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The True Gen Book Review

Updated on June 8, 2011

Hemingway, as his friends remember him

The True Gen is a most excellent biography of the late, great writer Ernest Hemingway. Yet rather than a straight reading of prose distilled from interviews, newspaper clippings, and other biographies, the True Gen uses one of the most original and effective biographical methods ever. That is, the vehicle of the book is the direct interview responses of friends, family, and even enemies of the famous author. It could almost be called the "lazy man's means of biography," though the author, Denis Brian clearly shows a depth of research.

In fact, Brian reveals Hemingway to be so many different people from one day to the next: a gentleman, scoundrel, lover, fighter, fake, soft-hearted sentimentalist, and father. While tiresome at times, he had great ethics, too: "Part of their [his sons'] training was to shoot well and not to shoot anything you didn't eat." (p. 8 7)

There is a constant discussion of his kindness contrasted with his unkindness; his arrogance contrasted with his humility, as where writer John Carlisle says "What I loved about Hemingway...was that he was a real, genuine guy. He didn't talk about himself. He had no egotism that I could see." (p. 150)

The True Gen's subtitle reads "An Intimate Portrait of Hemingway by Those Who Knew Him."Highly intriguing yet possibly a bit beyond the peruse of this subtitle are the many psychiatric pronouncements about "Ernesto." He is described as "Schizoid," "borderline," and "bipolar," as well as other possible psychological judgements describing his psyche.(all on p. 312) However, the author explains this and so many of the other descriptions of The Great One on page 321, the last page of the book: "They fueled Hemingway's superman alter ego, a self-deception he needed in order to survive...What is beyond dispute is this: he suffered. He created. His art endures. And that's the true gen."

The cover of the biography is quite appropriate as Hem is naked, aside from a newspaper that is thinly veiling him. The book, like the photo, exposes much of the man inside as well as on the cover. You may find this book engrossing, particularly if you love the first half of the 20th century or especially if you enjoy reading this fine author. Succinctly put, The True Gen is a damned fine read!

Some fun facts about Ernest Hemingway gleaned from the True Gen:

Hemingway wasn't quite the great Big Game Hunter that he tried to project, though he was both avid and skilled at it.

He was a great deep sea fisher, however. For instance, he even wrote many of the rules of deep sea fishing that are still used to this day in tournaments.

Hem didn't hunt elephants as he reportedly stated that "They were too important and dignified, too great as living things to be shot by a man."(p. 291)

He was considered childish by many and a complete gentleman by others. Nearly all, however, considered him a great writer, even a genius.

On his religious beliefs: "He veered back and fourth between believing in nothing and in being a half-assed Catholic." (p. 157)

After being accused of violating the Geneva Convention during World War II (he was at the Battle of the Bulge and the Liberation of Paris, amongst other events), Hemingway would reply "In the next war, by God, I'm going to have the Geneva Convention tattooed on my ass in reverse so I can read it in a mirror!" (p. 169)


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