August 26, 2011

Papa: A Personal Memoir
Gregory H. Hemingway, M.D.

First, Do No Harm – This jaunty, slim tale features several of the now-famous Hemingway biographical hallmarks: prowling for Nazi submarines in Caribbean waters, duck hunting in Sun Valley, juggling three of four wives (Pauline Pfeiffer, Martha Gellhorn, Mary Welsh). The memoir movingly depicts the complicated love between the iconic father and his third and youngest son, who was obviously writing to find (and perhaps make) a certain peace. Dr. Hemingway strikes the right notes and succeeds in conveying the sense that he’s come to terms with his larger-than-life father. But I finished the book feeling unsettled, knowing some of Gregory’s story beyond that revealed in these pages. The four wives of his own. The eight children. The alcoholism, emotional anguish and gender questioning that would ultimately lead Gregory to die as Gloria Hemingway, age 69, in the Miami-Dade Women’s Detention Center after a run-in with the law. Now, weeks after finishing the book, one moment stays with me – a scene, I think, that says a great deal about the father as well as the son. “And papa and Adriana went on chatting,” Gregory writes, “sometimes in Italian, sometimes in English, and it was nothing really, except that you could tell he was in love, and perhaps the girl was flattered by his attention, or perhaps bored and just being polite or amused, as only young girls can be amused with an infatuated old man, but certainly not in love with him. But very sweet and considerate and never betraying her inner emotions. Never hurting him. That’s the way I like to remember papa.”


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