Sunday, January 09, 2011

“The Sun Also Rises” by Ernest Hemingway

During my recent vacation, I read another Hemingway book, as I did last year – this time, it was “The Sun Also Rises” .  Since the book has been around so long and is so well known, I’ll skip the plot summary – that’s easy enough to find just about anywhere, so if you don’t know the story, you’ll have no trouble finding an explanation (just click the link above, for example). 
Published in 1926, this was one of Papa’s first novels – some would say it was his very first, but in the modest research I’ve done on this, it appears that there is some disagreement over exactly which was his very first (others insist it was “Torrents Of Spring”).  Whichever, it is almost irrelevant because the argument would end when you put forth that this was his first truly great, meaningful novel as it has lasted the test of time; it was also made into a movie, but that was not until many years later.  I’ve never seen the movie, so this review will concentrate on the book only. 
Certainly, it is tough to know where to begin to talk about a book that is so rich in both style and content to the point that it is considered a classic and possibly the best (or one of the best) of Hemingway’s novels.  So much has been written about it and analyzed from seemingly every possible angle, including the bullfighting, the sexuality, the anti-Semitism and countless other aspects.  Although intended to document “The Lost Generation” of rudderless, disillusioned young men and women in a post-World War I world, it is truly timeless because of the topics on which the author touches, not to mention the spare, reportorial writing style of Hemingway. 
With respect to that whole “Lost Generation” concept, it is interesting to view it retrospectively, nearly a century after World War I; in the intervening years, it would seem that the more current Gen-X and Gen-Y demographics are just as lost, if not more so.  A “Loster Generation”?  The “Lostest” Generation?  The Lost Generation 2.0 (or would that be 3.0?)?  Call them what you will, The Lost Generation of Hemingway’s novel holds up relatively better against what we have today.  By comparison, the original Lost Generation seem to be more authentic, more genuine and altogether more human than the much more spoiled, pampered and lazy generations that followed. 
Having never read the book before, it was stunning to me the degree of open bigotry that was expressed by the characters; particularly poignant when you consider that we as a society have not really advanced as much in that regard as we would like to think.  When speaking about the bigotry in the book, people tend to focus on the anti-Semitism directed toward the character of Cohn, but I was also taken somewhat aback by the casual bandying about of The N Word when referencing musicians or athletes.  Recently, there has been a considerable controversy over the issue of removing that word from Twain’s “Huckleberry Finn”; clearly, to do so to either “Finn” or “Sun” would be a disservice to each work, but more to the point, fail to accurately document who we were as a nation long ago and help us to better appreciate the precious few baby steps that we have taken since then. 
After reading the book, I began to research it a bit once I returned home from vacation, looking up various literary analyses of the plot, characters and themes touched on throughout the story.  In reading these works, it helped me to appreciate the book even more and made me realize how little of it I had actually grasped on an initial reading and how much I missed due to the subtlety of Hemingway’s writing style – volumes are said in these analyses about what is not written but rather implied.  It now makes me want to go back and re-read the book as soon as possible, keeping all of those observations in mind.  And isn’t that the mark of a true classic in the first place?  If you have never read the book before, I strongly encourage you to do so, but would recommend one thing – just read the novel with little preparation as I did and let it wash over you with a minimal amount of pre-conceived notions planted into your mind by literary critiques.  Instead, save the reading of those analyses for after you’ve finished the book, as I did. 
Lastly, a personal observation.  When you see a movie, your perception of it can be colored by things like where you are in life at the time you saw it or events that may have recently occurred in your world.  I believe the same is likely true with books, especially novels, like this one.  As I said at the outset, I read this book during a recent vacation – specifically, it was a trip to Hedonism II in Negril, Jamaica.  While sunning poolside and considering the actions from whatever chapter I had just finished reading, the irony of the behavior by the hedonists in the story in Pamplona, Spain for the Fiesta and running of the bulls contrasted against the behavior of the hedonists that surrounded me as fellow vacationers present to celebrate New Year’s Eve was sure in no way ever lost for one moment.