebba forget the brave Frenchwomen who perished, nor those who were deported and endured the hell of concentration camps, like Ravensbrück.

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Book Review: March Violets — by Philip Kerr

March Violets (A Bernie Gunther book) — by Philip Kerr (Penguin, 1989) [Photograph by Edith-Mary Smith]

After the success of the Nazis in the election of 5 March 1933, swarms of Germans scrambled to jump onto the bandwagon by joining the Nazi Party. Such latecomers were termed ‘March Violets’ by the old-time Nazis.

March Violets is the title of the first book in the trilogy Berlin Noir, written by British author Philip Kerr. The trilogy represents the beginning of a long series of novels featuring Kerr’s famous protagonist, Bernie Gunther.

The chances are that you already know Bernie very well. If not, you are in for a treat.

Bernie is a some-time private eye and a some-time detective on the Berlin police force. In March Violets, the year is 1936 and Bernie is hired by a wealthy German industrialist to investigate his daughter’s death: shot in her bed with her husband; her diamonds have disappeared.

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This week in the War, 27 Aug–2 Sept 1945: Japan signs the instrument of surrender

Japanese foreign minister, Mamoru Shigemitsu, signs the instrument of surrender on board the USS Missouri, 2 September 1945 [Public domain, wiki]

This week in the war, on 2 September 1945, Japanese foreign minister, Mamoru Shigemitsu, signed the instrument of surrender on board the battleship USS Missouri, anchored in Tokyo Bay.

General Douglas MacArthur signed on behalf of the Allies. Representatives of many Allied nations attended, including General Philippe Leclerc of France and General Arthur Percival of Britain, the latter having only recently been released from a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp.

Also anchored in Tokyo Bay was the British destroyer, HMS Whelp. Its first Lieutenant was Prince Philip of Greece who, in 1947, would marry Princess Elizabeth, the future Queen of England.

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