Books: An American Storyteller

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Rising up from one side of his villa is a white tower from which he can gaze meditatively at Havana and the sea, or at his own domain—the finca's 13 acres, including flower and truck gardens, fruit trees, seven cows (which provide all the household's milk and butter), a large swimming pool, a temporarily defunct tennis court. In the 60-foot-long living room, heads of animals Hemingway shot in Africa stare glassy-eyed from the walls. But most imposing of all are Hemingway's books. He consumes books, newspapers and random printed matter the way a big fish gulps in plankton. One of the few top American writers alive who did not go to college, Hemingway read Darwin when he was ten, later taught himself Spanish so he could read Don Quixote and the bullfight journals. Hemingway has never slept well, and reading is his substitute. Finca Vigia holds 4,859 volumes of fiction, poetry, history, military manuals, biography, music, natural history, sports, foreign-language grammars and cookbooks.

The Perpetual Weekend. For 15 years Hemingway has lived in Cuba. "I live here because I love Cuba—this does not imply a dislike for anyplace else—and because here I can get privacy when I write." But his life in Cuba is not quiet. Guests at the finca are apt to include friends from the wealthy sporting set, say Winston Guest or Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt; pals from Hollywood, such as Gary Cooper or Ava Gardner; Spanish grandees, soldiers, sailors, Cuban politicians, prizefighters, barkeeps, painters and even fellow authors. It is open house for U.S. Air Force and Navy men, old Loyalists from the Spanish civil war, or for any of the eight Cubans, Spaniards and Americans who served with Hemingway on his boat, the Pilar, early in World War II when Hemingway and the Pilar cruised the Caribbean hunting for enemy submarines. And even if there are no guests, there is always the long-distance phone, which may carry the husky voice of Marlene Dietrich, calling to talk over a problem with "Papa."

For Mary Welsh Hemingway, 46, an indefatigable former newspaper and magazine correspondent* from Minnesota, it is a fortunate day when she can reckon by 7 p.m. how many are staying for dinner and by 10 how many for the night. Life at Finca Vigia is, as she once reported it, a "perpetual weekend . . . involving time, space, motion, noise, animals and personalities, always approaching but seldom actually attaining complete uproar."

In the past, when the routine at Finca Vigia grew too distracting, Hemingway found escape along grand avenues—a return to the plains below Tanganyika's Kilimanjaro or another trip to Venice, or a nightclub-and-museum-crawling trip to New York. But for the battered and mellowing Hemingway of today, the favorite refuge is his boat.

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