Papa’s Non-Fiction


Ernest Hemingway at his home in Cuba, circa 1953, standing in front of a 1929 portrait of himself by Waldo Pierce.
Photograph in the Ernest Hemingway Photograph Collection, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston.

From The Paris Review:

“Years ago, after we’d done the interview, Papa invited me down again to visit him in Cuba.” (In the fifties, George had interviewed Hemingway for the magazine on the Art of Fiction, and now he always referred to him as Papa, as Hemingway encouraged his young friends to do.) “It was right after the revolution,” George continued. After he arrived in Havana, he settled in at a hotel room above a bar. One afternoon, at the end of the day, Hemingway told him, “There’s something you should see,” and to come by the house.

When he arrived at Hemingway’s house he saw they were preparing for some sort of expedition. Before they ventured forth, the elder writer made shakers of drinks, daiquiris or whatever, and packed them up. This group, including a few others, got in the car and drove for some time to the outside of town. Arriving at their destination, they got out, set up chairs, brought out the drinks, and arranged themselves as if they were going to watch the sunset. Soon enough, a truck came, and that, explained George to me, was what they’d been waiting for. It came, as Hemingway explained to them, the same time each day. The truck stopped and some men with guns got out of it. In back were a couple of dozen others who were tied up. Prisoners. The men with guns hustled the others out of the back of the truck and lined them up. And then they shot them. They put the bodies back in the truck and drove off.

I said to George something to the effect of, Oh my God. Then I said, “I don’t believe you.”

I wasn’t sure why I didn’t. Probably because I’d never read about such events, and their invisibility in the media, to my mind, somehow outweighed George’s account as a firsthand witness. But I knew George had a Forrest Gump-like ability to be on the spot when things happened. (Years into knowing him, I learned that he was among those who, along with an uncle of mine, leaped on and disarmed Sirhan Sirhan at the Ambassador Hotel.) It was perfectly plausible that Hemingway at this time would’ve known about such events going on in the shadows. Given that among his group were young writers in search of a subject, it makes sense that he would’ve taken them to see the executions. (I wonder if the daiquiris, lounge chairs, and festive setup weren’t a kind of investigative subterfuge on Hemingway’s part—if he was only seeming to treat it as a day at the bullfights.

“Plimpton, Papa, and Cuba”, James Scott Linville, The Paris Review