The title is not a typo. Nor is it click bait. Hemingway does indeed have a brand new novel presently making waves in the literary marketplace. One clarification however. The author is not Ernest, but instead, his grandson, John.
I’ve been following John’s career since the publication of his family memoir, Strange Tribe back in 2007. I recall receiving the book as an Xmas gift and reading it in one sitting. Beautifully written, it contained stunning information that had never before been revealed about his father Gregory who later become known as Gloria, her trans-sexual moniker.
On the surface, young Greg appeared every bit the Hemingway hero. He was a brilliant shot, having won many major shooting awards against adults many times his age. He loved baseball and later became a professional white hunter in Africa. But as a boy, he had an unusual desire to wear women’s undergarments. Indeed, he stole Ernest’s fourth wife Mary’s underclothes at one point, and the rather taken aback Papa had no choice but to confront his son about it. You might assume the master of the macho would have blown his top. Instead, he more or less showed empathy for his youngest boy, even going so far as to say, “We’re a strange tribe, Gig” (Gig, was Gregory’s nickname, along with Mouse).
This makes perfect sense when you read some of Hemingway, the senior’s work, such as the posthumously published, The Garden of Eden, in which Papa explores the boundaries and possibilities of androgyny, something he would make manifest in the novel’s main characters who cut and color their hair, bright white. They also dress very much alike. Now you are me and I am you, is Papa’s fetishistic theme, and it is an entirely fascinating one.
But this isn’t about Greg or Ernest. It’s about John, who is not only a full-time writer, he is also a avid traveler who has a gift for languages. It’s not unusual for his emails and texts to contain three different languages, two-thirds of them I pretend to understand, despite the months I spend in Europe every year. He is also a witness to literary history having fished with Norman Mailer and lived with Ernest’s brother Leicester in Miami for a time.
His latest book, Baccanalia: A Pamplona Story is one Papa himself might have approved of since its setting is Pamplona, Spain, where the Running of the Bulls occurs every July during the Festival (or fiesta) of San Fermin — an event the senior Hemingway made famous in his first novel, The Sun Also Rises.
Is Bacchanalia the sequel to The Sun Also Rises? Methinks some critics will look at it that way. It is a book with a wild cast of characters, just like Sun, but according to John, the main character is the fiesta itself, all its energy, drama, violence, revelry, inebriation, and celebration brilliantly coming to life on the written page. But it is a new book for a new century also, and one that mirrors the life and times we currently live in.
John bears the unique responsibility of carrying on the Hemingway legacy, and like his grandfather, he has become a citizen of the world. He is as much at home in Pamplona as he is Havana and Key West, and looking at him, you definitely see the resemblance to Papa. Same eyes, same smile, same scruff, same sense of truly enjoying one’s life. Sometimes the resemblance is frightening.
John who make his home just up north in Montreal along with his wife and a very big dog, was gracious enough to accept my invitation to write a guest post for Medium regarding his new novel. It’s an essay that explains the architecture of Bacchanalia that you might find as fascinating as the book itself.
As I was reading both, I thought, perhaps John will write the sequel to Ernest’s famous nonfiction book on the art of the bullfight, Death in the Afternoon. If anyone can do it, it would be John. He is, after all, uniquely qualified. Imagine the press that would attract? I hope John takes on such a project. In any case, isn’t it pretty to think so.
I give you John Hemingway:
Bacchanalia, A Pamplona Story is a novel that takes place during the Fiesta de San Fermin. It follows the activities of a group of expatriates as they live the nine day festival to its fullest, running with the bulls in the morning, watching the bullfights in the afternoon and in between drinking, partying, feasting, flirting and making love like there was no tomorrow.
The characters are of different nationalities and backgrounds and each of them finds something unique in Pamplona.
Frank is an Italian-American poet/house painter from Los Angeles, who keeps returning to the Fiesta year after year because the Fiesta first seduced him and then saved him from himself.
Hector is Frank’s best friend. He is a Mexican-American novelist from San Diego and an ex-Golden Gloves boxing contender who never went pro on account of his bipolar condition. He runs with the Spanish fighting bulls every morning because he is a Shaman (or a man of knowledge) and the bulls are for him a source of spiritual strength and enlightenment.
Peter, another friend of Frank’s, couldn’t be more different from Hector. He is an ex-Navy Seal who was wounded in Afghanistan and who has discovered that running with the bulls helps him control his post-traumatic stress disorder.
Clive is an upper class Englishman who flew with the Royal Air Force as a fighter pilot before he gave it up and moved to Spain to become a bullfighter.
Ian is a hipster Scotsman with long blond hair and a braided beard who sells derivatives in the City of London. He has a very un-politically correct, ribald sense of humor, which he uses as a way of breaking the ice with anyone he encounters.
All of these men in turn are attracted to Irina, a young, stunningly beautiful, twenty-something, Russian temptress from St. Petersburg. She is visiting Pamplona and its Fiesta for the first time and everyone wants to have her. Everyone wants to be her boyfriend, to take her to bed or just to buy her a drink, but she is the one who decides, not the men.
But perhaps the most important character in the novel is the Fiesta itself with its traditions and mysteries, its vitality and tragedy, its joy and almost bipolar duality between the spiritual and the pagan. It is an event that is forever changing and continually renewed by the millions of visitors who have embraced it and will continue to embrace it in the years to come. It is the Bacchanalia, one of the few places left in the modern world where a man can take a chance and risk everything for love or a fleeting run with the bulls.