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Death in the Afternoon Book Review

Updated on July 19, 2010

Critique of Death in the Afternoon

Hemingway has been called a master wordsmith and on the other hand his writing has been labeled, by at least 1 amateur critic as "only for children" (an assessment with which I wholeheartedly disagree).  The reason that Hemingway is such a master is manyfold.  First, he tells a great tale, the first in a short line of requisites towards "greatness."  Second, as found in Death in the Afternoon, he keeps his story straight, though filling in the tale with his own life and assessment of its particulars with his particular viewpoint as a writer, traveler, and adventurer.

In fact, though he can be accused of going off on short tangeants, straying from the boulevard onto small back streets and even into small cul-de-sacs of differing interests in the panorama of his story, he is fully aware of this peculiarity in his tale as when he admits "...this seems to have gotten away from bullfighting."

In a wonderful furtherance, and again a sign of his masterful pencilstrokes, he sometimes utilizes these tangeants as means of metaphor paralleling the main track of thought -to wit, his comparison of experience with wine as with experience of viewing bullfights.

Given the general thoughts of his contemporaries (the male ones, at least), he too is a bit sexist in his ideas about what women might think- generally believed by him to be quite segregated from what a man might think about bullfighting.  However, in nearly the same breath, he stands up for the poor (if that makes his sexist comments acceptable, though I wouldn't think so).  By such a stance, he is aware of inequality, though not that of which women have always had to endure.  Thankfully, this is but a meager feature to the tale.

Yet despite his admonishment of the way that most women and many men relate to bullfighting (especially for anyone who finds it dull and tedious) he accepts the disgust that many have for the gouging of the bull by the picador, the taunting, the use of burrs to anger the bull, and other such devices all for the sake of human amusement. In fact, he, like the Spanish, often sides with the bull, particularly against a cowardly matador -again though, as such a matador denies the audience its spectacle. 

The great matador, however, has his day in the pages of Death in the Afternoon.  For the famous American novelist not only provides technical facts and ideas, but also is historical, as with his treatment of "Joselito" and Juan Belmonte.

Not only is Hemingway reminiscent of his love of bullfighting, but also greatly of Spain.  He tells the subplots of different regions in the Iberian peninsula, and especially of the bullfighters who have been born all about this old land.

Hemingway remains a writer's writer, particularly for neophytes or the simply unpublished, no matter their age.  In Death in the Afternoon we find that he extrapolates the values of, among other aspects of the "art" of bullfighting, the value of clear, explicit writing, versus the opaque scribblings of the writer who wishes to be perceived a mystic, but is generally and truly a fake or mere dilittante.

Yet, as of at least the first 7 chapters, with vestiges sprinkled throughout afterwards, Death in the Afternoon reads also like a tour guide.  It is very objective, non-fiction. Or, if there are fictive moments, they are just that: momentary and ephemeral.  The author doesn't call his book a guide book, overtly, but it is inferred when he discusses guidebooks, and Hemingway could have hardly missed the resemblance between those books referred to, and his own writing about Spain.

For those of you who enjoy Spain, or wish that you could have lived there in the golden years that Ernest Hemingway and others have so dutifully noted, this is a book you will surely enjoy, and maybe even savor.


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