My very first time reading Papa and I absolutely LOVED IT. Sometimes the experience you have with a book can be effected by many things beyond the narrative itself, and I think that is certainly the case here. While I believe I would have loved this story regardless, there is no doubt that the stars aligned themselves perfectly to make this a singularly special read for me.
Let me explain...
Last year, I was in Napa with my wife and two of our best friends celebrating my (oh shit!!) 40th birthday. It was the latter part of October (near the end of harvest time) and the weather was perfect...DUH, it's Napa.
We were staying at our favorite Napa sanctuary, the Villagio Inn and Spa.
Though pricey, Vellagio is just about perfect, it's centrally located, with wonderful rooms, and one of the BEST breakfast spreads in the world...Hey, when you are going out drinking all day, it is important to load up on foodstuffs to avoid alcohol-related trouble. have a nice big breakfast before you go out and drink all day...it is called being practical.
Speaking of drinking all day, we had just come back from an awesome tour of the Castle di Amarossa Winery which is, I shit you not, a real castle in the middle of Napa, California...
complete with MEGA DINING HALL
...and a TORTURE CHAMBER..yep, a rack, an Iron Maiden and some device that made me constipated just looking at it.
Anyway, we got back to the room and had a few hours to relax before a late dinner reservation. Well, I don't sleep all that much and so, while my wife took a nap (light weight that she is), I decided I would find something fairly short to read. I choose this story because it was only 100 pages long (or just under 3 hours via audio) and it seemed to fit my time allotment perfectly.
So, feeling a little buzzed and in a superb, yet contemplative mood (I had just turned 40 for crying out loud), I poured myself another glass of wine (shut up and don't judge me), went and sat on the balcony outside our room and, with the sun starting to go down, began listening to the audio version of this story.
Well, this story slammed me and had me sucked in and captive from the very first words: "He was the old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream and he had gone eighty-four days now without taking a fish." By the way, now would be a good time to mention that the audio version I listened to was read by Donald Sutherland, and the marriage of the story with Sutherland's perfect narration was nothing short of magical. In my opinion it is THE ONLY VERSION of the audio book that should be sold.
As many have said (and almost as many have complained), this is in many ways a simple story about an old Cuban fisherman named Santiago, who has had a significant run of bad luck fishing (i.e., 84 days). "Everything about him was old except his eyes and they were the same color as the sea and were cheerful and undefeated." Attempting to change his luck, he decides to take his skiff further out than he has ever gone before, "beyond all the people of the world." Eventually, he lands the largest Marlin he's ever seen and the bulk of the narrative details his epic struggle to reel in the fish and get it back to shore.
Yes, a simple story and Hemingway uses sparse, straight-forward prose...and devastates with them. The most powerful emotions, passions and struggles that people experience are often tied to the most basic needs and the most elemental aspects of who they are. I felt an immediate connection to the story and was deeply moved by the restrained, yet palpable power of the narrative.
The most lasting message that I took away from the story was that, despite the many hardships Santiago faces, and the titanic trials that he endures on the open sea, I NEVER ONCE felt that I was supposed to pity or feel sorry for him in any way. Here was a person doing what he loves to do, what gives him purpose in life, and struggling with an iron will to accomplish his goal. The struggle is hard, it is difficult, but it is who he is and what gives him fulfillment in life. All I could feel was giant admiration for this man.
I found this uplifting and a powerful reaffirmation of what is truly important in life. "But a man is not made for defeat. A man can be destroyed but not defeated."
Whether it was the setting I was in, the mood I was in, the wine I was drinking, the wonderful narration or the power of the words themselves, in the end the result was the same. I felt ALIVE, and for that I say thank you "Papa" wherever you are!!!
That is basically it, but I wanted to leave you with my favorite line from the story, one that I think encapsulates everything Hemingway set out to accomplish in his tale. "And what beat you, he thought. 'Nothing,' he said aloud. 'I went out too far.'"
5.0 stars and one of my "All Time" favorites. HIGHEST POSSIBLE RECOMMENDATION!!