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This is a light novel; it has no chapters, and Ernest Hemingway writes it as though he were telling you a story that he is recollecting from memory, as though you are right beside him you on a long walk, where the weather is gentle and fair, and there is no hurry.
He tells the story is in such an unrushed manner, and he introduces the places and the different scenes in such a gentle polite manner that by the end of the book, you feel a sort of familiarity with the characters – primarily the old man, the sea and the small boy, Santiago.
True to its title, the novel is about an old man, a curious old man, who is a fisherman, and who was, as Hemingway later reveals, a traveler who found his way to the vastness of the plains and beaches of Africa, who at some point was an arm wrestling champiom, now a widow and a dear friend to a young boy by the name of Santiago.
What is revealed by the end of the about the book is that the old man is the best fisherman in the island, even though, often, he comes home without any fish. He is precise, and does not go after the simple fish like other fishermen who are after a quick buck and a quick thrill. He takes upon himself the task of fishing with such seriousness that he feels as though he is one with the fish He even feels a deep respect for the sea, and Ernest Hemingway writes that the old man “…always thought of the sea as ‘la mar’ which is what people call her in Spanish when they love her. Sometimes those who love her say bad things of her but they are always said as though she were a woman. Some of the younger fishermen, those who used buoys as floats for their lines and had motorboats, bought when the shark livers had brought much money, spoke of her as ‘el mar’ which is masculine.They spoke of her as a contestant or a place or even an enemy. But the old man always thought of her as feminine and as something that gave or withheld great favours, and if she did wild or wicked things it was because she could not help them. The moon affects her as it does a woman, he thought.”
I like how poignantly Hemingway introduces the concept of faith, of religiosity, of Christ in the book – through the thoughts of the old man when he is deep in the sea, in moments of silence and desperate despair.
The thoughts are in passing, and so gentle is this introduction, and it would seem minor, had it not been that when Hemingway won the Nobel prize for literature, he dedicated it to Our Lady of El Cobre, almost like the old man who takes the plea/vow that he would say 100 Our Fathers and 100 Hail Marys if he was helped to endure the weight and to catch the very big fish that was the biggest he had ever seen.For example, he thinks “It is silly not to hope …besides i believe it is a sin. Do not think about sin… There are enough problems now without sin. Also I have no understanding of it.” and later he thinks of the fish, “You loved him when he was alive and you loved him after. If you love him, it is not a sin to kill him. Or is it more?”
And this is my favourite passage in the book “He had sailed for two hours, resting in the stern and sometimes chewing a bit of the meat from the marlin, trying to rest and to be strong, when he saw the first two sharks. “Ay,” he said aloud. There is no translation for this word and perharps it is just a noise such as a man might make involuntarily, feeling the nail go through his hands and into the wood.”
This book is a definitely have in a Catholic’s bookshelf, and also a literary enthusiast bookshelf, since Hemingway introduces so many new words, and he wrote about such a tough topic such as fishing, (that he himself did at some point in his life) that allows the reader to be reeled in – and to question as the old man questions, to long as the old man longs, to wait as the old mans waits, and to suffer with the old man when he suffers, and to cry for the old man, the same way Santiago does – silently, perhaps without tears, but deep down inside, as a man would.
Extra Bites: Reading the book prompted me to search a little more on Hemingway, and for those innterested in deeping deep into who Hemingway was, I came across the ted talk on Teaching Hemingway and for those who do not have the time to read/look for the book, a gem that is a short film made by Aleksandr Petrov that won many literary/film awards for the accuracy with which it depicts what Hemingway had in mind when he wrote the story that takes one on a long slow walk, that you find yourself having arrive at a destination that you thought was long and far off.