Taki Taki

High Life | 17 October 2009

Full of heart

New York

When A Moveable Feast was published in 1964 I had been living in Paris for six years. I was 27 and in love with Papa Hemingway’s favourite city, one that he described as ‘a mistress who always has new lovers’. One didn’t speak this way back then, but the book really blew my mind. Totally. Papa had died three years before that, and reading his obituaries I had decided to follow the writing life, despite the fact that I had failed English at school and — according to my father — was incapable of writing a coherent letter asking for money. Obituaries have a tendency to concentrate the mind. Here was a man who travelled the globe, covered wars, wrote about whatever captured his fancy, pursued women in the flesh pots of the Western world, and hunted big game in Africa. And had a ten-page-long obituary in Time magazine after he had blown his brains out. It was time to forget about tennis and hit the typewriter.

Well, as some of you may surmise, I never made it, but one thing is for certain: Hemingway’s prose and personal heroics have inspired more young people to try their hand at writing than the ghastly Bono has been copied by wannabe rock stars. Hemingway was the first literary superstar, and I include Lord Byron, who was more famous for his sexual shenanigans than for his romantic poetry and was read only by a small élite. A Moveable Feast was an instant bestseller, and it was as good as anything Hemingway had written. I am now almost 12 years older than Papa was when he died, and rereading the Feast confirms the fact that Hemingway submitted only stuff he was certain was good.

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