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Sunday, June 14, 2020


Prize size Marlin caught by Hemingway in 1934, the year he purchased his boat, Pilar.  Photo: public domain.

The New Yorker Magazine in its June 8 & 15 issue has published a previously unpublished short story by Ernest Hemingway.  It’s called “Pursuit as Happiness.”  Reading this newly found late in his career fiction makes you feel the sweat and see blistered hands as you witness Hemingway go mano y mano and hour after hour trying to land a prize sized sailfish off the Cuban coast.  Click here to link to the New Yorker.  Illustration is by Ben Giles.

Here’s a snippet from “Pursuit as Happiness” short fiction by Ernest Hemingway:
“...Do you want to try her another month, Cap?” Mr. Josie asked. He owned the Anita and was chartering her for ten dollars a day. The standard charter price then was thirty-five a day. “If you want to stay, I can cut her to nine dollars.”

“Where would we get the nine dollars?”

“You pay me when you get it. You got good credit with the Standard Oil Company at Belot across the bay, and when we get the bill I can pay them from last month’s charter money. If we get bad weather, you can write something.”

“All right,” I said, and we fished another month. We had forty-two marlin by then and still the big ones had not come. There was a dark, heavy stream close in to the Morro—sometimes there would be acres of bait—and there were flying fish going out from under the bows and birds working all the time. But we had not raised one of the huge marlin, although we were catching, or losing, white marlin each day and on one day I caught five.

We were very popular along the waterfront because we butchered all our fish and gave them away, and when we came in past the Morro Castle and up the channel toward the San Francisco piers with a marlin flag up we could see the crowd starting to run for the docks. The fish was worth from eight to twelve cents a pound that year to a fisherman and twice that in the market. The day we came in with five flags, the police had to charge the crowd with clubs. It was ugly and bad. But that was an ugly and bad year ashore.

“The goddam police running off our regular clients and getting all the fish,” Mr. Josie said. “To hell with you,” he told a policeman who was reaching down for a ten-pound piece of marlin. “I never saw your ugly face before.

What’s your name?”

The policeman gave him his name.

“Is he in the compromiso book, Cap?”


The compromiso book was where we wrote down the names of the people to whom we had promised fish.

“Write him down in the compromiso book for next week for a small piece, Cap,” Mr. Josie said. “Now, policeman, you go the hell away from here and club somebody who isn’t a friend of ours. I seen enough damn police in my life. Go on. Take the club and the pistol both and get off the dock unless you’re a dock police.”

Finally, the fish was all butchered and apportioned out according to the book and the book was full of promises for next week.

“You go on up to the Ambos Mundos and get washed up, Cap. Take a shower and I’ll meet you there. Then we can go to the Floridita and talk things over. That policeman got on my nerves.”

“You come on up and take a shower, too.”

“No. I can clean up good here. I didn’t sweat like you did today.”

So I walked up the cobbled street that was a shortcut to the Ambos Mundos Hotel and checked if I had any mail at the desk and then rode up in the elevator to the top floor. My room was on the northeast corner and the trade wind blew through the windows and made it cool. I looked out the window at the roofs of the old part of town and across at the harbor and watched the Orizaba go out slowly down the harbor with all her lights on. I was tired from working so many fish and I felt like going to bed. But I knew that if I lay down I might go to sleep, so I sat on the bed and looked out the window and watched the bats hunting and then, finally, I undressed and took a shower and got into some fresh clothes and went downstairs. Mr. Josie was waiting in the doorway of the hotel.

“You must be tired, Ernest,” he said.

“No,” I lied.

“I’m tired,” he said. “Just from watching you pull on fish. That’s only two under our all-time record. Seven and the eye of an eighth.” Neither Mr. Josie nor I liked to think of the eye of the eighth fish, but we always stated the record in this way.

We were walking up the narrow sidewalk on Obispo Street and Mr. Josie was looking at all the lighted windows of the shops. He never bought anything until it was time to go home. But he liked to look at everything there was for sale. We passed the last two stores and the lottery-ticket office and pushed open the swinging door of the old Floridita.

“You better sit down, Cap,” Mr. Josie said.

“No. I feel better standing up at the bar.”

“Beer,” said Mr. Josie. “German beer. What you drinking, Cap?”

“Frozen daiquiri without sugar.”

Hemingway at the wheel with Carlos Gutierrez aboard the Pilar, late 1930s.  Photo: public domain.

Constante made the daiquiri and left enough in the shaker for two more. I was waiting for Mr. Josie to bring up the subject. He brought it up as soon as his beer came.

“Carlos says they’ve got to come in this next month,” he said. Carlos was our Cuban mate and a great commercial marlin fisherman. “He says he never saw such a current and when they come they’ll be something like we never seen. He says they’ve got to come.”

“He told me, too.”

“If you want to try another month, Cap, I can make her eight dollars a day and I can cook, instead of us wasting money on sandwiches. We can run into the cove for lunch and I’ll cook in there. We’re getting those wavy-striped bonito all the time. They’re as good as little tuna. Carlos says he can pick us up stuff cheap in the market when he goes for bait. Then we can eat supper nights in the Perla of San Francisco restaurant. I ate there good last night for thirty-five cents.”

“I didn’t eat last night and saved money.”

“You got to eat, Cap. That’s maybe why you’re a little tired today.”

“I know it. But are you sure you want to try another month?”

“She don’t have to be hauled out for another month. Why should we leave it when the big ones are coming?”

“You have anything you’d rather do?”

“No. You?”

“Do you think they’ll really come?”

“Carlos says they’ve got to come.”

“Then suppose we hook one and we can’t handle him on this tackle we have.”

“We’ve got to handle him. You can stay with him forever if you eat good. And we’re going to eat good. Then I’ve been thinking about something else...”

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Hemingway stayed in room 511 at the flamingo colored Hotel Ambos Mundos in Old Havana. image by Tom Shess.

In Hemingway’s day this steamship was known as the S.S. Orizaba.

La Florida Bar postcard, 1930s.

At the Floridita Bar, Havana, 1955 with (left to right): Roberto Herrera, Byra “Puck” Whittlesey Hemingway, Jack “Bumby” Hemingway, Spencer Tracy, Ernest Hemingway, Mary Hemingway and an unidentified bartender.  Photo: Ernest Hemingway Collection. John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston.

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