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Running with the Bulls: My Years with the Hemingways Hardcover – October 26, 2004

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Valerie Hemingway was a 19-year-old Dubliner named Valerie Danby-Smith when she first encountered Ernest Hemingway in Spain in 1959. Having attempted to interview the literary giant for the Irish Times, she found herself sucked into his entourage. Thus began her long association with the doomed Hemingway family (which she joined officially when she married Hemingway's estranged son Gregory years after Hemingway's death). Ernest Hemingway, openly infatuated with the young Valerie, soon persuaded her to become his personal secretary and took her on a nostalgic driving tour of his old haunts in Provence and Paris. His fourth wife, Mary Welsh, a shrewd former newswoman, tolerated this arrangement—by all accounts a platonic one—and she and Valerie even became firm friends. But as Hemingway's health failed, the depressed writer began to confide in Valerie his desire to kill himself. When he succeeded, in 1961, Valerie, employed by Newsweek, flew to Mary's side and helped her pack up the house in Cuba. Valerie spent the following four years sorting through Hemingway's papers at Mary's behest. An account of her stressful marriage to the manic-depressive cross-dressing physician Gregory Hemingway concludes a memoir that is vividly written and rich in atmosphere and anecdote, although it lacks a memorable or compelling portrait of Ernest Hemingway himself.
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From Booklist

Valerie Danby-Smith was 19 years old, convent-bred Irish, and a beginning reporter when she interviewed Ernest Hemingway in the midst of Madrid's bullfight season in 1959. He soon changed her life by inviting her to work for him as secretary and confidante. She saw Hemingway at something like a peak--he was writing A Moveable Feast and sustaining the convivial high life--and also at his childish worst. The next year, with Hemingway and his wife, Mary, in Cuba, he was overtaken by fear, a maelstrom from which he never recovered. Mary asked her to sort through Hemingway's manuscripts and letters after his suicide in 1961. Then, after succumbing to a night with the playwright Brendan Behan and bearing his child, Valerie married the youngest Hemingway son, Gregory, who, despite his own respected memoir, and, perhaps, because of his predilection for dressing as a woman, never lived up to his father. Valerie's tender account has its share of sunny locales (Pamplona, Provence, Paris) and glitterati (Lauren Bacall, Cyril Connolly, bullfighter Antonio Ordonez), but its undertone is deep sadness. Steve Paul
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books; First Edition edition (October 26, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0345467337
  • ISBN-13: 978-0345467331
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.1 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,632,354 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By M. Pilgeram on June 15, 2005
Format: Hardcover
In this sophisticated and adroitly handled memoir, Valerie Hemingway details the years she spent with the Hemingway family-traveling with Ernest's entourage in Spain, working as his personal secretary in Cuba, assisting Mary with Ernest's estate after his death, and dealing with the psychological trauma of her marriage to Ernest's estranged son, Gregory. While the book offers an intimate look at the final years of Hemingway's life that will be of interest to both scholars and Hemingway enthusiasts alike, it is also a finely wrought and intriguing narrative that details the life of a young Irish journalist who by chance found herself enmeshed in the exciting but often disturbing world of the Hemingway family. From her run-ins with literary and artistic figures in Europe, to her dealings with Fidel Castro in attempts to safely secure the Hemingway estate after Ernest's suicide, Valerie Hemingway observed first hand the last gasps of literary modernism as the culture entered the turbulent politics of the 1960s, and this cultural backdrop sets the stage for Valerie's account of her intellectual awakening. This book is essential reading not only for those looking for an in-depth look at Ernest Hemingway's final years and the aftermath of his suicide but also for those looking for an engrossing account of the author's captivating life.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By C. N. Seger on November 14, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Valerie Hemingway has written a superb memoir with sensitivity and insight into a complex man and his world. Writing about Ernest Hemingway, she strikes a difficult balance between adoration and objectivity. Her prose is pleasing--sweet in places--sometimes humorous, and altogether compelling. Valerie Hemingway's often forlorn childhood in Ireland is interesting, and the unlikely confluence of this convent girl and the macho author is fascinating. On top of that comes a romance with Brendan Behan, Ernest Hemingways's suicide, and Valerie's eventual marriage to Hemingway's son, Gregory, who turns out to be a transvestite. Valerie Hemingway spent 28 years involved with the Hemingway family, and her observations and comments are important additions to the lore about Ernest Hemingway, his friends, enemies, wives and children. "Running With the Bulls" is not happy reading in many spots, but it is always engaging.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By margot on February 9, 2012
Format: Paperback
Surely, this must rank as one of the finest books in the Hemingway-bio ouvre. I ignored it for years as the contribution of a minor player. When I finally got to it recently, I was astonished on nearly every page.

Valerie Danby-Smith was Hemingway's personal secretary in his last years, and also the cataloguer of his letters and notebooks, now at the Kennedy Library at Harvard. That by itself would make Valerie something of an authority on the great man.

But there was more! Oh! So much more! Incredibly, astoundingly, Valerie then became the wife of Hemingway's mad and driven son, Gregory Hemingway, MD, and what a horrible, crazy life they had.

Valerie had already had one child, from a drunken knock-up with Brendan Behan in San Francisco. With Greg she bore three more children, and endured a grueling life that in highs and lows far exceeded any fictional imagining by Ernest Hemingway or anyone else. Gregory was the sort of manic-depressive charmer who could talk his way into any job, any lay, and then never show up. The sort of fellow who would tell people that the book he was writing would be featured on the cover of the New York Times Book Review the following year--and then do exactly that, and have a real bestseller--but thereafter lose interest in writing. When top editor Michael Korda insulted him and dropped him as an author, Greg took revenge by chasing Korda and his horse around the Central Park bridle path early each morning (Greg was a serious distance runner in those days). A very scary guy, and Valerie was married to him for 20 years.

Valerie Hemingway answers many questions that always puzzled me. Here's one.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Billyjack D'Urberville on October 10, 2005
Format: Hardcover
When a non-literary or semi-literary character gets caught up in the wake of a great writer, an historical event or disaster or what have you, you have to take their memoir as it is. Valerie Hemingway, a teen when she met Hemingway, seems to have been an aspiring journalist and to have done some editing since, though obviously she makes no great claim as a writer. The question is what she has to say, and frankly this writer not only has some new revelations about Hemingway and his family which are more than mere gossip, but posesses a degree of wisdom and balance, all in all something to say about life.

The first half of the book deals with Valerie's relationship with Ernest and Mary Hemingway, in Spain and Cuba, 1959-1961. The author is eerily present in each line Valerie writes, well recognizable from other known accounts, but she adds her own valuable and to some degree deeper take. She was a perceptive girl who Hemingway (who always enjoyed tough young "Summer People" as he once memorably termed them) obviously had good reason to like. But just as obviously it has taken her years to meditate on this material and get it right.

Hemingway's funeral and her meeting with Gregory are then told, including her touchy relationship with Mary Hemingway. Here one perhaps wishes for a little more, but the fact is no one yet has been able to properly get an angle on Hemingway's fox terrier of a fourth wife who stuck it out for hell on earth and was thereby seriously damaged afterwords.

An interlude then concerns the Irish playwright Brendan Behan, by whom Valerie had a son. And finally the rest -- which comes to feel like the majority of the book -- concerns the third "bull" in her life, Ernest's third and tragic son Gregory, whom Valerie married.
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