[FOUNTAIN]And he was old and tough"The old man was thin and gaunt with deep wrinkles on the back of his neck. The brown blotches of the benevolent skin cancer the sun brings from its reflections on the tropical sea were on his cheeks." Those lines open Ernest Hemingway's masterpiece "The Old Man and the Sea."
Last week, a report from Cuba brought the news that Gregorio Fuentes, on whom Mr. Hemingway had modeled his novel's central character, Santiago, the indomitable fisherman, had died at 105. Mr. Fuentes, who was two years older than Mr. Hemingway, was a born fisherman. He had succeeded his father, a fisherman who had died on the ocean.
Gregorio Fuentes guided Mr. Hemingway's fishing boat and mixed the American writer's favorite rum drinks. Mr. Hemingway developed a strong bond with Mr. Fuentes until Mr. Hemingway killed himself in 1961.
Mr. Hemingway came to Havana, Cuba, in 1940. "For Whom the Bell Tolls," in which Mr. Hemingway wrote of his experiences during the Spanish Civil War, became the best-seller of his generation, bringing him money and fame. In Havana he built a mansion that had eight rooms and a swimming pool. Celebrities like Gary Cooper, Ingrid Bergman and Ava Gardner frequented the house. Newspapers once carried photographs of Mr. Hemingway swimming naked with Miss Gardner. Mr. Fuentes was among the regulars. Mary Welsh, Mr. Hemingway's fourth and last wife, recorded that when her drunken husband read aloud from "For Whom the Bell Tolls," his Cuban fishermen friends, many of whom were illiterate, listened in fascination.
"The Old Man and the Sea" was published in 1952. The novel was awarded a Pulitzer Prize the next year and the Nobel Prize for Literature the year after that. Mr. Hemingway donated all his prize money to a cathedral in Havana, leaving a message that the moment you realize you possess something is when you should give that possession to others.
In "The Old Man and the Sea," the old man is not able to catch a fish for 84 consecutive days. Finally, after a two-day struggle, he lands a monstrous fish. But on his way back to port with the fish tied to the side of his boat, Santiago encounters sharks and winds up with only the bones of his catch.
What did Mr. Hemingway want to tell people in this novel? Mr. Fuentes was said to be especially enchanted by the following sentence, which the old man spat out while fighting the sharks all night: "A man can be destroyed but not defeated."
The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Sohn Byoung-soo
with the Korea JoongAng Daily
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