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Thursday, 15 September 2016 15:25

The Old Man and the Sea

This prize-winning work should be required reading for anyone who wants to spend a lot of time in Cuba, especially those who want to live or retire there someday. Cuban school children have to read it as part of their education.

In the 1930s, Hemingway lived in Key West, Florida, and later in Cuba, and his years of experience fishing the Gulf Stream and the Caribbean provided an essential background for the vivid descriptions of the fisherman’s craft in The Old Man and the Sea. In 1936, he wrote a piece for Esquire about a Cuban fisherman. This story was an obvious inspiration for the tale of Santiago in The Old Man and the Sea

I just finished reading this incredible book in Spanish for the second time. I originally read it years ago but decided to reread it because my son was reading it in English. As I immersed myself in the story again I realized even more how it paints a graphic picture of Cuba through its language and story.

The book is written with both simplicity and narrates the story of Santiago an old fisherman whose luck has run and and who faces perhaps the greatest challenge of his life: a struggle with a giant marlin far out in the Gulf Stream off the coast of Cuba. The story opens with Santiago having gone 84 days without catching a fish, and now being seen as “salao”, the worst form of unluckiness in Spanish. On the eighty-fifth day of his unlucky streak, Santiago takes his small boat into the Gulf Stream, sets his lines and, by noon, has his bait taken by a big fish that he is sure is a marlin. Unable to haul in the great marlin, Santiago is instead pulled by the marlin for two days and nights with Santiago holding onto the line. Although injured by the intense struggle and in pain, Santiago expresses a compassionate appreciation for his adversary, often referring to him as a brother.

On his way in to shore, sharks are attracted to the marlin's blood. Santiago kills a shark with his harpoon, but he loses the weapon. He makes a new harpoon by strapping his knife to the end of an oar to help ward off the next line of sharks; some are killed and many others are driven away. But the sharks keep coming, and by nightfall the sharks have almost devoured the marlin's entire carcass, leaving a skeleton consisting mostly of its backbone, its tail and its head. Santiago knows that he is really unlucky now, and defeated, tells the sharks of how they have killed his dreams. Upon reaching the shore before dawn on the next day, Santiago struggles to his shack, carrying the heavy mast on his shoulder, leaving the fish head and the bones on the shore. Once home, he slumps onto his bed and falls into a deep sleep dreaming of his youth.

Published in News about Cuba
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