I saw this cool visual retelling of The Old Man and the Sea recently (and by recently, I mean in early April, according to the orginal draft date on this post) and it gave me a case of nostalgia for my Cuba trip. The day before I was to set out, my boss, Alex, and I got into a conversation about all the time Ernest Hemingway spent in Cuba, and all the writing he did there. She had a great idea – read something Hemingway wrote in Cuba while I was in Cuba.
After some quick Googling about what he actually wrote there, The Old Man and the Sea went into my luggage. My first choice, Islands in the Stream, proved too difficult to find a copy of, but one could do worse than reading a book that won both the Pulitzer and the Nobel. I thought I was past due to read that classic anyway.*
In Cuba, I spotted this pasty-faced, long-haired, teenaged boy also reading, The Old Man and the Sea. Debra and I joked that I had the mental capacity of a teenaged boy. Great! I’m telling you, that’s why I tried to find a lesser known work! I kept seeing the kid all over the place, he was even on the same excursion as us into Varadero.
Anyway, I finished the book, and then I had another reason to wish I’d been able to get my hands on a different book: The Old Man and the Sea is fucking depressing. I had a pretty emotional reaction to this book and I started wanting to talk to the kid about it (the book, not my emotions). That was pretty weird because I’m not really that fond of talking about books.
But I wanted to know if the kid thought Santiago died at the end. I felt he had. I mean, here are the facts. He was old. He had been out at sea fighting a marlin for three days. A marlin! After he succeeds in landing the great fish he’s been pursuing his entire life, he has to fight off a bunch of sharks attacking it/him/his boat. When he finally gets the damned thing home, all he has left lashed to his boat is a skeleton. Frankly, that would make me want to lay down and die. Hemingway is vague about it. He says Santiago goes to sleep and dreams of lions.
I looked it up when I got home and there are (not surprisingly) two schools of thought on the matter. Some say Hemingway meant it literally – Santiago goes to sleep. Some say he died. Either way, I have to hand it to Hemingway. Great (if depressing) ending.
The video glosses over this issue – maybe the artist didn’t know either?!
* A Moveable Feast would have been a solid choice to read in Cuba, apparently it was written there, but I had already read it – plus it’s about Hemingway’s life in Paris, whereas The Old Man and the Sea is set in Cuba.