|Purchase: Amazon | Chapters|
Genre: Modern Classics
Started: Oct. 28, 2011
Finished: Oct. 28, 2011 (>1 day)
Where Found: Book Depot
Why Read: On my TBR list
Read For: Back to the Classics challenge (8/8)
Summary: A poor, frail fisherman in the Cuban Gulf seeks one last big catch in a solo expedition without his young companion.
Apparently this book, even at a slim 93 pages (in my Scribner Classics hardcover edition with gorgeous illustrations) has bored many readers to tears and turned them off other Ernest Hemingway books, because it's...get this...about a fish. Well, yes, it is, but you don't really believe that even a heavyweight like Hemingway could draw much depth from just a fish, do you?
I read it in one sitting, which is unusual for me, but was part of a rare literary experience--that a book I didn't expect to like because of so many others' misgivings turned out to be a bright although tiny gem of a book.
Hemingway contrasts age, infirmity, and desire through the unusual friendship between the old fisherman and the young boy--one having the wisdom of life experience, the other with the energy, fearlessness, and youthful exuberance to rekindle feelings of optimism and love in his old friend. And the fish is not merely a fish, but represents the essence of the fisherman's passion. But this is the obvious connection that is as clear as a fairy tale moral. What is tougher to grasp is why the fisherman insists on striving for the seemingly impossible: catching a super-sized fish without his young friend.
Why doesn't he simply let the fish go? My impression is that he can only do what he has always loved and risk everything to accomplish this feat, or he would die miserably, wondering what could have been. It's not an easy concept for anyone to understand but if you can at least sympathize with his plight for strength to succeed in what every caper movie I've seen would call "one last score" before retiring for good.
As much as many others have struggled to stay patient with this story and not feel bogged down by the irony of its heft for such a slim volume of work, complaints about the book seem hyperbolized to me. For someone who has never fished and has no interest or skill in it, the story spoke to me through its treatment of powerful, familiar themes and metaphors of life and death that are simple, straightforward, but not as obvious as they seem on the surface. Hemingway stays away from the repetition and monotony that makes some literary fiction seem to scream "This is the point! Get it?" on every page. The beauty of the story is in its subtlety that reads like a fable. I encourage you to set aside what you've heard about it and read it for yourself.
Rank: (A)- Excellent, Highly Recommend