Ernest Hemingway’s claim that he “liberated the bar of the Ritz Hotel” when he joined Allied forces as they freed Paris in August 1944 had the sound of mock heroics, just another example of the writer’s inflated opinion of himself.
Revisionist history of Hemingway’s life has not been kind to this singular figure in American literature, but Nicholas Reynolds has restored some — not all — of the luster to his reputation in “Writer, Sailor, Soldier, Spy,” his fresh account of the writer’s adventures from Spain to Paris to Cuba.
Reynolds, a historian for the U.S. Marine Corps and the Central Intelligence Agency, knows how to find the bodies buried deep within government archives, and the material he references on Hemingway is disturbing.
He has unearthed a relationship between the writer and Russian espionage agents during and after the Spanish Civil War where Hemingway supported the left-wing Republican cause with words and guns. Violating his role as a war correspondent, Hemingway fought in several battles and became a dedicated anti-fascist closely allied with the war effort.
Hemingway rolled his Spanish experiences into his most popular novel, “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” a success that caught the eye of Soviet agent Jacob Golos, a significant operative in the United States who recruited Americans as spies.
Juggling partial Russian accounts and conjecture, Reynolds believes Golos made a pitch to Hemingway shortly before the writer and his new wife, journalist Martha Gellhorn, visited China in 1940. The author writes, “Hemingway had accepted a proposal to enter into a secret relationship with the Soviets.”
It seems that nothing came of the novelist’s recruitment. Never interested in communism — or any ideology, for that matter — Hemingway remained above suspicion, even from the FBI, the rest of his life, but the seeds of paranoia were planted and grew as part of the writer’s mounting depression that ended in his 1961 suicide, says Reynolds.
In his last days of military glory, Hemingway fought with U.S. troops as they cleared the way to Paris and joined them again at the Battle of the Bulge. Reynolds details his adventures with admiration, portraying the legendary macho Papa as a fearless and adept soldier.
Earlier in World War II, Hemingway sailed out of his Havana port pursuing German submarines in his fishing boat, armed with machine guns and grenades under the approval of the U.S. Navy. Reynolds believes that the writer gave Cuban rebel leader Fidel Castro some form of support, although the revolution ended Hemingway’s long residence in Cuba.
An engrossing read for Hemingway buffs as well as casual readers, “Writer, Sailor, Soldier, Spy” adds more fascinating details to a life that remains continually fascinating.
Bob Hoover is the retired book editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Writer, Sailor, Soldier, Spy
By: Nicholas Reynolds.
Publisher: William Morrow, 357 pages, $27.99.