There was once a fisherman who reeled in seven marlins in a single day.
There was once a war hero who earned a Medal of Valor in World War I, followed by a Bronze Star in World War II.
There was once an adventurer who survived two airplane crashes… in 24 hours.
Remarkable stories begin with remarkable characters. None of these stories were born on the pages of a book. They are from the life of a storyteller. One very real, very troubled, very remarkable storyteller.
The life of Ernest Hemingway (or “Papa” as he was affectionately known) contained more astonishing chapters than most would credit to one man’s story. His childhood was a paradox, a balancing act between a mother who desperately wanted him to be a girl, and a father who would inspire his iconic masculine identity. In his youth, Hemingway would spend two months of every year camping with his father along the banks of Lake Michigan. Although his father was a cruel man with whom he had a strained relationship, these trips would lay the foundation for his lifelong love of hunting, fishing, and adventure.
Much like the dichotomy of his childhood, his life’s story would be defined by a contrasting timeline of highs and lows.
He truly did catch seven marlins in a single day, setting a world record in 1938 and establishing himself as a legend and architect of big-game fishing. He truly did earn military honors in both World Wars, serving as an ambulance driver on the Italian front line in World War I, as well as participating in the invasion of France on D-Day during World War II. He truly did survive back-to-back plane crashes while vacationing with his wife in Africa’s Belgian Congo. The first plane struck a utility pole, leaving him with a ruptured kidney, a ruptured spleen, a ruptured liver, crushed vertebrae, and a fractured skull. The following day, the plane that came to rescue them exploded upon takeoff. He would use his head as a battering ram to throw open the door, saving the passengers on board.
Yet, amidst the wild stories that seem like they could be folklore, there were faults that proved all too real. Those who knew Papa best knew him as a man plagued by anger, depression, and paranoia. Brain injuries following the plane crash alone would leave an irreversible mark on his personality and his relationships. In the later years of his life, he lost his ability to write, his ability to relate, and his ability to remember. In the end, it was the tapestry of his remarkable triumphs and his inherent flaws that came together to form his story. The highs, the lows, and everything in between.
All of it… manifested within the pages of his legendary literature.
Papa wrote the chapters of his books to reflect the chapters of his life. His first novel, The Sun Also Rises, follows a group of youthful British and American expatriates traveling from Paris to Pamplona for the legendary Running of the Bulls, with characters and experiences directly inspired by Hemingway’s own youthful journey to Spain in 1925. The Old Man and the Sea, Hemingway’s last great novel, gives an account of an aging fisherman in the fight of his life against the fierce marlin with hopes of bringing an end to his long and agonizing dry spell. The same could be said for the impact the novel had on his writing career.
Hemingway crafted legendary novels and short stories, earning him a Nobel Prize in Literature and Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. The New York Times described him as “the most important writer since the death of Shakespeare”. After his death, President John F. Kennedy remarked, “Few Americans had a greater impact on the emotions and attitude of the American people than Ernest Hemingway.”He crafted his narratives in such a way that the reader could easily identify pieces of their own story within the one on the pages. The personal paradoxes we all face that somehow work together to create our own personal stories.
The highs, the lows, and everything in between.