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Book Review: Influencing Hemingway

Influencing Hemingway. Nancy W. Sindelar. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, May 8, 2014, Hardcover and Kindle editions, 212 pages.

Reviewed by Vicky Edwards.

When Nancy W. Sindelar taught literature at Oak Park and River Forest High School, she researched alumni Ernest Hemingway’s days there as a way of helping her students to feel connected with the man and his stories. She studied his yearbooks, his high school writing, and interviewed some former teachers, in addition to having access to the extensive library of The Ernest Hemingway Museum of Oak Park.

The result of her fascination with Papa Hemingway’s early life is Influencing Hemingway: People and Places That Shaped His Life and Work, a highly readable investigation into what factors may have inspired the genius of one America’s most important literary figures.

Sindelar relates Hemingway’s famous short stories and novels to the biographical story of a boy who was exposed to all that family, nature, and a liberal education had to offer. During his early life in Oak Park, he tried a variety of roles with a passion and ultimately chose writing.

The book is replete with charming stories that stand alone, or, for those who are aficionados of Hemingway’s works, add another dimension to the genius of his writing. Take, for example, one of the stories from his mother Grace Hemingway’s memory book She had asked her toddler son what he was afraid of, to which he responded, “Fraid of nothing!” Who could have guessed that such youthful bravado would evolve into the Hemingway code “Grace under Pressure”?

There are several stories of his family’s travels to remote Lake Walloon, Michigan, which inspired Hemingway’s love of fishing, hunting, and living with nature and later became the basis for his Nick Adams’ stories. Sindelar also chronicles his high school years and his many school activities, including a photo of him dressed as Beau Brummel in the school play. He tried it all: theatre, track, swim team, football, rifle club, and orchestra. It was journalism, though, that had the greatest influence, and it is clear that he was a clever and creative wordsmith even in those early days.

Later, after serving in the military, marrying, and living in Paris where he began to find fame as a writer, Hemingway seldom returned to Oak Park, but Sindelar gives compelling evidence of how those early experiences shaped his writing. Although the book discusses all four of his marriages, its focus is on his work and not on a psychological inquiry into his troubled relationships.

Overall, this well-documented book tells compelling stories of Hemingway’s life and serves as an academic archive, rich with photos, a chronology, and an extensive bibliography. Sindelar herself traveled to Hemingway homes in Paris, Key West, and Havana, and includes her photos in the book as well as archival photos. Pictures from his yearbook and of Hemingway with his family and friends enrich the book greatly; however, several photo captions could be improved by identifying Hemingway’s exact position in the group photos where it is difficult to make out which one he is.

This inspiring book reminds us again that Ernest Hemingway was a larger-than-life figure, and the world of literature is far better for it.


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