Dear Commons Community,
I have just finished reading Nicholas Reynolds’ 2017 book on Ernest Hemingway entitled, Writer, Sailor, Soldier, Spy. It illuminated for me a part of Hemingway I knew nothing about. In addition to his novels, I have read four biographical pieces of his mercurial life but I was not aware of his involvement with Soviet agents, American operatives, and his “secret adventures” from the 1930s through the 1950s. The book ends with Hemingway’s battle with depression, electric shock therapy and his suicide in 1961. Here is an excerpt from a Publishers Weekly Review
“Reynolds gamely connects the author’s interactions with Soviet operatives in the Spanish Civil War to his fears of persecution during the post-WWII American Red Scare. He also documents Hemingway’s contact with the NKVD Soviet spy agency, antisubmarine patrol efforts in his fishing boat in Cuban waters, and creation of an amateur counterintelligence operation in Havana in 1942, as interesting sidelines to his creative life. But the author, a military historian, rarely accounts for the role Hemingway’s tremendous ego played as a motivating force. Hemingway’s activities in 1944 post-invasion France did assist in Paris’s liberation, but also prompted a U.S. Army investigation for violating noncombatant status. The book is filled with admissions that “no one is likely to ever know” the extent of Hemingway’s involvement with the Soviets and overly puffed-up martial language, such as describing combat coverage as “rid[ing] to the sound of the guns.” In addressing Hemingway’s later years, Reynolds notes that “fantasy and reality mixed in Hemingway’s thoughts and politics,” but doesn’t adequately address how depression, narcissism, and celebrity treatment may have affected the writer’s conduct. In concluding that Hemingway was “a gifted but overconfident amateur” in politics and espionage, Reynolds overstates the toll those pursuits took on the writer.”
Hemingway lovers will find Reynolds’ treatment fascinating, comical, and sad.