Islands in the Stream

by Ernest Hemingway, 1970 (Ernest Hemingway shot himself in July 1961 with his favorite shotgun in the entryway of his Ketchum, Idaho home. Mary Hemingway, his 4th and final wife, and Charles Scribner, Jr. published this book from Ernest’s original manuscript: “Charles Scribner, Jr. and I worked together preparing this book for publication from Ernest’s original manuscript. Beyond the routine chores of correcting spelling and punctuation, we made some cuts in the manuscript, I feeling that Ernest would surely have made them himself. The book is all Ernest’s. We have added nothing to it. Mary Hemingway”

Loved reading this book. Got it from a “Little Free Library.” It’s a man’s book written by a real man, and I love the tropical island settings in Bimini and Cuba and the action: seaside home on a tropical island, snorkeling (“goggle-fishing”), deep-sea fishing, island scenery, love of sons, friendships on a tropical paradise, followed by wartime camaraderie on a small ship in pursuit of the enemy off the coast of Cuba.

Natasha (with Tim and Lily) came to dinner and saw I was reading this book. She loves it and told me about Key West and seeing Ernest Hemingway’s home and places he used to go to and kitty-cats that are supposed descendants of his cats. Cats play a major role in the book – there is one cat, Boise, that Thomas Hudson absolutely adores.

First part, Bimini, takes place in the Bimini Islands at Thomas Hudson’s home on the island and in the seas surrounding it. He’s a painter, quite famous, twice-divorced, with 3 sons who come to visit him. He loves his three sons dearly and I love how he describes them, their personalities, their conversations. They go “goggle-fishing” and the middle son, David, almost gets attacked by a huge hammerhead shark. One of the crew mates (Eddy) shoots the shark in the nick of time. Then, they go deep-sea fishing and the middle son hooks a giant swordfish, over 1000 pounds they guess. He fights it for 6 hours. When it finally appears to be giving up the fight, they lose it at the last moment. This son and his little brother are killed in a car accident with their mother in Biarritz a short time after leaving the island.

Part 2 is set in Cuba during WWII. Thomas Hudson is now the captain of a ship, patrolling the waters off of Cuba. He’s on shore leave now, concentrating on drinking after finding out his oldest son, Tom, has died in the war. He’s in the bar (the Floridita) when his long lost love, his first wife, the mother of Tom, shows up. She’s a beauty and a star, and Thomas Hudson still loves her. Thomas Hudson has to tell her their beloved son has died. They spend the day together and Thomas has to report to duty that night. She knows she has lost them both.

Part 3 is called ‘The Sea,’ and describes Thomas Hudson and his crew searching for some Germans who escaped a submarine, massacred some natives on an island, stole a tuna-boat, and are hiding out in the keys around Cuba. It takes a long, long time to finally find them. I do love the camaraderie he describes with his men. They love him and he loves them. They have a lot of respect for one another. A lot of the conversations, though, are hard to understand because they are sea and boat-talk, which I don’t get. But eventually they find the Germans in a small, unmarked channel through mangroves. They get most of them but Thomas Hudson is shot three times in the legs at the very beginning of the fight. He is the only one injured. He was steering the boat so was the only one upright and visible. He dies of his injuries with his beloved crew attending to him. Here are the last few lines:

The ship was heading for the blue hills and gathering speed.

“Tommy,” Willie said. “I love you, you son of a bitch, and don’t die.”

Thomas Hudson looked at him without moving his head.

“Try and understand if it isn’t too hard.”

Thomas Hudson looked at him. He felt far away now and there were no problems at all. He felt the ship gathering her speed and the lovely throb of her engines against his shoulder blades which rested hard against the boards. He looked up and there was the sky that he had always loved and he looked across the great lagoon that he was quite sure, now, he would never paint and he eased his position a little to lessen the pain. The engines were around three thousand now, he thought, and they came through the deck and into him.

“I think I understand, Willie,” he said.

“Oh shit,” Willie said. “You never understand anybody that loves you.”


last lines of the book

Here are various quotes throughout the book. There is a lot of drinking in this book. I think it is auto-biographical:

From page 15 in Bimini: Thomas Hudson went into the bar where it was cool and almost dark after the glare of the coral road and had a gin and tonic water with a piece of lime peel in the glass and a few drops of angostura in the drink. Mr. Bobby was behind the bar looking terrible.

From page 49 in Bimini: The boys slept on cots on the screened porch and it is much less lonely sleeping when you can hear children breathing when you wake in the night. The nights were cool from the breeze that came across the banks and when the breeze fell it would be cool from the sea.

The boys had been a little shy when they first came and much neater than they were later. But there was no great neatness problem if you had them rinse the sand from their feet before they came into the house and hang their wet swimming shorts outside and put on dry ones in the house. Joseph aired their pajamas when he made up the cots in the morning and after sunning them folded the pajamas and put them away and there were only the shirts and the sweaters they wore in the evening to be scattered around. That, at least, was how it was in principle. Actually every sort of gear they owned was scattered all over everywhere. Thomas Hudson did not mind it. When a man lives in a house by himself he gets very precise habits and they get to be a pleasure. But it felt good to have some of them broken up. He knew he would have his habits again long after he would no longer have the boys.

From page 90 in Bimini: In the night Thomas Hudson would wake and hear the boys asleep and breathing quietly and in the moonlight he could see them all and see Roger sleeping too. He slept well now and almost without stirring.

Thomas Hudson was happy to have them there and he did not want to think about them ever going away. He had been happy before they came and for a long time he had learned how to live and do his work without ever being more lonely than he could bear; but the boys’ coming had broken up all the protective routine of life he had built and now he was used to its being broken. It had been a pleasant routine of working hard; of hours for doing things; places where things were kept and well-cared for; of meals and drinks to look forward to and new books to read and many old books to reread. It was a routine where the daily paper was an event when it arrived, but where it did not come so regularly that its nonarrival was a disappointment. It had many of the inventions that lonely people use to save themselves and even achieve unloneliness with and he had made the rules and kept the customs and used them consciously and unconsciously. But since the boys were here it had come as a great relief not to have to use them.

From page 98 in Bimini when Thomas Hudson is thinking about his writer friend, Roger: Any writer of talent should be able to write one good novel if he were honest, Thomas Hudson thought.

From page 185 in Bimini where Thomas Hudson is taking a ship to Europe after finding out his two youngest sons (David and Andrew) have died with their mother (his second wife) in a car accident in Biarritz: He had gone aboard the ship early, thinking of it, he now knew, as a refuge from the city where he had feared meeting people who would speak to him about what had happened. He thought that on the ship he could come to some terms with his sorrow, not knowing, yet, that there are no terms to be made with sorrow. It can be cured by death and it can be blunted or anesthetized by various things. Time is supposed to cure it, too. But if it is cured by anything less than death, the chances are that it was not true sorrow.

One of the things that blunts it temporarily through blunting everything else is drinking and another thing that can keep the mind away from it is work. Thomas Hudson knew about both these remedies. But he also knew the drinking would destroy the capacity for producing satisfying work and he had built his life on work for so long now that he kept that as the one thing that he must not lose.

From pages 231 and 232 in Cuba: This was the part he did not like on the road into town. This was really the part he carried the drink for. I drink against poverty, dirt, four-hundred-year-old dust, the nose-snot of children, cracked palm fronds, roofs made from hammered tins, the shuffle of untreated syphilis, sewage in the old beds of brooks, lice on the bare necks of invested poultry, scale on the backs of old men’s necks, the smell of old women, and the full-blast radio, he thought. It is a hell of a thing to do.I ought to look at it closely and do something about it. Instead you have your drink the way they carried smelling salts in the old days. No. Not quite that, he thought. Sort of a combination of that and the way they drank in Hogarth’s Gin Lane. You’re drinking against going in to see the Colonel, too, he thought. You’re always drinking against something or for something now, he thought. The hell you are. Lots of times you are just drinking. You are going to do quite a lot of it today.

He took a long sip of the drink and felt it clean and cold and fresh-tasting in his mouth.

From page 268 in the Floridita bar in Cuba. He’s concentrating on drinking heavily this day as he found out his oldest son, young Tom, has been killed in his spitfire fighting in Europe during WWII: He watched Serafin pour the drink from the shaker into the tall glass and saw the top of it curl over the edge and onto the bar. Serafin pushed the base of the glass into the slit in a cardboard protector and Thomas Hudson lifted it, heavy and cold above the thin stem he held in his fingers, and took a long sip and held it in his mouth, cold against his tongue and teeth, before he swallowed it.

From page 299 and 300 in Cuba where he is with his first wife, young Tom’s mother, whom he never stopped loving, and she doesn’t know their son is dead: Well, you did it, he thought. How did you tell a mother that her boy is dead when ou’ve just made love to her again? How do you tell yourself your boy is dead? You used to know all the answers. Answer me that.

There aren’t any answers. You should know that by now. There aren’t any answers at all.

One thing I loved is how he describes his cat in Cuba, Boise, or “Boy” as he calls him. The cat loves him and he loves the cat. The cat goes into mourning when he leaves. He spoils it rotten when he is home. It turns out, there are some cats in Key West that are said to be descendants of cats Ernest Hemingway brought from Cuba to Key West. From Wikipedia: “He had been disgusted when a Parisian friend allowed his cats to eat from the table, but he became enamored of cats in Cuba and kept dozens of them on the property. Descendants of his cats live at his Key West home.” Regarding his decline in mental health that led to his suicide, there is a theory that multiple concussions caused him to have CTE, Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy.

Fantastic book, fantastic author. What a life. He won the Pulitzer Prize for Old Man and the Sea. He also won the Nobel Prize for Literature. His first book was The Sun Also Rises. I would like to read that.