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BOOK REVIEW: Hemingway’s Havana – A Reflection of the Writer’s Life in Cuba by Robert Wheeler and América Fuentes

| 11 March 2019 | Reply

BOOK REVIEW: Hemingway’s Havana – A Reflection of the Writer’s Life in Cuba by Robert Wheeler and América Fuentes

Skyhorse Publishing
March 2018
Hardcover, $37.99
Reviewed by Natalie Salvo

Non-Fiction / Travel & Holidays / Travel Writing

70% Rocking

The acclaimed author Ernest Hemingway has been the subject of many books. The famous writer has inspired so many words that the world probably doesn’t need anything more written about him. But Hemingway’s Havana takes a unique approach because photographs are used to evoke the legend’s spirit and time spent in Cuba. The result is a beautiful and expressive coffee table book that would make a nice gift for travel and literature lovers.

Through prose and photographs I hope it is easy to understand why Hemingway once shouted with resolve and conviction, “I am Cuban, after all.”

Robert Wheeler is an aficionado of Ernest Hemingway. He is also a teacher and photographer who has published a volume about Hemingway’s time spent living in Paris. Both volumes steer clear of academic writing or histories about the subject. Instead, Wheeler shoots and gathers over 100 black and white, and colour photographs to get inside Hemingway’s mind and walk inside the great man’s shoes. In doing so, Wheeler describes some of the more salient points from Hemingway’s life and the two decades spent in his adopted, island home.

This book is not exhaustive but these photographs create a portrait of the writer. This is a warm, empathetic, and visceral experience where readers can learn about Hemingway’s connection with his adopted country. It’s interesting because it gives readers a different perspective of Hemingway’s work, especially the novels For Whom the Bell Tolls and The Old Man & the Sea. There is also an introduction by the granddaughter of the late Gregorio Fuentes, the captain of Hemingway’s boat and the man considered by many to be the inspiration for Hemingway’s Santiago character.

Ernest Hemingway came to Cuba from the sea, due south across the clean and blue Florida Straights from Key West. The year was 1934, and he motored into Havana Harbor–past the 200-foot rise of the stone Fortaleza de San Carlos de la Cabaña and Morro Lighthouse–aboard his new and prized fishing boat, Pilar…On the long and winding Malecón and along the palm-treed shoreline, Hemingway saw life–a people absorbed in the reflections of the sea made by the intense colors of the setting sun. It was clear that these Cubans were living por el mar, y para el mar, and doing so with grace and in harmony. First impressions counted greatly to Hemingway, and Havana’s honest and subtle splendour is what filled his senses as his boat slowly and softly moved in to the welcoming and protective Havana Harbor.

Wheeler takes a romanticised view of Hemingway. It fits the lyrical perspective he fashions with his prose, but this can also come at the expense of the truth. Sometimes this book feels like a hagiography or an oversimplification, particularly during the descriptions of the politics of the time.

Fidel Castro wanted everyone in his country to be rich…rich in identity and rich in dignity. No matter one’s political or social position or philosophy, most can agree that when politics serve the few–leaving the masses to suffer–change is necessary and revolution is inevitable…Castro was not rich, and he was not a solider. But in 1956, as a political exile in Mexico, he decided to place his love of the Cuban people, and their well-being, before his own life by returning to Cuba to put an end to the massive inequality. It is this simple and honest, and selfless and brave act that earned the respect of the island’s most famous resident, American author Ernest Hemingway.

Hemingway was inspired by Cuba’s many contrasts and Wheeler captures some of this nuance through his descriptions of the country’s people, culture, politicians and landscape. The book devotes some time to Hemingway’s Cuban home, Finca Vigía, and these sections create an atmospheric mood piece. This is very different territory to your standard travel photography book.

Nowhere in all of Havana do the sun and city and the sea and stars come together more beautifully than along the Malecón, Havana’s Balcony. Lovers no matter what their age, stroll along and sit upon this winding stone wall… Hemingway would walk along the Malecón and feel the bluish-green sea push its weight against it while thinking about stories written and those still to write. He would often sit, taking out a small notepad and write. He would write of the direction of the wind, the strength of the current, and what the colors of the sea looked like with the fading sun. Hemingway was a romantic, and he was an Imagist poet, and he lived what he wrote and wrote what his eyes saw.

Readers already acquainted with Hemingway’s life may get the most from this volume. There is some assumed knowledge and these fans may find that Wheeler covers some things that they already know. Wheeler thankfully presents his findings in an unusual format, so this book should pique interest in its subject. The book also allows readers to dip in and out of this Cuban adventure, and to reflect and take a side seat to the action.

In Hemingway’s Havana Robert Wheeler creates love letters to Cuba and the award-winning American author. While it is rich on some of Hemingway’s details, sometimes it takes a rather rose-tinted view of things. Hemingway’s Havana ultimately presents some pictures that tell a thousand words and which add to Hemingway’s earthly narrative. Hemingway is one complicated author and man, and this gorgeous book is like a tasty wine because it captures some of the complexity of its subject.

Category: Book Reviews

About the Author ()

Natalie Salvo is a foodie and writer from Sydney. You can find her digging around in second hand book shops or submerged in vinyl crates at good record stores. Her website is at:

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