There are very few authors who can preface a debauched tale of lust, gluttony, and alcoholism with a biblical quotation; Hemingway, of course, is one of those authors. The book Fiesta: The Sun Also Rises, which gains its title from a quote in the book of Ecclesiastes, was one of Ernest Hemingway’s first novels to be met with international acclaim. Fiesta, in true Hemingway fashion, follows the lives of American and British ex-pats as they drink, screw, and fight their way from Paris to Pamplona, on a quest to see the Running of the Bulls. While romance, foreign cities, and parties may not be uncharted territory for the classic author, Fiesta brings a fresh, critical take on love, heartbreak, and poor behavior while abroad.
While some of the other Hemingway favorites such as A Farewell to Arms and For Whom the Bell Tolls glorify Americans serving and living abroad, Fiesta doesn’t follow suit. In fact, the book seems to demonize those who have found themselves living the high life in Paris as rich, uninhibited socialites who have no regard for their actions.
The critical piece comes through the eyes of an American ex-pat named Jake Barnes. Though Barnes himself works, he is in lot with a mix of trust fund children and aspiring writers who lack ambitions besides drinking and telling tales of those not around the table. Barnes' love interest, Brett Ashley, is a British ex-pat with the title of Lady, finding herself in the final stages of divorce from her lord husband. Though Jake loves Brett, the seemingly antagonistic character finds comfort in tryst with suitors such as Robert Cohn, and her estranged lover Michael. In atypical Hemingway fashion, the protagonist does not end up with the girl.
While I would implore all fans of literature to hop on the Hemingway band wagon, Fiesta’s specific appeal goes to young adult men for its take on romance. Jake’s love of the mercurial Brett Ashley is a painful glimpse at what can happen when men fall for the wrong one. Brett, whom you later find out was emotionally abused in her first marriage, waltzes from fling to fling, all the while stringing along a select few who think they can be her lone squeeze. Enabled by the men whom fall for her, Brett precedes to bring man she recently bedded on the trip to the Running of the Bulls with her current fiancé, as well as her perennial shoulder to cry on ; Jake Barnes. This, of course, is common knowledge to the entire lot before heading out on the trip. As messy as this sounds, the steaming pile of infidelity and lust is often to frequent in the dating lives of the lost generation. Watching Jake come to Brett’s aid, time and time again, after she burns bridges stays painful to watch until the last page.
Along with self-imposed emotional abuse, Hemingway also gives a glorious take on travelers or ex-pats behaving poorly abroad. As the Fiesta comes into full swing, Hemingway states, “The things that happened could only have happened during a fiesta. Everything became quite unreal finally and it seemed as though nothing could have any consequences. It seemed out of place to think of consequences during the fiesta.” Insert in place of fiesta destinations such as Mexico, Thailand, or Laos, and you have the exact mentality of many westerners spending time in foreign countries. The theme of blatant disregard for local customs and culture portrayed in Fiesta is all too abundant in modern travel. The fiesta ends with 3 fist fights, 2 near arrests, and a literal walk of shame with Jake and crew leaving their hotel unable to make eye contact with any of the staff or the local guests. To quote Jake Barnes, “That was morality; things that made you digested afterward. No, that must be immorality.”
While Hemingway isn’t the easiest read, Fiesta: The Sun Also Rises is a great book for any reader looking to delve into some of the great American authors. Along with a vivid crash course on how not to act abroad, as well as members of the opposite sex to avoid, Fiesta offers beautifully, precise descriptions of all destinations that Hemingway fans have come to love. If you are a single male (or a fan of literature) a necessary classical revival comes in the form of Ernest Hemingway’s Fiesta: The Sun Also Rises.
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