Book Review: The Old Man and the Sea

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.


28 thoughts on “Book Review: The Old Man and the Sea

  1. You bloody can write Elviza, to answer your question in previous post.

    This review belongs to printed medium, should not let it get lost in cyber space. What a waste that would be.

    I read this when I was young as well and never actually like E Hemmingway. He is, what they call, I believe, overrated?

    Thank you for the kind words, sir/madam…

  2. Have you stopped writing your musing in Sleepless in setiawangsa? Been waiting for it for quite sometime


    Yeahhh… kind of stop writing that kan… hmmmm

  3. I was drawn to you like a moth to a flame – still. 🙂

    Can I be the flame instead of the moth? Hehehehe…

  4. I’m a fan of Ernest Hemmingway and has been your silent reader of your blog. I could not agree more with your review but I have always love his ageless work, as a young reader and now older. If memory serves, the book that I was holding and gnawing at the content about a decade ago was ‘A Moveable Feast’ or was it ‘Immovable Feast’ as you wrote? I think it was the former…

    Dear Jumper,

    I stand corrected: it is A Moveable Feast. Great memory and sharp eyes you have there. Thank you so much.

  5. Tulis book review pun macam bercinta awak nih! Macam mana lah agaknya bila awak bercinta betul-betul kan? Sakan


    Macamana tuh kan kan kan?

  6. I personally love A Farewell to Arms.

    You might like it too since it’s a love story, albeit a bit twisted. Funny how i used to hate it during pre-u Literature classes as it was one of the text we have to study. But over the years thru personal experience and different outlook towards life, i found A Farewell to Arms’s likeability increasing.

    Old Man and the Sea is not bad either. It should be considering he won the Nobel for it.

    IMHO, Old Man is anti-Moby Dick. But the theme is similar: obsession. Both are eventually consumed by it. Life is full of obsession. How to deal with your obsession differentiate a person from another. Ahab’s approach is vastly different to those by the Old Man.


    Haven’t read A Farewell to Arms, must give it a try. I love your comment here bro, it’s so you, I can almost picture you sitting in front of me saying all those things…

  7. Ms E Kamal,

    I have been reading you for a while and I must say that you have improved by leaps and bounds. It’s so refreshing to know that younger generation, like yourself, is paying homage to the classic of Hemmingway’s.

    His writing is timeless and a perfect learning ground for anyone who is into creative writing. This book is full of emotion and invoke imagination at every corner. I look forward for more of your reviews. Good luck.

    Old Timer,

    Thank you so much for your kind words. I don’t love all classics, only a few 🙂

  8. Dek,

    Kenapa sekarang posting jarang-jarang keluar? Busy ker? Tiap2 hari akak click link ini 🙂


    Sebenarnya dah ketandusan idea da…

  9. I know you are upset about your maid leaving but that does not mean you cannot pick up my call you sentimental sob! You cant pick up phone but you can put a new posting on your blog. Tak guna lah kau nih…

    So, coffee on Friday? I can drive there myself or pick you if you still sharing car with J. Callllll meeeee!!!!

    Sorry babe, I was totally gone yesterday. Letih, trapped in traffic, emotionally depressed with the maid leaving (now I have to be the maid of the house!).

    Can’t do Friday. Will leave for Kuala Trengganu tomorrow until next Monday for a wedding. Rain check?

  10. I can’t stand Ernest Hemmingway. He is boring, long-winded and typically American. Don’t think they should even make a text reference out of his books. But I ll give this one shot, after reading your review. Classic books, after all, are a lot cheaper than the new arrivals. Time to save money (wink, wink)

    Ah, anti-Hemmingway are you? 🙂

    I don’t think he is long-winded though. Not as simple as Steinbeck but definitely not long winded. Just my point of view.

  11. Easy there Mr. Feisal… don’t upset her fans, we are all drawn to her like a moth to a flame. Ask Mat Salo if you don’t believe me.


    Am waiting for your straight-from-the-heart writing about your life. That is not coming right? You seem to deviate/distance yourself from that kind of writing now. Any reason in particular?


    I have no answers to your questions… 😛

  12. Alaaaahhhhhai sapa nak baca buku boring macam nih! Cuba buat review chiclit, mesti gempak

    Ye lah… dah lama tak baca chic lit… okay okay

  13. Elviza,

    Superb review(and to think that you don`t do this on a professional basis).

    Hemingway`s works were a compulsory read during my English Literature
    major undergraduate days eons ago.He`s certainly one of my favourite authors.It`s quite surprising that some have commented here that he is long-winded.The Hemingway style,which in fact started a whole new trend in modern literary practice, is terse and straight to the point.Plus, his very rich and international background, his circle of friends which include literary icons like F.Scott Fitzgerald and even the likes of Fidel Castro(Hemingway was under FBI surveillance for a long time actually),his varied vocations best remembered for his long stint in the armed forces and as an international correspondent for various newspapers and the like, his extended stays in places like Paris,Havana, Toronto, Africa etc,and his numerous marriages and infamous love affair with the bottle, all add to such an incomparable life experience which he has the unique ability to pen in unforgettable prose.Even the great Scott Fitzgerald has been accused of aping Hemingway`s style.This actually reinforces my belief that genius only exists in one who professes a larger-than-life existence in his actions, habits, thoughts and general attitude towards life.

    Your phrase…”..honesty flows effortlessly like a river..”.That, my dear lady, is wonderfully original and brilliant.There`s a Hemingway in you yet.Keep it up!(Wish I can write like that..(Sigh!)

  14. Extreme control and great effort are shown in this book review of yours. It makes me want to read the book. Found your link while browsing the net and have bookmarked you since. I love all of your posts, they are restrained, simple and effortless. Wish I can write like that. It shows that in writing, you have to keep practising that you have that edge, the edge of being emotionally attached to your writing. It is so obvious…

    May be you should write more on the current affairs and political issues to gain more exposure in this neat little corner of yours? Just a suggestion……

    Dear Chic Cat,

    I have the edge? Wow…that’s a nice compliment. While I love reading current affairs, my knowledge in that area is still shallow. Will keep the advice in mind though…

  15. I love books, I would die of not reading. But now I found blogs. Blogs are the new tool to enhance variety of interest. How do you find time to do all? I mean reading (obviously u have to read the book before writing its review) and writing blog?

    You bloggers are just amazing.


    I was first a reader before a blogger. I am sure there are amazing bloggers out there, but I am not one of them. 🙂

    Thank you for visiting, Safiah.

  16. Elviza,

    “A classic is what everybody wants to have read and nobody wants to read.” I laughed out loud reading this and the comment from you know me as bryan.

    I used to hate all literature texts in college. Reading it back in retrospect gave a different dimension. Classic should be read when someone is older, don’t you think so?


    Perhaps you are right, Sir. When we are older, our comprehension should get better with the passing of time. But I am a slow reader, slow writer, slow blogger, everything damn slow. LOL. Not sure it makes a difference to me.

  17. After reading this book review, I’m worried and with a troubled mind. At this very moment, I’m reviewing a book too, and when I compare it with yours… hai, rasa malu nak hantar mine! Seriously. I have this strong urge “to review the review” and try to make it better… which will eat up more time, of course. And if I don’t complete it, can’t start that “for Friday” thing.

    I hope you won’t have enough time to do book reviews haha! It’s also fortunate that reviewing pays crap, and discourages competition… tolerable only for “Gambang Institute of Life Studies graduates” (the undergraduates there happy to work at `buat rumah’ jobs for RM10 per day)


    What are you raving about? You write flawlessly I must say. I am sure your review does not need to be rewritten. Unfortunately or fortunately, writing is never about the money for me, it is just if I don’t do it, something is wrong somewhere. The quality notwithstanding…

    Have a good day, my friend.

  18. Hello,

    My first time to leave comment here. I love this book, along with his other writings. you are absolutely right, his pieces are timeless.

    Hello back Ena,

    Timeless huh the book? Thank you for visiting…

  19. Hi Elviza, thank you for a simple yet profound take on The Old Man and The Sea. It was a classic that I can read without scratching my head. Shamefully, I fell into the lot yang struggle and finally gave up on Shakespeare (or Hujan Pagi). So losers like me are very impressed with people who found classics a breeze to read. 🙂

    Dear talented writer,

    I never, in this lifetime at least, think that classic is a breeze to read, so I am a loser too. Hemmingway is an exception, so does Steinbeck. Or that Albert Camus who is a master of simplicity. And that feminist author, Jane Austen. Classic does not really teach you, they just there to guide you, me thinks. 🙂

  20. Miss,

    I found your blog on this boring, long, rainy public holiday. Thot of going out in an hour but found myself drawn into your writing. Going out canceled, dinner tapaued by housemate.

    Absolutely charming, honest and a flip on your about page reveals what a beauty you are too. If u r single, I’d ask you out, a thousand times over (from the book review u wrote).


    You are too generous with compliments. I am glad you like this corner of mine. Thank you.

  21. Crazy this old man. Gone to the sea, caught a fish, talked to himself and came back. I don’t get classic. Why punish your brain when there are other genres out there?

    Hear, hear Sir!

  22. I loved this book when I read it as a teen, and I still do. I am looking to get my hands on a copy again, the one I read belongs to my father’s library. Great review.

    Thanks Damyantig

  23. Hi Elviza,

    I came across this review, very interesting indeed. I liked the last two sentences of the review.

    Also, just a suggestion, like movie reviews it would be good to indicate sections which contain spoilers. People could be visiting this site trying to find out if the book is good, but at the same time not to learn too much that it spoils the experience reading the book. Just a humble suggestion.


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