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Death In The Afternoon

Author: Ernest Hemingway
Year: 1932
Pages: 275
Amazon: Death In The Afternooon

Death in The Afternoon is Ernest Hemingway's treatise (great word) on bullfighting. Hemingway writing about any subject is a treat unto itself, but he dissects bullfighting with both a passion and elegance that makes the tradition real to the reader. He goes into painstaking detail to explain every aspect of bullfighting - from the matadors to picadors, to structure of a good bull to killing style of each of the leading bullfighters of the generation. Hemingway does this so well that he transcends the actual sport to delve into issues such as spirituality, courage, fear and death.

Bullfighting appears to be quite a gruesome activity. Hemingway doesn't deny this and only offers that the reader gives the sport a fair shake. His ability to be objective (through the narration of an inquisitive "old lady") yet passionate makes you realize how unbelievable of a writer he is. Although never a bullfighter himself, it is apparent that he has fully engulfed himself in understanding the sport and his understanding of bullfighting is as authentic as anything that you can read. His story also passes the test of time as the novel is as fresh today as it was when it was written over a half of a century ago.

Finally, on any page there is a chance that you'll read a profound snippet of brilliance by Hemingway. As I was reading the epilogue he writes within a paragraph "Any man's life, told truly, is a novel…." I stopped and read that line over a few times. I liked it.

Litty’s Take

I love that Hemingway is a writer who is also a doer. His experiences include war, traveling, hunting in Africa and as a journalist so his stories are based on his actual experiences. It seems like the current generation of writers are slanted towards academics and their stories come from the unique way they passively view society. That's not as interesting or genuine as those who have experienced something exceptional and then can write about it in an even more powerful manner.

At times the amount of detail is extraordinary. It is more than I'll ever need to know about bullfighting but I believe there is value in learning about every aspect. The one analogy I applied is that if I wrote a book about the nuances of baseball. Of course I would outline the rules and strategy but then I would get into minutia of things like holding runners on at first base and it would go something like this.

"When there is a runner on first base the first baseman can either hold him on and stand in front of the bag or play at normal depth which gives him a better opportunity to field his position. By holding a runner on it will give the pitcher an opportunity to pick-off the runner and limits the runner's lead off of the base. The runner will usually take a lead of 3-5 strides depending on the threat of stealing a base. If a pitcher attempts a pick off, the first baseman will catch the ball and try to apply a tag on the runner before he returns to the safety of the base. This is unlikely to occur as only the most deceptive pitchers have good enough moves to trick the runner. The great Mattingly will tag every base runner no matter if he is already on the base. Other first baseman will simply return the ball to the pitcher. Therefore the first baseman's main role is to prevent the runner from getting to aggressive of a lead. After the pitcher throws home the first baseman will come off the bag into a defensive position by taking five to six steps to the middle of the field. The first baseman must also be ready for bunt attempts, double play balls, and pick off attempts by the catcher…"

Now imagine that with the articulation and elegance of Hemingway and you can begin to understand to what degree he breaks down bullfighting.

I'm not sure if you need to read this book unless you have a keen interest in bullfighting, Spanish culture or a love for Hemingway's writing. But if you do choose to give it a crack I'm sure you will enjoy it.

For more information on Ernest Hemingway, visit Timeless Hemingway:


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