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Berlin, Frankfurt, Paris, Chapel Hill, Boston, Istanbul, Calgary, Washington DC, Austin, Tunis, Warszawa and counting

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

There is never any end to Paris

"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."

I had recently discovered (very much by accident) that Hemingway had written a collection of sketches of his life as a young husband and emerging writer in Paris. Naturally I decided that I would have to read it and soon after bought it as a present for a friend of mine, racing through most of the book during the afternoon before I gave it to him. While I am not as sentimental, nor as grandiose as Hemingway, it seemed fitting to read something like this as some kind of a closure for my year in Paris.

Hemingway lived in Paris in the 1920s and his twenties. His book, A moveable Feast, consists of charming sketches detailing his impoverished life there. He fasts for lunch, boasts how hunger contributes to the understanding of art, and embellishes his family's finances at the race tracks. The book is less about actual Paris, and much more so about Hemingway's life which happens to take place mostly in Paris. His wife and their happiness in early marriage are focused on, his relation with Gertrude Stein and how they drifted apart as well as his friendship with Ezra Pound is described. Finally, how he came into contact with F. Scott Fitzgerald and how he and Zelda drove each other insane (quite literally) and how Hemingway perceived the glamorous couple.

Quite the fascinating literary gem, without a doubt. I feel some beforehand knowledge of Hemingway (and his literary contemporaries cited above) are needed in order to facilitate one's understanding of parts of the book, but I can wholeheartedly recommend it.

In the last chapter Hemingway scathingly attacks his second wife for stealing him away from his first one with whom he had been oh so happy:

"The oldest trick there is. It is that an unmarried young woman becomes the temporary best friend of another young woman who is married, goes to live with the husband and wife and then unknowingly, innocently and unrelentingly sets out to marry the husband. [...] The husband has two attractive girls around when has finished work. One is new and strange and if he has bad luck he gets to love them both."

Abstracting from Hemingway's obvious glorification of the past (by the time he wrote this he was married a fourth time and shortly before his suicide) and of himself (who is lured away without fault himself from his wife by her rich best friend the poor, helpless chap) and interesting family dispute has emerged regarding this. The originally published version of A moveable Feast was published by Hemingway's fourth wife who arranged, included and excluded the existing sketches. Now, Hemingway's grandson with his second wife has published an alternate version that includes some sketches which paint his grandmother in a more positive light and which had been omitted Hemingway's fourth wife. Quite obviously, I will need to have a look at that version as well.

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