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Reviewed by:
  • With Hemingway: A Year in Key West and Cuba, and: Hemingway in Cuba
  • Jeffrey Meyers
Arnold Samuelson. With Hemingway: A Year in Key West and Cuba. New York: Random, 1984. 181 pp. $15.95.
Norberto Fuentes. Hemingway in Cuba. Translated by Consuelo Corwin. Secaucus: Stuart, 1984. 454 pp. $22.50.

Drawn by Hemingway's personal charisma and public fame, the young Arnold Samuelson hitchhiked from Minnesota to Key West in April, 1934, to sit at the feet of the master. Hemingway liked to have a kid brother, sidekick, and disciple in his entourage and hired Samuelson as cabin boy on his new fishing boat. Hemingway described him as "a tall, very serious young man with very big feet and hands and a porcupine haircut," emphasized his clumsiness, nervousness, "incurable tendency toward sea-sickness and peasant reluctance to take orders." Samuelson, supposedly a skilled violinist, was nicknamed Maestro; but when Hemingway heard him play the instrument, he shortened his name to Mice. Because Samuelson was not "worth a damn at anything else," Hemingway thought he might have a future as an author. He immortalized him in a fine essay on the techniques of writing, "Monologue to the Maestro," published in Esquire in October, 1935.

Samuelson led an individualistic though insignificant life; he died in 1981 and left this memoir of his year with Hemingway. Despite Hemingway's expert tuition and generous encouragement, Samuelson did not learn much about writing: "It was a very marvelous life, I thought, when you can make a business of living for the pleasure there is to be got out of it, and I was having a fine time." Samuelson idolized the omniscient and omnipotent Hemingway. He described Hemingway's ability to get on well with ordinary men and emphasized "how many people E. H. made happy when they were near him." But Samuelson's superficial, trivial, and frequently inaccurate account is mainly concerned with the massacre of marlin: the most boring aspect of Hemingway's life. His book could have been written by someone who never knew Hemingway, adds nothing to the present state of knowledge, and ranks with Kip Farrington's Fishing with Hemingway and Glassell as the least informative memoir of the writer.

Hemingway's wife Pauline, his son Jack, his brother Leicester, and his friends Archibald MacLeish, Sidney Franklin, and Bra Saunders (who has the clap) make cameo appearances, but none of them says anything significant. Observing his hero from below deck, Samuelson naively maintains there was no tension in the small household (which had six servants). In fact, the Hemingways had left their two young sons during the eight-month safari in Africa that had ended in April, 1934; Pauline was not giving the children enough attention; Gregory was suffering under the regimen of his emotionally warped nursemaid; and Hemingway was having an affair in Havana with the wild and beautiful Jane Mason.

The Cuban journalist Norberto Fuentes, who continues the story of Hemingway's life in Cuba, has produced the weirdest book ever written about him. Though "edited by Larry Alson," this work has no structure or logic and discusses Louis Cohn's 1931 bibliography after Hemingway's suicide. It is merely a random and repetitive string of odd facts and trifling anecdotes (there are two pages on how the Finca Vigía was dusted by Hemingway's servants); it cannibalizes earlier books and recounts the familiar story of his two decades in [End Page 406] Havana.

Many obscure Cubans—cockfighters, cooks, and barmen—crawled out of the woodwork, claimed to know Hemingway, and offered dubious information about him, but Fuentes' two principal informants were the Spanish doctor José Luis Herrera and the ancient mate of the Pilar, Gregorio Fuentes (no relation to the author). Fuentes records a dialogue that typifies the quality of Gregorio's recollections: "Hemingway asked his captain [sic]. 'What can that be, Gregorio? What could have happened?' Gregorio answered that they had to get to him first, and then find out what had happened."

Apart from a few brief and grossly misleading references, Fuentes says virtually nothing about Hemingway's closest (anti-Castro) Cuban friends: Mayito Menocal, Elicio Arguelles, and Thorwald Sanchez, or about Jane...


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