January 28, 2014 Leave a comment
Still considered one of the best books ever written about bullfighting, “Death in the Afternoon” is an impassioned look at the sport by one of its true aficionados. It reflects Hemingway’s conviction that bullfighting was more than mere sport and reveals a rich source of inspiration for his art. The unrivaled drama of bullfighting, with its rigorous combination of athleticism and artistry, and its requisite display of grace under pressure, ignited Hemingway’s imagination. Here he describes and explains the technical aspects of this dangerous ritual and “the emotional and spiritual intensity and pure classic beauty that can be produced by a man, an animal, and a piece of scarlet serge draped on a stick.” Seen through his eyes, bullfighting becomes a richly choreographed ballet, with performers who range from awkward amateurs to masters of great elegance and cunning.
A fascinating look at the history and grandeur of bullfighting, “Death in the Afternoon” is also a deeper contemplation of the nature of cowardice and bravery, sport and tragedy, and is enlivened throughout by Hemingway’s sharp commentary on life and literature.
If I had to choose three descriptive terms for Ernest Hemingway, it would be easy and they would be the following: Genius, dignitary, and…..cocksman. Undoubtedly, Hemingway is one of the greatest American figures in history. His life and actions during his time have secured him a covenant spot in history as one of the most brilliant men to, frankly, ever exist. And more importantly, he still personally remains to be the finest pen man of books that kids are forced to read in the public school system. That is quite the statement for me, considering how much I fucking hated some of the books they chose for us to read. (Seriously, of all the classic Steinbeck novels, we read The Pearl?)
That being said, Ernest Hemingway seemed to know everything there was to know about being a man. Sexists as it might seem, that is what he was. He was a man. I know that when I read his words, I always seem to develop a desire for a good scotch (even though I don’t really know what “good scotch” is) and a massive flank steak of buffalo meat. And at the same time, the man was an artist. Like the Kerouacs and Keseys that would follow in his footsteps, he wrote about how he lived. Therefore, it is no surprise that old Papa would know everything there is to know about bullfighting, which he has featured predominately in some of his earlier works, and that we would write a mostly instructional book about the subject that is still as relevant today as it was when it was written 80 years ago.
I don’t know anything about bullfighting. I don’t know much about Spain. Hell, I didn’t even know that this book existed until I found a copy of it in the audiobook section of my local library here in Spain. But when I did find it, I was obviously intrigued. I have been living in Spain just over a month now, and bullfights are definitely on my list of “things I just HAVE to see while in Spain”. The concept of the sport is absolutely majestic. And just as most majestic things tend to be, there is also stigma, backlash, and corruption. And nobody tells it better than Hemingway does in Death in the Afternoon. Seriously, every nook and cranny about the bullfight world is covered with the type of grace and elegance you would expect from one of the greatest writers in history. From the detailing maneuvering of a matador or picador, to the sexual exploits that sadly brought so many of them to their graves. The fears and triumphs of precisely examined and explained in this wonderful and extremely informative narrative. If you are at all interested in the world of bullfighting, this is the tell all book you simply must read.
That being said, I really didn’t care for it. Let me explain. Hemingway has always been one of my favorite writers of all time, and I know I am not alone in these thoughts. The Sun Also Rises still holds the spot as my favorite book of all time, and the only book I have read more than 3 times. I didn’t care much for The Old Man and the Sea when I read it at 13 years old, but when I digested it 10 years later, I found it absolutely incredible, and worthy of the praise I once refused to give it. But, Death in the Afternoon is different. To be quite honest, if it wasn’t a book by Hemingway, I would probably never have even considered giving it a shot. In fact, I didn’t even know what the hell the book was about when I picked it up. I simply saw the name Ernest Hemingway, and a title I had never heard of before, and know that it most be read. It was a surprise to realize that it was about bullfighting. And even more surprising that it is about bullfighting in the country I recently moved to (although Spain and bullfighting is as obvious of a collaboration as peas and carrots or peanut butter and jelly). So my interest was grabbed. But it just didn’t seem to have the zest and zeal I usually come to expect when reading any sort of story from Papa. It truly is an instructional piece of non-fiction. It is as informative as all hell, but not nearly as inspiring as the likes of Men Without Women, or other classic stories he has written.
There is definitely something very personal about this book. You might think I could appreciate that. I should be able to appreciate the fact that this book was written by a man who yearned to speak his mind, and write about whatever he damn well pleased. But, I am a selfish man at times. I respect the legacy of this man more than I respect most anybody. Still, I can not help but figure that there is a reason that this book managed to escape my knowledge of Mr. Hemingway having ever written it until now. It isn’t a bad book. It is written with absolute beauty and grace. It was pretty much impossible for Ernest not to do so. It really just isn’t that interesting. That is unless you are curious about the sport of bullfighting, and especially if you believe yourself to be knowledgable in the sport. I knew the equivalent of dick before reading this book, and now I feel as though I could tell you whatever you need to know, without even as much as a Google search!
Yes, overall Death in the Afternoon seems to be simply another title to add to the “Also By Ernest Hemingway” at the beginning of 187th edition of A Farewell to Arms. I would recommend it to everybody, simply because it is Ernest Hemingway. For even the worst work by this man is vastly superior to just about anybody else in history in my opinion.
Note: 2014 is the first year for book reviews at Trainwreck’d Society. We will be making a valiant effort to read and review at least 100 books. This is review #2. Be sure to stay in touch and be on the lookout for further reviews throughout 2014. Be sure to let us know if we are falling behind. For a complete list of book reviews, click HERE. Enjoy!