The Thumbnail Book Reviews

by John Q McDonald --- 12 December 2018

A Moveable Feast

by Ernest Hemingway

This book has launched a million attempted writing careers. In the century since the so-called Lost Generation thrived in the creative ferment of 1920s Paris, stories of the vibrant arts scene there and then have inspired many to seek the bohemian success enjoyed by its many legendary artists. A number of books have been written about that era. Hemingway's memoir, based on rediscovered notebooks and published in 1964, three years after his suicide, is still a touchstone of the era. Hemingway was young then, in his twenties in the 1920s, married to Hadley. They lived on very little. You could do that in Paris back then. Hemingway worked diligently on his journalistic career, until his first novels and stories started to sell well. He and Hadley had a son, Jack (nicknamed Bumby). They lived in frozen garrets while he worked in cafes and she practiced piano in chilly studios. Along the way, Hemingway befriended a dizzying array of now-famous artists, poets and writers. He hung out in the salon of Gertrude Stein. He went on road trips with F. Scott Fitzgerald. He borrowed books from Sylvia Beach at her bookshop Shakespeare and Company. He went to the track to try to suplement his small income. He drank and wrote and, eventually, had an affair that busted up his marriage to Hadley. That was the kind of guy he was.

There are numerous foreshadowings here. Many of these people came to early and tragic ends. Word War 2 was still a dark potential on the horizon, but first the Spanish Civil War, not to mention the brutality of World War 1 just ended. The book is somewhat elegiac, a little more romantic than one normally expects from Hemingway. The stories are snappy and sometimes terse, as we would expect from Hemingway. It is now, of course, a staple for American literature courses in high school and college. It is a breezy and accessible window on a now highly romanticized era. Artists and writers have long sought that magical atmosphere of bohemian life, cafe society and artistic potential. It can't be had so much any more in Paris. For a moment there it seemed it could be revived even in Detroit. Where are the true struggling artists living and working today, or is that kind of desperate romantic creativity not quite available to us any more? Hard to say. But, with Hemingway, you can view it on the chilly streets of inter-war Paris.

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See Also: [The Passionate Years, by Caresse Crosby]

[Other History and Memoir]