Books: An American Storyteller

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Veteran out of the wars before he was twenty:

Famous at twenty-five: thirty a master—

Whittled a style for his time from a walnut stick

In a carpenter's loft in a street of that April city.

Thus Poet Archibald MacLeish recalls one of the great American writers in his days of early glory, back in the 1920s, when it always seemed to be April in Paris. Last week Ernest Hemingway was a long way from Paris and a long way from April. He was 55, but he looked older. He cruised in a black and green fishing boat off the coast of Cuba, near where the Gulf Stream draws a dark line on the seascape. The grey-white hair escaping from beneath a visored cap was unkempt, and the Caribbean glare induced a sea-squint in his brown, curious eyes set behind steel-rimmed spectacles. Most of his ruddy face was retired behind a clipped, white, patriarchal beard that gave him a bristled, Neptunian look. His leg muscles could have been halves of a split 16-lb. shot, welded there by years of tramping in Michigan, skiing in Switzerland, bullfighting in Spain, walking battlefronts and hiking uncounted miles of African safari. On his lap he held a board, and he bent over it with a pencil in one hand. He was still whittling away at his walnut prose.

Five thousand miles away in Stockholm, a white-starched, tail-coated assembly of the Nobel Foundation was about to bestow literature's most distinguished accolade on the products of his pencil. This week, "for his powerful, style-forming mastery of the art of modern narration," the Nobel Prize for Literature will be awarded to Ernest Miller Hemingway, originally of Oak Park, III, and later of most of the world's grand and adventurous places.

Few would deny that Ernest Hemingway deserves the trumpets of fame. As an artist he broke the bounds of American writing, enriched U.S. literature with the century's hardest-hitting prose, and showed new ways to new generations of writers. He was imitated not only by other writers but by uncounted young men who, in fact or fancy, sought to live as dashingly as he. From Paris bistros to Chicago saloons, he is known as a character—not the sallow, writing type with an indoor soul, but a literary heman. When his plane crashed on safari in Africa last winter and for nearly a day he was believed dead, even people who do not like his books felt a strange, personal sense of loss, and even people who never read novels were delighted when he walked out of the jungle carrying a bunch of bananas and a bottle of gin, and was quoted, possibly even correctly, as saying: "My luck, she is running very good."

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