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Hemingway's France: Images of the Lost Generation Hardcover – December 31, 2013
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With "Hemingway's France: Images of the Lost Generation," it is clear that Winston Conrad loves France as well. Conrad traveled extensively in France to gather the material for this book, and his passion for France and Paris (and of course Hemingway) are evident on every page as he attempts to show the reader why this country and city left such a grand impression on the biggest star of 20th century literature.
Conrad writes a clear, thorough biography of Hemingway, with France serving as a common thread throughout, but the feature that makes this book stand out is the great number of rarely seen photos of Hemingway and friends. We see Hemingway demonstrating deep sea fishing gear in the late 1950's, we see him dressed in dapper travel attire as his driver prepares their car, we see him riding on the back of a sidecar motorcycle during World War II, we see him sitting on the windowsill of his Paris apartment in the late 1920's, we see him in a rocking chair with his infant son Bumby...and for the Hemingway fan who has seen it all, these "new" pictures are like seeing an old friend after a long time apart. Not only do we see him, but we are treated to views of Hemingway's France that give a clear and confirming image of all those wonderful settings that we find in Hemingway's books. Conrad, a photographer of obvious talent, shows us Hemingway's haunts as they appear today, and often contrasts his own beautiful color photos with the vintage black and white photos of the same haunts from Hemingway's day; it makes for an effective mix of nostalgia and immediacy.
Conrad divides the book into nine chapters, each focusing on a different part of the French experience that today would be hard to discuss without mentioning Hemingway's name: The Literary Scene in Paris, Cafes, Restaurants and Nightlife, The Artists, Sports, The South of France, World War II, Bullfights, The Feast Moves On. All are well written, but the chapters on Hemingway's early years in Paris and later, his experiences as a combination soldier/journalist during the second World War stand out.
A pleasant surprise comes in Chapter 4 ("The Artists") with the reprints of some of Gerald Murphy's paintings. Murphy, in most Hemingway and Fitzgerald biographies, always serves as a footnoted rich benefactor to the talented writers and painters in 1920's France. But he was also an accomplished painter, and Conrad shows us some of Murphy's wonderful paintings (particularly Cocktail), revealing a talent that if it were more widely known would certainly elevate him above his current footnote status.
The usual cast of characters show up as well, with F. Scott Fitzgerald in a starring role before his crack-up, and his wife Zelda revealing in many pictures a nervous look that foretells her later mental disintegration. But the true star of this book is France itself. Hemingway always had a knack for selecting interesting places to live and for making those places his own, but of all the places he lived, Paris seemed to be the one that affected him most. It was the city of his earliest successes, and it was the city he chose to write about in A Moveable Feast, when at the end of his life he couldn't write about anything else. In between it was a city and country he could always return to for comfort, inspiration and excitement.
Winston Conrad, in the final chapter, says "If Hemingway could come back to life for a day, he might very well elect to spend it in France." After reading this book it would be hard to argue that Hemingway would choose otherwise.
This is a book Hemingway would wish he had written himself.
Unlike so many books that have been published about this man in France in this era, this volume is evocative. All of the emotion associated with the people, places and things of that time in that place come through clearly, connecting to reader's hearts.
This book is literature, art. The great painting Conrad has created is one where all the subtle nuances are on the canvas. EH is not allowed to dwarf the other extraordinary characters like Gerald Murphy. Everyone is portrayed evenly. There is a fullness, a deeper appreciation of these people and that time than one finds in other books. The things that are familiar to the reader appear to be new because they are drawn in the actual context in which they originally existed. Conrad has not reconstructed Hemingway's France. He has found it and brought us into it. We are with Hemingway, Gertrude, Pablo et. al.
Hemingway beautifully remembered those people and that time in "A Moveable Feast," a favorite among devotees of Hemingway's work. To say Conrad's treatment is better than Hemingway's is a strong statement to make. It is a true statement.
The photographs are extraordinary but no more extraordinary than the prose that accompanies the pictures. This slim volume is, as said, like a large oil painting accurately depicting the scene, capturing the action and mood, and evoking emotion in those who view the art.
The author presents an excellent collection of photographs showing France in Hemingway's time and then today. A few modern photographs are contrasted against the past incarnations of the same places. Often the locations retain their quaint picturesque quality. The accompanying text is well written and informative. It does a workable job of presenting Hemingway, Piccasso, and Fitzgerald in the era that the photographs witness.
An interesting tidbit in the text was the fact that American "starving artists" during the Lost Generation years were hardly starving. Because the dollar to franc exchange rate was so advantageous, a full 3 course meal with wine could be had for the equivalent of $.20.