Oh my, I am so behind on my blogging. It’s the very end of my very last semester in university, and I feel as if I am juggling chainsaws like they do in those silly cartoons. I have managed somehow to finish several books in the duration of this hectic period (when in fact I should have been studying, but oh well), but I’d had no desire to blog about it. Until late February I was actually on track with my plan to read a book a week, until I realized I’m three books behind as we speak. I have some wonderful novels to talk about, as well as some new purchases I want to share. Unfortunately my spare time is nonexistent, and I really hope to just survive the next month or so. But back to the book I wanted to talk about today – The Old Man and the Sea.
I have no idea where my fear of Hemingway got its roots. He always felt like the author some smart, sophisticated people read to fill their artistic void, or something. I never thought I’d enjoy his writing. My first taste of Hemingway left me with mixed emotions. It was in my second year of university and I had to read one of his short stories for class. I don’t remember its name, but it had to do with a bar and an old man sitting there, and two young waiters speculating about his intentions. I loved the minimalistic feel and subtle allusions, and profound sadness the piece made me feel. It read like poetry; not the flowery 19th century stuff, but the clean and sober splashes of imagery stripped of vivid colors. I was watching a faded painting of some sorts. It was interesting how such realistic and bare narrative made me see events unfold as if in a movie. Still, as a bitter fan of Romanticism, I thought myself to be outside my comfort zone. I once talked to a man who told me that his trick to getting himself out of unnecessary flood of words was to turn to Hemingway’s straightforward writing. So I guess it had worked for some people too.
The Old Man and the Sea attracted me with its briefness. I had an option to abandon it if I found it unbearable, or plow right through it if the book was boring. I did neither. I read it slowly, chewing every word, tasting every scale of the damn fish the man was pursuing. I cried for the old Santiago when everyone around told him he was done as fisherman, I fidgeted on the edge of my chair while waiting for the great marlin to show himself, and I grew desperate when the sharks attacked. The story is a familiar man vs. wild kind of stuff; some even link it to Moby Dick. But there is genuine respect that fuels Santiago’s pursuit of the marlin that makes the book stand out for me He takes fish from the sea as if they were precious gifts, and he thanks them for feeding him before putting each in his mouth. Santiago doesn’t waste the gifts and eats every bit he can to pay his deep respect to the ocean. When it comes to the illusive marlin, Santiago treats it like a king of the sea. Here’s an interesting episode describing their relationship and Santiago’s view on the sea creatures:
Then he was sorry for the great fish that had nothing to eat and his determination to kill him never relaxed his sorrow for him. How many people will he feed, he thought. But are they worthy to eat him? No, of course not. There is no one worthy of eating him from the manner of his behaviour and his great dignity. p. 30
When the fish is finally caught, I rooted for Santiago. Now he could go back to the village and all those fisherman who made fun of him would shove it. Finally, justice would be restored. Imagine my horror, when one after another, sharks started to attack the tied up carcass of the great fish. Santiago killed many of the wretched beasts, but they were too numerous, and soon there was nothing left but a clean skeleton. Already in sight of the home land, Santiago lost his precious fish, and I was devastated. That was so not fair! But such is the work of Hemingway, who obviously believed in cold, hard truth and unfairness of life. Once again, Hemingway made me sad. Did he convince me that silence is worth a thousand words? Looking back at my long rant that I’m pretty sure makes sense only to me, I cannot guaranty that.