Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises


Audiobook read by William Hurt

*1001 Books Book

Hemingway, E., & William, H. (1926). Ernest Hemingway’s The sun also rises. New York: Simon & Schuster, Inc.  9780743564410

I attempted reading this particular Hemingway novel several years ago but wasn’t in the mood. So, I added this to my “To Be Read/TBR” list and read other books. In my perpetual quest for shorter audiobooks, I stumbled upon The Sun Also Rises in the HCPL catalog. When I noticed that the narrator was William Hurt, I decided to give The Sun Also Rises another try.

Narrator Jake Barnes  is an American journalist expatriate in Paris as well as a World War I veteran.  Injuries from WWI have rendered Jake impotent. He drinks a lot and is a bullfighting aficionado.

Jake begins the novel by describing his “friend” Robert Cohn. Cohn is a rich Jewish American expatriate who, like Jake, is a writer. Cohn didn’t fight in The Great War. Facing much anti-Semitism at Princeton, Cohn has grown a chip on his shoulder; he fits right in with his contemporaries of Rive Gauche and the Lost Generation. Cohn lives with his social-climbing girlfriend Frances Clyne.

Listlessly, Cohn seeks escape and stops by Jake’s office to get him to go to South America with him. Jake turns him down and avoids Cohn as much as possible. That evening, Jake drifts through bars and clubs and eventually runs into the love of his life. The beautiful, magnetic Lady Brett Ashley is a twice-divorced Englishwoman whom Jake met during the War. Brett loves Jake but will not commit to Jake due to his impotence. Brett does not commit to any man.  Cohn sees Brett, falls for her, and an affair ensues.

All of this proves calamitous when Jake treks to Pamplona to see the bullfights. Jake’s an aficionado whereas his friends want to party. He’s joined by fellow expatriate and war veteran Bill Gorton, Brett, Cohn, and Mike Campbell, Brett’s fiancé. When the handsome bullfighter Romero enters the scene, Brett wants him. At this point, Brett has three men competing for her attention.

The writing and tragedy are exquisite. Jake’s star-crossed love is poignant; the disconnect of this group is stiffling. Jake finds himself in a bind – should he extend Brett in the form of Romero or should he remain true to the code of Spaniard bullfighting aficionados?

Four Out of Five Pearls

Places: France, Spain, The United States, The United Kingdom, Italy

Literary Ties: The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, “In a Station of the Metro” by Ezra Pound, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark, Ecclesiastes 1:5,

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Janice Y.K. Lee’s The Piano Teacher


Lee, J. Y. K. (2008). The piano teacher: A novel. New York: Viking Penguin. 978-0-00-728638-6

I noticed The Piano Teacher numerous times while flipping through Publisher’s Weekly while at work. However, I didn’t have enough interest in it until I saw the book on Amazon’s “People who bought this also bought. . .” for another book I recently read (see Marie Arana’s Lima Nights) . Sure enough, this book was on the shelf at the library where I work.

Lee tells at least two stories. Initially, she begins with young English wife Claire Pendleton in 1952. She and her husband, Martin, come to Hong Kong due to his job. With nothing else better to do, Claire seeks employment as a piano teacher. When she’s hired by the wealthy Chen family to teach their daughter Locket to play piano, Claire becomes infatuated with the Hong Kong expatriate scene as well as developing kleptomania. Through all of this, she becomes the paramour of Will Truesdale, an English expatriate with numerous skeletons in the closet.

The other story Lee tells begins in 1941 Hong Kong with the dashing newcomer Will Truesdale and his tempestuous affair with Trudy Liang, an exquisite daughter of a wealthy Chinese man and a Portuguese beauty. Will sinks into Trudy’s glib  lifestyle – parties, dinners with her efeet cousin Dominick, parties with her cousin Melody Chen, going to the beach, etc. When there are nervous rumblings on the eve of World War II, Trudy appears ambivalent and Will plays along until Japan invades.

Lee alternates between these two story lines, ultimately showing us how the past transgressions color Claire’s present. Characters face all sorts of trials and decisions, costing them all in the end.

I found Lee’s writing quite colorful and even transcendent. I especially wanted to climb into my time machine and check out pre-World War II Hong Kong.  While I didn’t like most of the characters, I found them very human and multidimensional.

I also liked how Lee confronts issues of race, class, and gender. Through Trudy, she presents us with the reality of being “not Asian”, “not Caucasian,” but simply both. Her wealthy Chinese father’s status opens doors for his daughter. I was impressed also by Claire’s awakening to this as well. Here we have 2008 values quelled in a novel about 1940s-1950s Hong Kong.

Still, I didn’t like the construction of the story much. I felt as though I was bounced around in the beginning, stuck in the middle, and rolled around like a pingpong ball in the end.  I do recall that this is Lee’s first novel and I’m sure she’ll overcome this in future novels.

As a grammar geek, I must comment on my chagrin upon reading Trudy utter the non-word “anyways.”

Two out of Five Pearls

Places: Hong Kong, Macau, China, Japan, The United Kingdom, India

Word Bank: ablution, Amah, anodyne, avuncular, collusive, consular, gendarmerie, guipure, inculcated, lissome, OBE, qipao, prescient, sotto voce, Tai Tais, venal,

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