Ernest Hemingway talks in ‘A Moveable Feast’ of when he lost his manuscripts. How painful must have been for a writer that had dedicated his soul and body to give shape to his ideas. We all know how hard it is to lose an important text, but being a young Hemingway, still unsure of his method, without even knowing if that method was reaching its potential and if his lyrics would someday find fame, could have been devastating, as his wife lost his suitcase in a Parisian train station in 1922.
This posthumous work is a book with dozens of anecdotes, good and bad, loving and nostalgic, of Hemingway’s years in France. It is a short book, easy to read, but mostly it is a story repleted with smells and flavours, with deep conversations with friends and acquaintances. In this book abound magical times and places, and the love of Hemingway for the people that surrounds him and for Paris. It also has his side of struggle, for being accepted, for being acknowledged. A writer is not supposed to write for fame or money, but the other side of the coin is that without money there is no food on the table. And just like that Hemingway spent his days, without eating at all, or just a little bit, or eating like a king when he received a pay forward for his work. But above all and how he describes it, ‘poor but happy’.
He lived in Paris with Hailey, his first wife and son and the ‘lost generation’ of artists that stood next to him in this part of his life. It was during the 20s and Paris was full of artists looking for recognition, from themselves, from others. Hemingway loved the ‘City of Light’ and its coffee shops. He often walked through the boulevard de Saint Germain and la place de Saint-Michel and always stopped in these little places, just to write, drink a glass of wine and see the people walking through the window. When he had a bit of money, he ordered oysters and wine, or a foie de veau with smash potatoes and apple cake. A dish like this was seldom affordable, but it fed his heart and head to keep writing just one more story.
There was no money for books, but Hemingway didn’t miss his favourite classics. He borrowed them from a library at the Rue de l’Odeon, where Sylvia, the owner, let him take them for free. According to Hemingway ‘no one has offered me more kindness than her’. Thanks to Sylvia he relished ‘Sons and Lovers’ by D.H. Lawrence, ‘War and Peace’ by Tosltoi, ‘The Gambler’ by Dostoievski, Turguéniev and Constance Garnett.
‘Never travel with somebody you don’t love’, said Hemingway to his wife Hailey when he arrived from a thwarted trip to Lyon with Scott Fitzgerald. The way he described the love story with his wife, simple, colloquial, a daily life full of complicity, the perfect company that is not cloying, but that it filled the house with the perfect doses of love and harmony. But the best is the description of their relationship when it came to an end. Hemingway accepted the blame and felt satisfied and touched because Hailey married someone that in his own words ‘always has been and will always be better than me’.
The descriptions of the Parisian streets on the fall and the cracking of the leaves after it rained are sublime. The smoky bars and restaurants where he entered to warm up and drink ‘a great wine from Cahors’, served in half-jars or entire jars, the meetings with friends like Pascin, Fitzgerald, Dunc, Chaplin. All of them artist, or wanting to be artists, all looking for success, all looking out to survive.
His office, a little room on the last floor of a building where he could see the roofs through the window. There he spent all day writing, thinking, until his ideas took shape. On those days he ate only mandarins and chestnuts.
The introduction to Scott Fitzgerald’s life, someone that ended up being famous, but at that moment was not sure either about his talent. Both were experiencing the elusive literary world. Hemingway did not admire Fitzgerald, on the contrary, his strong and invasive personality overwhelmed him, he described how hard it was to be with him, his rage attacks and his relationship with alcohol. He felt pity for the relationship of Fitzgerald with his wife, whom he loved, but ended up locked in an asylum and commented that his writing lacked strength. However, when Fitzgerald showed him the draft of ‘The Great Gatsby’ Hemingway knew he will succeed and he told him.
And like that Hemingway met people whom he disliked and others he liked but got lost in the past, and others whom he loved. All the characters are developed to the maximum of capacity and perfection. Beautifully described, as well as the emotions, good and bad. At the end, all of his friends disappeared, some during fights and disagreements, infidelity, craziness, alcoholism and drug abuse. The memories also started to disappeared, but maybe for him, because his prints were all over the memories of Paris.
A 100% recommended book, especially for those who love to write, and still believe they will never make it.