Sunday, July 2, 2017

A Conversation With Patrick Hemingway

Today, I called Patrick Hemingway, largely to wish him a happy birthday, which was June 28. I called him on that day, in the evening, but failed to reach him. Today I was lucky. As usual Carol received the call and called Patrick to the phone.

First I greeted him in the proper Tanzanian way, "Shikamoo." He responded in his usual jovial manners, and when I told him "Happy Birthday," he was pleasantly surprised that I remembered the day. I told him that the date is imprinted in my mind and makes me recall my visit to the Kansas City home where he was born.

As usual, we started talking about books. Patrick mentioned a book by an Israeli writer, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, and wondered whether I knew about it. I told him I didn't, and he talked about it in glowing terms. He then asked if I had read the Ghanaian novel, Homegoing, winner of the 2017 Pen/Hemingway Prize. I told him I had not read it, but had recently received a copy, since I am going to teach it in a summer course on African Literature. He said he liked it very much.

I told Patrick that I was recently in Baltimore, and had bought, in a nearby town, a new book on Hemingway, which dwelt on his career in espionage. I said that whenever I go into a bookstore, I first look at the Hemingway section. He said he does the same. He asked for the title of the book, but I did not have it with me. He asked me to tell him about it after I finish reading it, so he could determine its worth.

I have the sense, from my numerous conversations with Patrick, that he is keenly aware of the shortcomings of writers on Hemingway, even reputable researchers. On the theme of Hemingway and espionage, he shared with me some interesting facts. He said, for example, that Hemingway took him and his young brother on board his boat, which he used to hunt for German submarines in the Caribbean Sea.

I told Patrick that I knew about this boat, called Pilar, but didn't know that his father had taken him and Gregory on board. Patrick also gave me a broader picture of what was going on at that time. The German submarines were active on the eastern side of the USA, seeking to sink oil tankers destined for Europe. Patrick told me this was called Operation Drumbeat. He also talked about what was going on in the Pacific at the time, and in Spain, when Hemingway was there. His remarks inspired me to read the book I had told him about, Writer, Sailor, Soldier, Spy: Ernest Hemingway's Secret Adventures, 1935-1961, by Nicholas Reynolds.

We talked about Hemingway's relationship to folklore. I don't recall how we got into this, but Patrick noted that Hemingway owned The Golden Bough, and I mentioned Hemingway's short story, "The Good Lion," which imitates the narrative technique of a folktale. I said that in teaching my course on Hemingway in East Africa, I had discussed this tale as an example of Hemingway's appropriation of folklore.

I told Patrick that I want to write a book on Hemingway and Africa, which would project my perspective which he knows very well, from our phone conversations and the documentary film, Papa's Shadow. Patrick said he will be waiting to read the book, adding that he was flattered that I chose to study Hemingway, when I could have chosen another writer. That is the Patrick I know, always unassuming and big-hearted.

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