Robert Wheeler fell in love with Ernest Hemingway in 1986 when he read “The Garden of Eden.” Since then, he has devoured everything the great American author wrote, and turned his encomium for the author into two homages.
His first book, “Hemingway’s Paris: A Writer’s City in Words and Images,” highlights Hemingway’s adventures in the city of lights. Paris is where Hemingway lived with his first wife, Hadley, and their son, Jack. Paris is where Hemingway was inspired to write the way Cezanne painted. And as Hemingway stated in 1964’s “A Moveable Feast”: “If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.”
Later in his life, Hemingway moved his feast to Havana, the topic of Wheeler’s new title, “Hemingway’s Havana: A Reflection Of The Writer’s Life In Cuba.” Inspired by a 37-day stay in the summer of 2015, Wheeler’s new book captures all of Havana’s beauty the way Hemingway would have wanted his readers to view it: through the Sea, the Land, and his Work.
Havana was an important city for Hemingway, as he lived there for 20 years (1940-1960), writing portions of “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” “The Old Man and the Sea,” “To Have and Have Not” and “A Moveable Feast.”
Wheeler’s book features photos with accompanying text (or brief essays) explaining each photo, capturing the rich, colorful city, its people and sites. For example, there is a four-color depiction of Gregorio Fuentes, Hemingway’s former skipper and inspiration for the protagonist of “The Old Man and the Sea,” alongside the forward penned by Fuentes’ granddaughter, America. Hauntingly, Wheeler includes a photo of Hemingway’s bust facing Cojimar’s harbor, and the author informs readers that Hemingway humbly presented his 1954 Nobel Prize in Literature medallion to the people of Cuba for their support. It’s housed in a Catholic church there to this day.
Wheeler captures one of the most popular tourist spots in Havana — Finca Vigia (Lookout Farm) — Hemingway’s house, now owned by the Cuban government. It is located in the San Francisco de Paula section of Havana. In this section of his book, Wheeler notes that, “To write well, one must be well-read,” and Hemingway’s 4,000 books that line the walls of Finca prove this point. Other Finca highlights include pictures of his reading chair, the kitchen area, the dining room, where a replica of Miro’s The Farm hangs, and the bedroom.
Readers know that the sea was important to the author, so Wheeler astutely includes several pictures of Pilar, Hemingway’s 38-foot fishing boat that he purchased in Brooklyn in 1934 for just over $7,000. Pilar is also the name of the leader of the guerrilla women in “For Whom the Bell Tolls” and the nickname of his second wife, Pauline. And if you visit Cuba, have the tour guide inform you about Hemingway and his group of anti-fascist comrades called the Crook Factory who hurled grenades, from Pilar, into German U-boats off the coast of Cuba.
Ernest Hemingway continues to pique the interest of the literati and tourists throughout the world. If you are traveling to Cuba, if you have read “The Old Man and the Sea” or “To Have and Have Not,” or if you are simply a Hemingway fan, you will enjoy “Hemingway’s Havana” — both visually and textually. Hemingway may have left Havana when Fidel Castro’s rhetoric became draconian, but his legacy remains there for all to see.
Wayne Catan teaches English literature at Brophy College Preparatory in Phoenix.
“Hemingway’s Havana: A Reflection Of The Writer’s Life In Cuba”
by Robert Wheeler;
Skyhorse Publishing ($24.99)