Reviewed by Amy Gruzesky
Journalist, novelist, short-story writer, energetic, world traveler, prolific drinker: all are words and phrases that describe Ernest Miller Hemingway, the award-winning author and literary icon who is the author of over two dozen books, short stories, and autobiographical works, several of which are on required reading lists for high school students.
Hemingway was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1953 and the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1954, both less than 10 years before he committed suicide by shooting himself in July 1961.
A.E. Hotchner was one of Hemingway’s closest friends and confidantes. A fellow writer and playwright, he wrote several books about his friend: Papa Hemingway (1966), Papa Hemingway: The Ecstasy and Sorrow (1983), Hemingway and His World (1989), and this one, Hemingway in Love: His Own Story.
I have not read the others, but plan on doing so soon. As an English Literature minor in college, I took courses that exposed me to the classics: Shakespeare, women authors, poetry, contemporary literature, early 20th century works, and of course, Hemingway.
Back then we didn’t spend too much time learning about the authors themselves. Rather, we focused on their works, discussing symbolism, style, recurring themes, and plot. But these days I find myself just as interested in the author as I do the book, and Hemingway has always fascinated me just a little bit because he seemed like a true maverick–worldly, well-traveled, a bit rogue, and definitely fond of the ladies. So when I came across this tiny little book that offered a glimpse of this literary legend through his own stories and self-professed feelings that he personally shared with a close friend, I was intrigued.
With the turn of each page, the reader gets to experience Hemingway in a uniquely intimate and raw way. Reading these stories and recollections, I almost felt as though I were eavesdropping on a very private conversation between two good friends, almost feeling guilty for being an unseen participant in the conversation, while at the same time being completely unable to pull myself away.
Hotchner shares simply and plainly the story of Hemingway’s biggest regret in life–losing his first wife Hadley after having an affair (the couple divorced)–with Hemingway admitting to his friend that being in love with two women at the same time would haunt him forever. A telling passage in the book states that Hadley would be present in every woman character he’d write about.
There is also a story of a letter that Hemingway kept folded up in his wallet. It was from his mother. The letter congratulated Hemingway on the success of his novel The Sun Also Rises, but then chided him in the next line for his overuse of the words “damn” and “bitch.”
The author also shares how Hemingway and his fourth wife Mary survived a plane crash in Uganda. News around the world had reported that the two were killed, setting off public mourning and premature obituaries, only to have Hemingway emerge from the jungle carrying a bunch of bananas and a bottle of gin. But that victorious ending was clouded by the crash of a plane hours later that had been sent to the crash site to collect Hemingway and Mary. It was that second crash, in which he suffered significant injuries, that left more of a mark on Hemingway than the first, reminding him of his mortality. It seems that it was after that experience that he made the decision to share some of his most personal and intimate experiences, stories, and emotions with Hotchner, so that someone would be able to share them should Hemingway end up dying before he had a chance to do so himself.
It is through these glimpses of him, at various points in his life and his personal relationships with others, that you start seeing the layers peeling away and get a glimpse of the man beneath the globe-trotting, four-times married, successful, intense writer that most of the world knew–or thought they knew.