Michael Palin goes in search of Ernest Hemingway…

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More than perhaps any other author it is nigh on impossible to separate the myth of Ernest Hemingway from the actual work that he produced. Indeed, he famously said that when one has writers block, they should write the first true thing they can think of. This resulted in a perhaps more than semi autobiographical bibliography, taking in his time as an ambulance driver in WW1 right through to hunting in Africa and beyond. It figures then, that Michael Palin’s book Hemingway Adventure is just as interesting for fans of Hem’s writing as it is for those more interested in the man himself.

In 1999, a hundred years after Ernest Hemingway’s birth, Michael Palin made a BBC documentary and accompanying book charting his journey through the many places that shaped Hemingway’s extraordinary life. My own relationship with Hemingway is perhaps unusual in as much as I have read his work while purposefully resisting learning more about the man. The astonishing writing in Death in the Afternoon or A Farewell To Arms coupled with the small snippets I know about Hem and his life, have built a legend in my head that surely cannot be lived up to in reality. Or so I thought. Here are some things I learnt about Hemingway from Hemingway Adventure:

  • He loved cats
  • He survived two plane crashes in two days
  • His Grandfather, Ernest Hall, was from Sheffield
  • He invented more than one cocktail

Aside from these interesting titbits, I also learnt the full extent of Hemingway’s love of travel and adventure and the heartbreaking nature of his loss of health and eventual suicide. As for Palin, I love his work on Monty Python but know nothing of him as a writer. I was surprised therefore to discover an impressive literary range and a beating heart pumping through Palin’s words. His passion and knowledge of the subject matter took me on my own journey of sorts and I will look upon him in a different light from here on in.

In the end I have learnt that there is no need to try and separate the man from the myth or even the man from his work. The legend of Hemingway should be embraced in a world where people are constantly searching to slaughter their next sacred cow. And in the end as Hemingway himself said, “We can’t  ever go back to old things or try and get the ‘old kick’ out of something or find things the way we remembered them. We have them as we remember them and they are fine and wonderful and we have to go on and have other things because the old things are nowhere except in our minds now.”

I’ll drink to that Papa.