A unique biography of Ernest Hemingway’s World War II experience.
At first glance, Hemingway’s decision to volunteer to hunt for German U-boats threatening mercantile ships in the Gulf Stream can be easily absorbed into the author’s tough-guy image, especially considering that the Pilar was a fishing boat on which he could drink and boss other men around on the Navy’s dime. Yet former Navyman Mort’s portrait is far more nuanced. The author views these patrols as a synthesis of life and art, arguing that Hemingway embodied his own existential “Hemingway Hero” during these hunts—or quests, as Hemingway himself preferred to call them. It was this quest that would shape much of Santiago’s saga in The Old Man and the Sea—and, to a lesser extent, Islands in the Stream. At times Mort’s analysis of Hemingway’s words and deeds is overly sympathetic, but his inclusion of Martha Gellhorn’s correspondence adds a welcome perspective on this complicated man. While the information specifically relating to Hemingway’s time aboard the Pilar is stretched quite thin, Mort is strongest in his discussions of boats, the naval history of the period and the mechanics of the elusive U-boat—so strong, in fact, that Hemingway’s quest occasionally takes a back seat to the grander maritime developments of the period. But Mort ably establishes the earnestness at the heart of Hemingway’s quixotic adventure, which was rooted in his deep desire to serve his country and underscored by the unique opportunity to live his art.
A rewarding read about the inner workings of an artistic mind—solid fare for Hemingway enthusiasts looking for a fresh perspective.