My father first introduced Ernest Hemingway to me when I was barely out of high school. He had picked for me – among 17 books authored by Hemingway – For Whom the Bell Tolls.
I eagerly snatched the book from his hand, curled up in bed, covered myself in a blanket – as the monsoon rain pounded the window to my room – and began reading the book.
However, I found the depth of Hemmingway’s writing, and its complicated plot difficult to understand. I discarded the book after reading the first few chapters. I was thinking about what Mark Twain said: “A classic is what everybody wants to have read and nobody wants to read.”
When that book failed to hold my interest, I kept it on the shelf to gather dust. Ah, the folly of my youth…
A good one-decade had passed before Hemmingway and I could rekindle our prematurely doused flame, the one we had shared since my reading of Immovable Feast A Moveable Feast.
In this book, honesty flows effortlessly like a river; you could almost feel his forlorn presence at some Paris café, scribing his thoughts away on a battered notebook. Hemmingway’s axis in writing has always been his superbly crafted descriptions.
Slowly, I was drawn into his fictitious world like a moth to a flame.
My favourite has always been The Old Man and the Sea. With minimal characters, uncomplicated plot and scarce dialogues, Hemmingway yarns page after page of suspense for his readers.
Hemmingway sets the novel in the Gulf Stream off the coast of Havana.
The story begins with an old fisherman, Santiago, struggling with a prolonged period of bad luck: He had not caught any fish in the last 84 days.
Meanwhile, Santiago’s young protégé, Manolin, had strived ahead of his master, prompting Manolin’s father to instruct him to join the “lucky” boat – one that had recently made astounding catches – and abandon Santiago’s.
Santiago was left to fish alone without the boy who has since grown to become his best friend.
The author moves the story speedily to the 85th day when Santiago set the skiff off to the Gulf Stream hoping, in his heart, that his fate would soon change.
A great catch indeed took Santiago’s bait and a great battle began. The catch fought and swirled the skiff around the ocean for days – with Santiago being unable to haul it onboard.
Hemmingway punctuates the Old Man’s boredom (while fighting to land the great catch) with conversation he made with himself, the bird, the flying fishes, the stars and the waves using remarkable prose.
The author demonstrates strength and determination through Santiago, who survived for days only on raw fish and sips water he had carried onboard; all the while towing the catch along side his skiff in his bid to get it ashore.
Hemmingway makes his readers wait until page 46 before they could get just a glimpse of the great catch (which turns out to be an 18 feet fish at the end of the story).
The author also shows that luck does not last forever when Santiago ended up bringing back only a partial carcass of the great catch: it had been mauled by a school of sharks on its way to the shore.
The curtain closes when Santiago – who had just reached the shore, and incoherent with fatigue, learned that the boy – out of great admiration for him – had decided to fish with him again (despite his family’s wishes).
Like every good book, the story does not really end.
This is one book that will stand against the test of time.