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Nautical Book Review – HEMINGWAY’S BOAT By Paul Hendrickson

December 1, 2011

Nautical Book Review – HEMINGWAY’S BOAT

EVERYTHING HE LOVED IN LIFE, AND LOST, 1934-1961

By Paul Hendrickson

My father often suggested that, if I didn’t have anything good to say, it was best not to say it at all. I have generally apply this approach to my life, and have found it to be more helpful than not.  Sorry for what follows, Dad. The best I can say about this book is that either Ernest Hemingway had no special relationship with his boat, or that the author hasn’t discovered it.

One might expect that the subject of a book entitled HEMINGWAY’S BOAT would be a boat, or the special relationship between a man and his boat. A boater seeing such a title might expect that the author had discovered, understood, and would explain, Hemingway’s passion for his boat. Unfortunately, with regard to this book, neither expectation is correct.

Early in the book Hendrickson, an award-winning author whose credits include Seminary, A Search, Looking for the Light: The Hidden Life and Art of Marion Post Wolcott, The Living and the Dead, and Sons of Mississippi: A Story of Race and Its Legacy (notice the lack of nautical themes) tries to distinguish himself from the many Hemingway biographers that preceded him. He promises to deliver a first-ever review of the famous writer’s personal connection to his beloved M/V Pilar. What he delivers is more than five-hundred pages of Hemingway lore, seemingly unending chapters on the people and places in Hemingway’s life, information of the FBI’s connection to Hemingway’s suicide (which I suspect is the reason this book caught reviewers’ interest), a fair amount of detail on early twentieth century sport fishing, and some facts about Hemingway’s boat. Oh, the disappointment.

Hendrickson devoted seven years to collecting material for this book, and the depth of his research is obvious and impressive. The book includes interviews with Pilar’s only living passengers, catalogs decades of Hemingway communications, chronicles the writer’s numerous marriages, takes the reader on tours of his homes, details the relationship between Hemingway and his children, and analyses interpersonal relationships between Hemingway and his publishers, wives, and friends. A few pages are dedicated to Hemingway’s search for Pilar, and include notes from the author’s visit to the foot of Cropsey Avenue in Brooklyn, where Pilar was launched. Even fewer pages are dedicated to Pilar’s fascinating life after Hemingway.

Mr. Hendrickson deserves to occupy a place among Hemingway historians. I suspect he has unearthed several previously unknown facts about the famous author’s life. Perhaps a few fishing historians will be interested in his descriptions of Hemingway’s angling tactics. Anyone interested in a brief history of the “Wheeler 38” may find Hendrickson’s brief references to the boat of interest, but will surely be disappointed by the paucity of photographs of the vessel.

The title HEMINGWAY’S BOAT is misleading. This book is not about a boat, but about a man who loved fishing from a boat. If there is more to the story, I’m still waiting.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. diane.austen permalink
    December 7, 2011 14:35

    Darn!!

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