Books: An American Storyteller

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Battered But Unbowed. The hero of the great Hemingway legend was still not sufficiently recovered from his accident to travel to Stockholm for his latest, biggest honor (hitherto awarded only to five other American-born writers: Sinclair Lewis, Eugene O'Neill, Pearl Buck, T. S. Eliot and William Faulkner). Furthermore, the first announcement of the Nobel award and the bustle of publicity that followed had thrown Hemingway off his writing pace. He took to his boat in hopes of getting back to work on his new novel about Africa. "I was going real good, better than for a long time, when this came along," he said. "When you're a writer and you've got it you've got to keep going because when you've lost it you've lost it and God knows when you'll get it back."

Hemingway's African injuries were a ruptured kidney, bad burns, cracked skull, two compressed vertebrae and one vertebra cracked clear through. These were added to scars that cover perhaps half his body surface, including half a dozen head wounds, 237 shrapnel scars in one leg, a shot-off kneecap, wounds in both feet, both arms, both hands and groin, all acquired in the two World Wars. By last week he was much improved, but his back was still bothering him. When he sat, he lined his chair with big flat picture books and a backboard. "I have to take so many pills," he said, "they have to fight among themselves if I take them too close to gether." His daily quota of alcohol, though still substantial enough to keep him in good standing among the alltime public enemies of the W.C.T.U., had fallen far below the old records. Gone were the uninhibited, wine-purpled, 100-proof, side-of-the-mouth bottle-swigging days of the swashbuckling young Ernest Hemingway who was "the bronze god of the whole literary experience in America," the lion-hunting, trophy-bagging, bullfight-loving Lord Byron of America. "I am a little beat up," Ernest Hemingway now admits, "but I assure you it is only temporary."

The Private World. Even though held in by injury and age, Hemingway's life—on a small plantation ten miles outside Havana, called Finca Vigia, or Lookout Farm—is still the special Hemingway blend of thought and action, artistry and nonconformity. The Hemingway of 1954 still has a bit of himself for the many sides of his life—and plenty left over to populate that private Hemingway world where the Hemingway heroes and heroines live their lives of pride and trouble, enduring with courage as long as they can, often destroyed but never defeated.

For Ernest Hemingway, when he is writing, every day begins in that private world. As early as 5:30 in the morning, before any but some gabby bantams, a few insomniac cats and a cantankerous bird called "The Bitchy Owl" are awake, he goes to work in the big main bedroom of his villa. He writes standing up at the mantelpiece, using pencil for narrative and description, a typewriter for dialogue "in order to keep up."

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