The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway – Book Review

Ernest Hemingway’s last novel published before his death, “The Old Man and the Sea” is a short, simple book with a lot of meaning. It won the 1954 Nobel Prize for Literature.

He looked across the sea and knew how alone he was now. But he could see the prisms in the deep dark water and the line stretching ahead and the strange undulation of the calm. The clouds were building up now for the trade wind and he looked ahead and saw a flight of wild ducks etching themselves against the sky over the water, then blurring, then etching again and he knew no man was ever alone on the sea.

The Book
The Old Man and the Sea – Ernest Hemingway

What It Is
This is the last novel published by Ernest Hemingway before his death in 1961. It was released in 1952, and when Hemingway won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1954, the Nobel Committee stated that this book was one of the reasons why.

Santiago, the “old man,” is a fisherman, living in Cuba, who sleeps on newspapers and survives on the kindness of his young friend, referred to in the novel as “the boy,” who brings him bits of food and coffee, and occasionally buys him a beer at the end of the long day.

When we first meet Santiago, he’s gone eighty-four days without catching a fish. He’s lonely, and there’s a heartbreaking reference to his deceased wife.

Once there had been a tinted photograph of his wife on the wall but he had taken it down because it made him too lonely to see it…

On the eighty-fifth day, Santiago decides to go further out into the ocean, far past the point that most of the local fishermen would travel, in order to have a better shot at catching a fish.

The novel follows Santiago as he hooks an extraordinary marlin, facing immense hardships and suffering, and losing much on his way back to his island.

It’s a short book, and a simple one, but it displays courage in the face of suffering and hardship. The book is also an absolute masterpiece, and if you haven’t read it, or if you were forced to read it in school and haven’t picked it up since, now would be a great time to do so.

What I Loved
Only Hemingway could write a book about a lone fisherman trying to catch a marlin, and turn it into such a powerful work of fiction.

The novel essentially has just three characters, Santiago and the boy, and then the marlin. Both Santiago and the boy are immensely lovable characters. Although his parents won’t let him fish with Santiago anymore because they kept coming back empty-handed, he feels sorry for the old man, and feels a sense of responsibility to him, bringing him food and the daily newspaper so he can keep track of baseball and his favorite player, Joe DiMaggio.

It made the boy sad to see the old man come in each day with his skiff empty and he always went down to help him carry either the coiled lines or the gaff and harpoon and the sail that was furled around his mast. The sail was patched with flour sacks and, furled, it looked like the flag of permanent defeat.

I also love the respect Santiago gives to the ocean and the marlin that he’s trying to catch.

“Fish,” he said, “I love you and respect you very much. But I will kill you dead before this day ends.”

By the end of the book, you also find yourself feeling attached to the old man. Throughout everything, he remains positive and brave, and it’s a lesson we all need.

What I Disliked
About the book? Nothing. I love this book.

I read this book for the first time when I was in the tenth grade, and I feel that I wasn’t able to really appreciate it because I didn’t have enough life experience yet to actually understand it. I feel that forcing high schoolers to read it is a great disservice to this classic American novel.

Verdict (Buy/Borrow/Skip)
Buy. It’s a short book and a great choice for a lazy day at the beach. It’s a true American classic.

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White is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi – Book Review

White is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi

“Dear Miranda Silver,
This house is bigger than you know! There are extra floors, with lots of people in them. They are looking people. They look at you, and they never move. We do not like them. We do not like this house, and we are glad to be going away. This is the end of our letter.”

The Book
White is for Witching – Helen Oyeyemi
Author’s Links: Website

What it is
Miranda Silver, her twin brother Eliot, and their father live in a haunted bed and breakfast across the street from a field of unmarked graves. The Silver House is the ancestral home to the Silver women, who appear to linger in the unseen portions of the house. Outsiders are unwelcome, particularly people of color and immigrants, and the house uses its mysterious supernatural attributes to get those people to flee.

Much of this book deals with Miranda’s mental illness. She suffers from pica, a disorder that causes her to hunger for non-food items, her favorite being chalk. She spent time at a clinic for her disorder while in high school, and we ride back with her to her home after she’s picked up by her father and brother. The scene in the car is a distinctly awkward one, and Eliot seems particularly uncomfortable and quiet.

The family is also grieving the loss of Miranda’s mother, Lily, a photo-journalist who was killed in Haiti when the twins were sixteen. Miranda wears a watch with its time set to “Haiti time,” and feels some guilt about her role in her mother’s death, despite being in Dover, England as it happened.

Miranda is accepted into Cambridge, where she meets Ore, a young woman adopted from Africa, and they find themselves in a romantic relationship. Ore tells Miranda a story about the soucouyant, a monster that leaves its body to consume the blood of the living. The folklore of the soucouyant is reflective of Miranda’s relationship with Ore, as Ore transitions from healthy to nearly anorexic while they’re together. Miranda is literally sucking the life out of Ore.

When Miranda’s father becomes aware of how bad her health has become while away at college, she is brought back home until she can get better. Ore comes to visit her, witnessing some unsettling experiences while there, and confiding in the housekeeper and cook, Sade.

Miranda grows sicker, and we then see the influence the house has on her, culminating in Miranda’s disappearance.

What I Loved
I’ve never read a book like this, and I’m honestly quite unsure how to classify it. Most often I see it listed as a horror novel, but, although it does contain many elements of the supernatural, it feels more like magical realism to me.

So many of the spooky happenings in the house are ambiguous and intentionally left unexplained. I enjoyed that aspect, as it reinforces the overall tone of the book and leads to the reader feeling unsure and a bit spooked.

One of the most unusual aspects of the book that I enjoyed is that the house itself is a narrator of the story at times. To be honest, the house is just as much a character in the story as the Silver family. It has its own personality, although that personality is a very racist and evil one.

What I Disliked
There are side stories in the book that are left hanging, and it was frustrating at times. The best example involves Kosovan immigrants that are being murdered around town, with no suspect in custody. Miranda is confronted by a classmate who accuses her of being involved in the murders, as they believe she’s been seen with the victims prior to their stabbings.

“We saw you,” the second girl said. “You and Amir, you and Farouk, you and Agim, you and whoever. Then they end up getting stabbed.”

Aside from a run-in with Agim, the attacking girl’s cousin and one of the victims who survived, we don’t learn much more about their stories. However, I feel like we’re meant to understand that their murders are related to the Silver house, as we also read in the book that Miranda greatly favors her great-grandmother, Anna Good, whose ghost or spirit is still possessing the house. Referred to as “the Goodlady” throughout the novel,  Anna Good, whose husband died in the war, loathed “outsiders” and blamed them for her husband’s death. Is it possible Anna Good is the cause of those murders?

There are also some awkward allusions to flirtings with an incestuous relationship between Miranda and Eliot. I can only remember two references, but it felt pretty unnecessary to the story.

Verdict (Buy/Borrow/Skip)
Buy. This is definitely a book you’ll want to read more than once.