“Writer, Sailor, Soldier, Spy: Ernest Hemingway’s Secret Adventures, 1935-1961”
Author: Nicholas Reynolds
Publisher: William Morrow
Price: $27.99 (Hardcover)
In the beginning, everybody loved Ernest Hemingway and Hemingway’s fiction. He had best-selling novels and was one of the most recognized people in the country, imitated in his personal habits and his prose style. And he won the Nobel Prize for literature.
Then the shifting winds of politically correct academic weather blew in and attempted to reduce Hemingway to a bragging, drunken, misogynistic slaughterer of wildlife: furry, finned and feathered.
Of course, nothing that simple-minded could stand.
Critic and biographer Scott Donaldson explained in detail how much power, agency, Hemingway’s female characters, whether Lady Brett Ashley of “The Sun Also Rises” or Catherine Barkely from “A Farewell to Arms,” actually demonstrated. They got their men to do more or less what they wanted done.
Mark Spilka, in “Hemingway’s Quarrel with Androgyny,” demonstrated at length Hemingway’s “secret dependence on and secret identification with women” and the struggle the author had to manage his female side, a struggle that sometimes had Ernest exaggerating his own masculinity.
Detractors of Hemingway accused him of exaggerating or outright lying about his exploits in wartime, whether in the Great War, Spanish Civil War, or Second World War.
In “Islands in the Stream,” his hero patrols the Gulf Stream day after day, looking for German submarines. We now know, as Michael Reynolds, no relation to Nicholas, first discovered, that for weeks in the summer of 1943 Hemingway and his crew were at sea, working for US Naval Intelligence. Had they come upon a U-Boat, which only happened in the novel, the U-Boat would have certainly blasted the Pilar to pieces.
Now Nicholas Reynolds, former CIA officer and Marine colonel, has expanded the exploration into Hemingway’s adventures as warrior and as spy, for the Spanish Republic, for the USA and, perhaps, for the Soviet Union.
At 18 years of age, Hemingway had volunteered for the Ambulance Corps in Italy and was famously wounded.
The powerful ant-fascist feelings that sent him to Italy only grew. They stayed with him and fueled his passion for the Republic in the Spanish Civil War.
In Spain on repeated trips, Hemingway served the cause, as writer/propagandist/intelligence gatherer/warrior, interrogating prisoners and scouting terrain. Never a communist, he nevertheless developed an admiration and gratitude towards the Soviets, who aided the Republic when England and America would not. This admiration caused Hemingway to downplay, even ignore, atrocities such as the Moscow purges and other horrors.
His anti-fascist feelings were so well known that, Reynolds speculates, based on writings by ex-Russian spy Alexander Vassiliev, in December of 1940 Russian spy Jacob Golos of the NKVD, forerunner of the KGB, asked Hemingway to meet him in New York City and, technically, “recruited” him.
This came to nothing: there was never another meeting and Hemingway never passed on any information, secret or otherwise, to the Soviets.
Reynolds describes Hemingway’s counter-intelligence activities in Havana early in the war, where he operated a ring of intelligence gatherers who reported to the U.S. Ambassador on German activities in Cuba.
Reynolds goes into some detail on Hemingway’s valuable contributions to the war effort in France, especially intelligence gathering in Rambouillet, which, he asserts, saved many American lives. Later, although officially a noncombatant, Hemingway joined the fighting in the Hurtgen Forest. Unusual for a civilian, Hemingway was awarded the Bronze Star.
A famous patriot, held in high esteem by his nation, Hemingway, Reynolds speculates, may have nevertheless feared that one day his brief contact with the Soviets would come to light and he would be hauled before Congress, disgraced. He believed the FBI was following him, reading his mail, bugging his phone. He feared they were about to arrest him. In his last years, Reynolds suggests, “Worry descended into obsession and delusion,” and, combined with his bouts of acute depression, the result was, sadly, his suicide on July 2, 1961.
Don Noble is host of the Alabama Public Television literary interview show “Bookmark with Don Noble.”