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Strange Tribe: A Family Memoir Hardcover – May 1, 2007

4.5 out of 5 stars 28 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The author, grandson of Nobel Prize winner Ernest Hemingway, and son of his youngest child, Gregory, investigates the similarities between these two paternal figures and seeks to find his place in their "strange tribe" with a "famous last name." Sure to excite fans and Hemingway scholars, the book does much to complicate Ernest's image as a macho man, cataloguing both his dependence on women and his gender-bending proclivities. However, the true heart of the book is in exploring the Hemingways' failure as parents and how the familial disposition toward manic-depression created a genetic "Hemingway curse." The author, having escaped the disease, paints his father and grandfather in blunt strokes as loving and generous men who had little understanding of their psychological disorder; the most endearing and comprehensive portrait is of his father's struggles as a transvestite son of a "pillar of American manhood." When describing his own parents' early neglect (his mother was schizophrenic) and, later, his partial reconciliation with his father, the book focuses on the author's generation of Hemingways—but mostly the book is intent upon setting the record straight about Ernest, his youngest son and their similarities. John Hemingway writes honestly and is a sympathetic scrutinizer of this complicated and famous man, the family he parented and the myths to which his writing has given birth. (May)
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From Booklist

In adding to the products of the ever-expanding Hemingway industry, it might have been enough that John Hemingway was a grandson of the towering writer known as Papa. But John Hemingway's father, Ernest's youngest son, Gregory Hemingway, liked to wear dresses. And that gender-bending trait--late in life Gregory surgically became a woman--turns into a fascinating prism through which to view both the legend of Ernest's machismo and the painfully immature relationships that seem to haunt the Hemingway clan. One of John Hemingway's main missions is to restore the psychic connection between Ernest and Gregory, who died of heart failure in a Miami women's jail in 2001. Along the way, he weaves his own story of being the son of two mentally disordered people--his mother was schizophrenic--and finding his own place in the world. As a writer on the Hemingway family tree, John relies too often on the hackneyed phrase, but his tale of loyalty, love, and forgiveness in the life-wracking business of fathers and sons is compelling. Steve Paul
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Lyons Press (May 1, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1599211122
  • ISBN-13: 978-1599211121
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 6.2 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #476,756 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
His mother was a schizophrenic. His father a bipolar cross dresser who eventually had a partial sex change. His grandfather a great writer who committed suicide (not to mention a greatgrandfather and great uncle who did the same).

That is just part of the troubled legacy that John Hemingway, grandson of Ernest Hemingway, dealt with growing up. Throughout his childhood, John Hemingway was shuffled between his mother and father, his step-mother and various relatives. Despite the fact that many would assume the grandson of Ernest Hemingway would live a privileged life, he most definitely didn't.

But this book isn't necessarily about John and his dealings with his famous family's problems. Rather the early focus of the book is on the relationship of Ernest and his son, Gregory, John's father.

We learn that Ernest, who wanted a daughter, was angry when Gregory was born, because he wasn't a girl. We also learn that Gregory eventually became a cross dresser, and once was caught trying on his step-mother's nylons by Ernest. Whether Ernest's desire for a daughter influenced this or not, no one can be certain. What is certain is that Greg would become Ernest's most troubled child.

John initially examines the fact that both his father and grandfather had a fascination with androgeny, although Ernest hid his better. While his novel, "The Garden of Eden" focuses on the issue, it was published postumously and you have to wonder if Ernest intended it that way.

It's fairly fascinating stuff, but even more fascinating is the recounting of the relationship Ernest and Gregory had which would eventually color John's relationship with his father.
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Format: Hardcover
Grandson of Ernest Hemingway, the author delves into the disturbing effects this major author's macho persona had on the author's father and thus inevitably on himself. Ernest Hemingway committed suicide. The author's father, Ernest's youngest son Gregory, struggled with gender identification his whole life, and died in the Women's Correctional Facility of the Miami Dade County Jail in 2001. The author was spared the worst of the traumas of his grandfather and father. But for the longest time, he lived a rootless, vagabond life exacerbated by concerns about his helplessly irresponsible and unpredictable father and trying to fill in gaps in his life his father had suppressed or ignored in his own life. John Hemingway does not emerge from the cloying shadows cast over him by his father and grandfather until the birth of a son with his wife Ornella in Italy in the Fall 2006, so he ends the memoir. The reader is not assured, however, that his turmoils are behind him for good.

Hemingway's tale is told mostly in illustrative vignettes, not an in-depth or intricate narrative searching for the roots of the gender abnormalities of the characters. The style is honest, genuine, and engaging. Hemingway does not strive for the luridness, sensationalism, confessional slant of so many contemporary memoirs. Undoubtedly, the memoir was purgative in some respects for him. But he wrote it as much to present his unique contribution on the Hemingway legend and its reverberations in succeeding generations of his family.
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Format: Hardcover
I was lucky enough to see an advance copy of this memoir, and I can't say enough about it. I've read several books about Ernest and the Hemingway clan, and John Hemingway's book adds new and (until now) untold dimensions to the saga. STRANGE TRIBE is an intimate and poignant story written with a skillful, understated grace. Ernest would be proud!
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Format: Hardcover
The thesis of the book is that mental problems that plagued the father (surfacing only by his death) begat more overt mental problems of his youngest son, Greg.

The title is taken from Ernest's comment when he discovers Greg as a young boy trying on a pair of nylons. The legendarily macho Ernest is not shocked nor punitive. He merely comments that they are part of a strange tribe suggesting that he recognizes inherited family problems surfacing in his young son.

The author, Greg's son, John, notes some gender bending episodes of his macho grandfather, but is more persuasive in documenting Ernest's bouts of depression and his coldness, and sporadic (but not infrequent) hostility towards Greg.

The book describes the life that mental problems mixed with alcohol force two generations to lead. Parents shirk responsibility moving kids around from one unstable situation to another. John's visit to his father in Montana reminded me of the young Christopher Lawford's visit to his father, Peter, which describes in Symptoms of Withdrawal : A Memoir of Snapshots and Redemption. In both cases, the child is more mature than the addicted parent and vulnerable because of a need to please a father figure who can never be reached.

The book has universal things to say about mental illness. While the focus is on this famous family, this sort of drama is present throughout society.
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Format: Hardcover
A wonderful insight into the insecurities and neurosis of Gregory, his father Ernest and most of the family in dealing with issues. John does not get away totally unscaved as his shortcomings are also revealed here. Later into the book I felt very clear that the author needed to get a firm grasp of how things were ( and would continue to be) and move forward towards leaving the past behind, stop blaming his father and free himself of all of the closet skeletons he has been living with all these many years. A good read
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