One of the most intriguing aspects of Papa Hemingway is its honesty. Throughout their developing friendship, Hotchner remained cognizant of Hemingway’s attempt to foster his own myth by stretching the truth and altering details to fit the occasion. In a restaurant on the Riviera, as Hotchner notes, Hemingway suddenly counted his fingers and said, “September I will have an African son. Before I left, I gave a herd of goats to my bride’s family. Most overgoated family in Africa.” It is an improbable, unbelievable story, as Hotchner implies. Several years afterward, Hemingway’s health began to decline. Hotchner does not gloss the truth in order to perpetuate the myth, but writes openly about Hemingway’s battle with mental illness and his suicide in Ketchum, Idaho, in 1961.
The object of any honest biography is to present the facts, for as Hotchner quotes Hemingway: “Every man’s life ends the same way, and it is only the details of how he lived and how he died that distinguishes one man from another.” In making distinctions about Hemingway, Hotchner furnishes young readers with supplemental information that is especially useful for understanding Hemingway’s fiction and its contribution to modern American literature.
In a public interview held at a Catholic church in 1958 near Ketchum, Hemingway answered questions from a group of teenagers. According to Hotchner, Hemingway’s aversion to public speaking ran deep, and the ensuing event caused him much dismay. Yet, the interview is included in the biography verbatim;...
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Hotchner understands the craft of fiction. He has written several articles, short stories, plays, and dramas for television, which appeared on Playhouse 90; he also dramatized for television Hemingway’s “The Snows of Kilimanjaro,” “The World of Nick Adams,” “The Fifth Column,” “Fifty Grand,” and For Whom the Bell Tolls.
This book joins a long list of biographical material written about Hemingway, such as Carlos Baker’s Ernest Hemingway: A Life Story (1969) and Mary Welsh Hemingway’s How It Was (1976), but its continuing value for young readers, even though it first appeared in the 1960’s, is indispensable. Although originally intended for an adult audience, a wide range of young readers will enjoy and appreciate this biography for the various levels at which it can be read. Young aspiring writers will find it useful for its didactic information, others will enjoy it as adventure, and youthful critics interested in American literary history can use it as an invaluable tool to aid them in their understanding of modern American literature. Students will benefit by reading Hotchner’s clear prose. His style is mature, sophisticated, and easy to understand.
Although his personal acquaintance with Hemingway was often strained and sometimes confusing, Hotchner’s affection for him is clearly apparent in a portrait that is mature and devoid of sensationalism. For this reason, Papa Hemingway remains important in helping young readers to understand a great American writer.