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THE TRUE GEN An Intimate Portrait of Ernest Hemingway by...

June 18, 1989|ELENA BRUNET

THE TRUE GEN An Intimate Portrait of Ernest Hemingway by Those Who Knew Him by Denis Brian (Delta: $10.95)

Denis Brian has woven the speech of Hemingway's intimates from all walks of life into an engaging oral narrative. The responses of various ex-wives and colleagues, family members and even psychiatrists to his probing questions are presented in the semblance of a running dialogue or sometimes even argument, with Brian playing devil's advocate.

Brian discusses Martha Gellhorn, Hemingway's third wife, with Winston Guest, who says: "I'll never forget Martha asking me what I thought of her choice of husband. She explained to me that she'd picked Ernest because of his ability as a writer and possible remuneration from books. And I thought to myself, what a tough, mercenary (woman)."

"What rubbish . . . ," Martha Gellhorn responds in the next line. "It should be noted that I never used his name or my association with him, not when I was married to him or ever after. . . ."

"Lies!" says Irwin Shaw on Guest's view of Gellhorn. "The things Guest . . . says are absolute canards."

Brian certainly elicits lively responses from the hundreds of people he spoke to. "He was my hero," Hemingway's sister Carol Gardner tells him. "He was magnificent in wartime but in peacetime could be insufferable," Gen. C. T. (Buck) Lanham says. And from Truman Capote comes: "I never met Hemingway but I hated him. He was such a total hypocrite."

Martha Gellhorn contributes high praise: "He was a genius . . . not so much in what he wrote as in how he wrote; he liberated the written word."

THE SUGAR MOTHER by Elizabeth Jolley (Perennial Library / Harper & Row: $7.95)

A happy, stable marriage several decades old stands at risk when wife Cecilia, an obstetrician, accepts a fellowship that will take her to Canada and England for a year. Although Cecilia has lined up numerous friends to check in on her husband and entertain him, Edwin Page, an absent-minded professor at an Australian university, feels lonely, even a little bitter.

He is entirely without suspicion when his new next-door neighbors, a woman and her daughter, Leila, begin imposing on his hospitality and his life, asking for his help. (The oven in their home doesn't work, they tell him: Would he put their cake into his oven? Or, the hot-water system in their home is useless, they complain: Might they use his shower?) Before he knows it they have moved into his house lock, stock and barrel.

"Have you ever considered adopting?," Mrs. Bott asks Edwin Page about his childless marriage. But that question is just a preamble for her own proposal: that her daughter Leila serve as "sugar mother," a surrogate mother, providing him with a happy, healthy, companionable baby, and a surprise for his wife--for a price.

"The Sugar Mother" is, in reviewer Susan Heeger's words, a "very funny novel."

PAPA DOC, BABY DOC Haiti and the Duvaliers by James Ferguson (Basil Blackwell: $12.95)

"Duvalier has performed an economic miracle," a contemporary Haitian said, with bitter irony, of Papa Doc: "He has taught us to live without money . . . to eat without food . . . to live without life."

In this lucid, well-informed volume, James Ferguson traces Haiti's degeneration from its status as the world's first independent black republic to the last three decades of a "squalid and vicious police state" under the dictatorships of Francois (Papa Doc) and Jean-Claude (Baby Doc) Duvalier.

Papa Doc exploited U.S. fears of communism and formed the brutal Tonton Macoutes, a military offshoot known for its tortures and murders against any voice of opposition. Jean-Claude Duvalier's mistake was to respond to the Carter Administration's accusations of human-rights violations with gestures of reform that he could not possibly fulfill. "Against the brutal forces of an authoritarian regime, personified by the Tonton Macoutes, stood an unarmed people which had seemingly lost its fear," writes Ferguson. "A corrupt dictator, besieged in his luxurious palace, was confronted by his starving subjects, driven by hope or desperation from their villages and slums."

This paperback edition includes a new chapter evaluating the post-Duvalier years. Ferguson blames the United States for the fact that the uprising against Duvalier "was never allowed to develop into a revolution which might have rid Haiti of the system which survives even now. . . . It was manifestly American policy to prevent the emergence of a political transition in Haiti which might have threatened perceived criteria of 'regional stability.' "

FAMILY ATTRACTIONS Stories by Judith Freeman (Penguin Books: $6.95)

Judith Freeman's first collection of short stories tells her deceptively simple tales with poignancy and grace. The title story is representative of her lonely protagonists longing for familial intimacy: A long-time bachelor finds himself married at 63 and the stepfather to two young girls, enjoying his new camaraderie.

The two most moving stories ("Going Out to Sea" and "Clearfield") touch on a young Mormon woman's care for a child who suffers from heart failure, her growing distance from her husband, and finally her reaffirmation of life.

As Merrill Joan Gerber wrote in these pages, "Judith Freeman tells her tales in passionate voices strong with the authority of deeply felt experience, folk wisdom and close observation of life."

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