on May 31, 2004
After returning from a trip to Paris I decided to read this memoir by Hemmingway because I heard he loved Paris as much as I. I have to say I imagined a beautifully descriptive book filled with telling prose and wonderful scenes of Paris. I love the way Hemmingway writes but this book disappointed me. It may be that it was published after his death and slapped together without his perfectionistic control.
"A Moveable Feast" is an interesting read, simple even. If you know Paris you can even walk with Hemmingway along the Rues and conjure up a few old cafes that are still in business. If you are a writer it is nice to imagine yourself as the poor and struggling Hemmingway bent on a dream. But the stories are really nothing more than gossip about other writers and reknown figures such as, Fitzgerald, Stein, James, Pound and others flocking through Paris in the 1920's. I was hoping for more. The only paragraph I paid much attention to because of its "Hemmingway" quality read like this, "They say the seeds of what we will do are in all of us, but it seemed to me that in those who make jokes in life the seeds are covered with better soil and with a higher grade of manure." Gems like this can be found but unfortuneately not often. Paris and Hemmingway are both such profound enigmas that I expected a gourmet feast not just a trip to Denny's!
on October 7, 2002
Hemmingway describes the people he cavorted with in France during the 1920's as Vonnegut portrays fantastic characters in his novels. The prose tells the idiosyncratic tales and eccentricities of writers making their way, or trying to make their way, on the streets of Paris after World War I. I enjoyed the book immensely, especially as it provided insight into the lives of many writers whom I had previously read, but never read about. Hemmingway describes reading F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gadsby when it was first published. He tells of his relationship with Fitzgerald and his wife, Zelda. He writes about visiting Gertrude Stein and others in his younger days in Paris. Hemmingway's vivid portrayal of many of the '20s most famous personalities has given me renewed interest to read their works, and his. I look forward to rereading The Sun Also Rises and other works of literary greatness.
He also writes about what it is like to be a writer. Holding counsel with Fitzgerald and others, Hemmingway provides a snapshot into his discipline. This work presents great insight into the life of a truly great author.
on August 4, 2002
A Moveable Feast is a short book that glances over Hemingway's years in Paris. I don't know that you could call this much of a memoir, it doesn't go into great detail, and just sort of skims over his years in Paris. It was definitely written by an older Hemingway, one who was full of himself and bitterness. The style of writing seems different. This isn't the Hemingway I know from his short stories. The narration seems almost child-like, and definitely not written as well as his short stories. But don't let me make you think I didn't enjoy this book. Hemingway is still the greatest and A Moveable Feast was a wonderful book to read, if only for his portrait of Scott Fitzgerald. And there is a lot more humor used here than in his short stories. This book didn't break into my list of favorites, but it came close.
(As a sidenote, if you enjoyed reading this, or want more like it, pick up Scott Berg's biography of Maxwell Perkins, _Max Perkins: Editor of Genius_, who was Hemingway's and Fitzgerald's editor at Scribner's.)
on July 23, 2002
What a fine book. The remembrance of Papa Hemingway of the time when he was simply Hem. The work is sparse. Certainly, many of the details are intentionally ommitted. In many ways A Moveable Feast is a big tease. Just like Hemingway's best short stories.
Hemingway gives the reader the gift of a small insight into the life of a young artist in 1920s Paris. We see Hemingway hard at work writing in the cafes; hard at play flirting with painters' models; at home loving his young wife; at the foot of the looming Gertrude Stein. Hemingway also sketches his thoughts on Joyce, Ford Madox Ford, Pound, and Fitzgerald. Lots of kernals--nothing fully flushed out. That's why it works, I think.
If Hemingway sat down and wrote a full memior, I am sure the reader eventually would fly away screaming, "enough is enough, you big gasbag." But Hemingway knew that his best work left the reader wanting more, left the mystery intact. We only get a glimpse of Hemingway which does not begin to explain his complex self-destructive personality--but it is a glimpse of genius, which, in this case, is enough.
on May 25, 2002
Hemingway is by now an American archetype, in his case the primal American male, warrior, artist, sensationally strong and brilliant. Like all lives, his had many rebirths, u-turns and abandonments. The Feast always struck me as coming from one of his less desperate, forced periods; literary and lived. He wrote without his boxing gloves on, one might say, free to capture and illuminate 'scenes,' that have resisted time. The Austrian ski experience is the quintessential skier's paradise. It has stayed with me, a non-skier- for the solitary unmarked Alpine splendor, sans mechanical lifts, lines and pervasive adolescent snowboarders, no this was an effortless slide off the earth into another realm.
The gossip, doesn't survive with as much brilliance, and that is probably best. The Fitzgeralds are familiar even to non-readers, they've become part of our popular culture. Let's let them stay there.
Hemingway, I would argue, achieved every writer's dream of subordinating and then transcending words replaced in the reader's mind with "sight." This book is recalled as a series of scenes. The end of the volume, not only did that, but enjoined and lent empathy to the reader's own inner, similarly sad, experiences. The foreshadowed end of what had been a deep love-based marriage, has never been written, in my experience, so perfectly. There are some who were offended by this inclusion, as they were, no doubt by Hemingway's betrayal of Hadley. However, I believe the betrayal is mythic, and part the fall from grace, by which we suffer. Hemingway learned one of the gravest lessons of the human condition, that is, that love doesn't last, romantic love eventually, and cruelly dies.
Despite the many years between the first readings of this classic, I always remembered that scene when forced to reckon in the same way with my own evaporating loves. That picture, a shamed, adulterer watching the woman he would hurt, still wrapped in what she believed was a certain marriage never fails to take my breath away.
And I can subordinate the macho, hard drinking, overkill bravado, of the later Hemingway to the younger author. The equally innocent younger man, not yet dependent upon booze and blood sports, used for the real battle, i.e. with major and disabling depression. He lost that one, to suicide. One of the tenderest books- from he who would strive for the darker side of delicacy.
on March 14, 2002
This posthumously published short book is a memoir of Ernest Hemingway's Paris years in the mid 1920's. It is written as a series of brief vignettes with real names. Hemingway looks back, writing in the late 1950's in Cuba to the days in Paris when he was poor, young and happy. Hemingway describes coming to Paris from America in the early 1920's and meeting some of the literary expatriates of the Left Bank. He describes his friendship with Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound and Ford Maddox Ford. He recalls a rainy road trip taken across France with F. Scott Fitzgerald. He joins Sylvia Beach's Shakespeare and Company lending library and takes vacations to Italy, Austria and Spain. He works as a journalist for the Toronto Star while writing short stories and seeking to make a name for himself as a writer. He describes his discovery of and passion for bullfighting. He publishes collections of short stories and begins work on his first real novel.
Hemingway's Paris days are spent sitting in cafes. He takes the act of writing seriously and sets out rules to keep his mind clear and prevent writer's block. He takes delight in discovering Shakespeare and Company, the Paris bookstore selling English language books. He has plenty of time to go sightseeing with his first wife Hadley during those years in Paris when they were "poor and happy."
There is palpable sense of the older Hemingway looking back nostalgically on the good old days. He speaks frankly of his old friends, pulling no punches even to the point of portraying them quite unflatteringly. Most interesting of all is his ritualized approach to writing. He writes only in the morning, usually alone in a small room he has rented just for that purpose. He forces himself to stop while his story is still unfolding in his mind so that he will have something to write about the next day. He makes a point of reading books, visiting museums and especially observing Parisians going about their daily business. These things he incorporates into his writing.
This is not a novel in the traditional sense, nor is it a rigidly chronologically ordered memoir. The starting and ending points of the vignettes are not specifically defined. I would recommend that anyone who reads this follow up by reading Michael Reynolds's "Hemingway, The Paris Years." The timeframe of the two books almost perfectly coincides and Reynolds's book will give you a perspective on the things Hemingway leaves unsaid.
The final chapter in which Hemingway places the blame for the break-up of his first marriage to Hadley on his second wife Pauline Pfeifer, while not taking any responsibility for his unfaithfulness, is almost bizarre to read. Since this book was published after his death, it is surprising to me that his children by Pauline did not wish to see it suppressed. Pauline is portrayed as a husband stealing, back stabber single mindedly luring an unwilling Hemingway away from his loving gullible wife and young child.
on March 2, 2002
Anyone who enjoys twentieth-century Western literature will dig A Moveable Feast. It's simply inevitable. Hemingway knew and hung out with pretty much all the major American literary players of the early twentieth century - James Joyce, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ezra Pound. It gives some background behind all those books you've read, and it gives real human faces to their authors (as opposed to just entries in encyclopedias). And there's something infinitely cool about the fact that at some point, all of these people were poor, struggling to get by, destined to become great, and all knew and talked to each other. They're all brought to life on these pages by Hemingway's infectious enthusiasm, making this autobiography as good as any novel.
In a sense, this book is the effective culmination of where the author had been going towards the end. In his later books, such as Across the River and Into the Trees (also very highly recommended by me), Hemingway showed a sort of quiet, elegiac nostalgia for the past. His characters increasingly lived in the past, reliving old memories until the line between past and present became blurred in their minds. (Recall how Santiago kept reminiscing about his youth, or how Richard Cantwell kept coming back to his wars.) Well, that's most likely because Hemingway himself was longing for the days when "we were very poor and very happy." Now he finally stops masking his feelings by putting them into fictional characters and writes in the genuine first person. And the emotional weight of his longing, finally met completely head-on, is what makes A Moveable Feast such a great, visceral read.
Of course, what helps is the number of interesting characters he interacted with - and his very witty caricatures of some of them. The beat-down of Gertrude Stein is absolutely hilarious, and doubly so for anyone who, like me, cares little for her asinine "works." Hemingway isn't afraid to deride anyone who he thinks was phony or pretentious (and there are many such people), and this makes for great entertainment. But others are treated with more respect. Take, for instance, F. Scott Fitzgerald. The editorial review says that Hemingway's portrait of him was "acidic." Nothing of the kind. True, Hemingway points out his embarrassing character flaws like his poor handling of spirituous beverages and his conduct while intoxicated, but he always makes sure to reiterate that Fitzgerald was a brilliant writer. He praises The Great Gatsby to the skies, and he bitterly laments the fact that Fitzgerald didn't entirely fulfill his enormous potential. Moreover, he calls Fitzgerald a great friend, at one point even his only friend. Now, his opinion of Fitzgerald's wife Zelda is completely different, and _that's_ where the "acidic" part really comes in. Clearly he felt that she was unworthy of Fitzgerald, that she dragged him away from his writing, and that she was a loon, and he blames her for what happened to her husband.
Then, at the ending, after all the jokes and anecdotes and observations, something very extraordinary happens. Hemingway tells a final story about how he and his first wife travelled into the mountains and skied at a resort. And here, all the book's wistfulness and melancholy suddenly disappears to reveal an undercurrent of very bitter longing, as Hemingway drops several extremely biting comments about idle rich people who addle the brains of young writers with their excessive praise, and some absolutely brutal remarks about various lying "friends" who think nothing of breaking up couples, stealing wives or leading away husbands. And then he concludes with his remark about being very poor and very happy, and only then, in the book's last sentence, do we realize the full extent of just how much this time meant to him. And when we do realize it, the way he ended his life should come as no surprise to any of us.
on November 12, 2001
Reading 'A moveable feast' was a very rewarding activity. Why ?
It created a special new frame of mind inside of me, which lasted weeks after reading the book. This is pretty rare and even thought it has faded now, I know this story is something I will carry with me through further life, and it will bring me good things.
I think one can rightfully call Hemingway the 'master of small happiness', because this is the frame of mind I am talking about. The taste of oysters, wine and café-creme, the feeling of being in your favorite café, the feeling of writing and reading and -most important of all- the delight in discovering what people are like and the intense motivation to keep on making new discoveries: a boxer without teeth can provide you with an equally intresting evening/life lesson as a skilled poet can. What this book told me is: keep the eyes open,for incredibly intresting things are happening all around you every second, and always here and now.
How Hemingway achieved this, is a mystery to me. His writing is very simple, as if he's writing some kind of diary AND he puts in a lot of names I have never heard before. Usually, this isn't the ingredient for a good book as far as I am concerned.
Yet I was swept away and will surely buy more of his work. I can't wait to read how he describes Africa.
The way I see it: if somebody can bring out the same message in a simple story as A Huxley did in an incredibly complicated one, he deserves a lot of attention. As far as I am concerned, he will get it.
on May 13, 2001
Of all things that we huddle dear to our heart, it is the memories that are never quite shed, and Hem had such memories that it would have seemed absurd not to share them.
Fortunately, he did, because once read, you're dizzied by an array of his personal experiences with artists and nature and plain, moveable life. It is not an accurate, historical memoir, but it was never intended as one.
As any recount of memory, it is usually fragmented and replaced by preconceptions Hem had, or is added upon to make it more interesting, but, in no way, do these alterations by a fine tailor diminish the powerful message prevalent throughout the entirety of the book. The message being, Paris, what it represented, and the life lived during, was a moveable feast.
And it was.
Paris in the twenties, recounted by Hem, was that sound you heard when you put seashells to your ear, the sound of rushing blood. And more. By his eyes, we lived in an epoch of seminal dreams and apparitions; a world so young and happy it took on a fantastical percept.
Paris was a beacon to the great writers of the time, at that time, and Joyce could be met up with at Sylvia's bookstore sometime in the late afternoon, or eating with his family at Michaud's, or coming out of some matinee; Gertrude Stein was at her studio, making speeches and liqueurs; Fitzgerald was around, somewhere, partying. There, maybe?
All these sketches painted a life that would be envied by anyone, because it was a life so full and robust, it exploded each day into another day which would explode into another and...
"Memory is hunger," says Hadley, Hem's first wife. Did she really say that? Who knows? But does it matter when it's true.
on April 29, 2001
This is a great book, with breezy writing that looks deceptively simple. It does have Hemingway's quirks. For one thing he misleads the reader into thinking that Fitzgerald never helped him edit THE SUN ALSO RISES. But that's Hemingway's ego not wanting to acknowledge a competitor. Fitzgerald DID in fact help Hemingway edit SUN, and on his advice, Hemingway cut a long section about Brett Ashley's background, that the book started with, and started it, instead, with the background on Robert Cohn. And Dunc Chaplin, the baseball player wasn't even in Paris when Hemingway says he was with Fitzgerald when they met. He also cuts people down, and to mitigate his bitchiness toward them, he goes overboard in his praise of Ezra Pound, as though to convince the reader that he wasn't all bitchiness. These aren't really criticisms of the book, they are actually part of it's catty charm. Hemingway's humor comes through, in probably the only book of his that shows humor other than THE SUN ALSO RISES. A great memoir. One of the best.