Books: An American Storyteller

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Reflections at Sea. On a seagoing day (his first after winning the Nobel Prize), Hemingway's big Buick station wagon bounces through the suburbs along the Havana wharfsides by 9 a.m. The Pilar is a hardy, 42-foot craft with two Chrysler engines, built to Hemingway's specifications 20 years ago. Hemingway carefully supervises the provisioning of the Pilar's iceboxes for a hot day afloat—several brands of beer for his guest and the mate, some chilled tequila for Skipper Hemingway. He consults with his mate, an agile, creased Canary Islander named Gregorio Fuentes. Then Hemingway shucks off his shoes and socks, chins himself on the edge of the Pilar's flying bridge, throws one leg up, and, favoring his sore back, slowly raises himself to the roof to take the set of controls. The Pilar glides trimly past Morro Castle. Hemingway delightedly sniffs the sea-grape-scented air and gestures to the whole ocean. "It's the last free place there is, the sea."

Gregorio deftly baits four lines and trails them from the stern. In fluid Spanish, Hemingway and the mate decide to fish the waters off Cojimar, the little fishing village near which Hemingway set The Old Man and the Sea.

The air and the baking sun make him feel good. In the sea haze, from the blue water, amid the occasional flying fish, ideas seem to appear—Hemingway notions about how things are. "When a writer retires deliberately from life, or is forced out of it by some defect, his writing has a tendency to atrophy just like a limb of a man when it's not used." He slaps his growing midriff, which, in his enforced idleness, is spreading fore and aft. "Anyone who's had the fortune or misfortune to be an athlete has to keep his body in shape. I think body and mind are closely coordinated. Fattening of the body can lead to fattening of the mind. I would be tempted to say that it can lead to fattening of the soul, but I don't know anything about the soul."

The Soul & Traumas. In a sense, Hemingway perhaps never fully faced up to the concept of soul in his writing. Religion is a subject he refuses to discuss at all. He is equally ill at ease in the world of the ruminative intellectual. But he recognizes that in that world there is much worth knowing. In the bright sun, Hemingway recalls the shut-in figure of Marcel Proust. "Because a man sees the world in a different way and sees more diverse parts of the world does not make him the equal of a man like Marcel Proust," says Hemingway humbly. "Proust knew deeper and better than anyone the life of which he wrote."

Suddenly Gregorio cries out: "Feesh! Papa, feesh!"

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