Sunday, July 31, 2016

Book review: The Old Man and The Sea by Ernest Hemingway

The Old Man and The Sea, which I first read ten years ago, is just as good on the second visit. The style of writing is unique. It grabs you from the get-go and never lets up, taking the reader on the journey of a life-time with a tired old fisherman who is locked in a 'to the death' battle with a giant marlin.



...he had gone eighty-four days now without taking a fish.

The sail was patched with flour sacks and, furled, it looked like the flag of permanent defeat.

No one would steal from the old man but it was better to take the sail and the heavy lines home as the dew was bad for them and, though he was quite sure no local people would steal from him, the old man thought that a gaff and a harpoon were needless temptations to leave in a boat.

The old man opened his eyes and for a moment he was coming back from a long way away. Then he smiled.

 I can always come in on the glow from Havana. There are two more hours before the sun sets and maybe he will come up before that. If he doesn’t maybe he will come up with the moon. If he does not do that maybe he will come up with the sunrise. I have no cramps and I feel strong. It is he that has the hook in his mouth. But what a fish to pull like that. He must have his mouth shut tight on the wire. I wish I could see him. I wish I could see him only once to know what I have against me.

He could ruin me by jumping or by a wild rush.

'Fish,' he said softly, aloud, 'I'll stay with you until I am dead.'

'Fish,' he said, 'I love you and respect you very much. But I will kill you before this day ends.'

I wish I was the fish, he thought, with everything he has against only my will and my intelligence.

He settled comfortably against the wood and took the suffering as it came and the fish swan steadily and the boat moved slowly through the dark water.

“But you have not slept yet, old man,” he said aloud. “It is half a day and a night and now another day and you have not slept. You must devise a way so that you sleep a little if he is quiet and steady. If you do not sleep you might become unclear in the head.” I’m clear enough in the head, he thought. Too clear. I am as clear as the stars that are my brothers. Still I must sleep. They sleep and the moon and the sun sleep and even the ocean sleeps sometimes on certain days when there is no current and a flat calm.

... I could go without sleeping, he told himself. But it would be too dangerous.

But the fish kep on circling slowly and the old mand was wet with sweat and tired deep into his bones...

I must hold the pain where it is, he though. Mine does not matter. I can control mine. But his pain could drive him mad.

He saw him first as a dark shadow that took so long to pass under that boat that he could not believe its length.

But I must get him close, close, close, he thought. I mustn't try for the head. I must get the heart.

“Fish,” the old man said. “Fish, you are going to have to die anyway. Do you have to kill me too?” That way nothing is accomplished, he thought. His mouth was too dry to speak but he could not reach for the water now. I must get him alongside this time, he thought. I am not good for many more turns. Yes you are, he told himself. You’re good for ever. On the next turn, he nearly had him. But again the fish righted himself and swam slowly away. You are killing me, fish, the old man thought. But you have a right to. Never have I seen a greater, or more beautiful, or a calmer or more noble thing than you, brother. Come on and kill me. I do not care who kills who.

He felt the iron go in and he leaned on it and drove it further and then pushed all his weight after it. Then the fish came alive, with his death in him, and rose high out of the water showing all his great length and width and all his power and his beauty. He seemed to hang in the air above the old man in the skiff. Then he fell into the water with a crash that sent spray over the old man and over all of the skiff.

He’s over fifteen hundred pounds the way he is, he thought. Maybe much more. If he dresses out two-thirds of that at thirty cents a pound?

It was an hour before the first shark hit him.

“But man is not made for defeat,” he said. “A man can be destroyed but not defeated.” I am sorry that I killed the fish though, he thought. Now the bad time is coming and I do not even have the harpoon. The dentuso is cruel and able and strong and intelligent. But I was more intelligent than he was. Perhaps not, he thought. Perhaps I was only better armed.

The old man knew a very bad time was coming.

“I shouldn’t have gone out so far, fish,” he said. “Neither for you nor for me. I’m sorry, fish.”

“Half fish,” he said. “Fish that you were. I am sorry that I went too far out. I ruined us both. But we have killed many sharks, you and I, and ruined many others. How many did you ever kill, old fish? You do not have that spear on your head for nothing.” He liked to think of the fish and what he could do to a shark if he were swimming free. I should have chopped the bill off to fight them with, he thought. But there was no hatchet and then there was no knife.

I should have some luck. No, he said. You violated your luck when you when too far outside.

The wind is our friend, anyway, he thought. Then he added, sometimes. And the great sea with our friends and our enemies. And bed, he thought. Bed is my friend. Just bed, he thought. Bed will be a great thing. It is easy when you are beaten, he thought. I never knew how easy it was. And what beat you, he thought. “Nothing,” he said aloud. “I went out too far.”

The boy saw that the old man was breathing and then he saw the old man’s hands and he started to cry. He went out very quietly to go to bring some coffee and all the way down the road he was crying. Many fishermen were around the skiff looking at what was lashed beside it and one was in the water, his trousers rolled up, measuring the skeleton with a length of line. The boy did not go down. He had been there before and one of the fishermen was looking after the skiff for him.
“How is he?” one of the fishermen shouted.
“Sleeping,” the boy called. He did not care that they saw him crying.
“Let no one disturb him.”
“He was eighteen feet from nose to tail,” the fisherman who was measuring him called.
“I believe it,” the boy said.

Finally the old man woke.
“Don’t sit up,” the boy said.
“Drink this.” He poured some of the coffee in a glass. The old man took it and drank it.
“They beat me, Manolin,” he said.
“They truly beat me.”
“He didn’t beat you. Not the fish.”
“No. Truly. It was afterwards.”

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