In May of 2015, Nelly Rosario traveled to Cuba through MEDICC, a non-profit working to enhance cooperation among U.S., Cuban, and global health communities. One afternoon, Rosario sat down with Annet Sánchez, a Cuban interpreter for MEDICC, who shared a story about her correspondence with writer/translator John Patrick Hemingway. He is the author of Strange Tribe: A Family Memoir, which examines the relationship between his father Dr. Gregory Hemingway and grandfather, the Nobel Laureate Ernest Hemingway. The following is Rosario’s edited transcription and translation of her interview with Sánchez.
I opened the book. I read, but I read. Usually I memorize the passages or bookmark it. I like to preserve books, per se. It’s like with drinks, people who do shots. I like to take my time, enjoy it.
But that book, I read it in hours, is what I’m trying to tell you. In hours. One Sunday, we were at home, picking up stuff, and I started reading just like that, pages and pages. I said, Okay…
The book pushed out to all directions. It was a mess but most amazing and honest. John put it all out there for everyone to know. His writing is not complicated or elitist. I found it beautiful. Maybe the beauty about it is that he’s so honest and so out there and… courageous.
On the cover is a picture of Hemingway—Papa Hemingway—and Gregory, who was little. The book is mostly about their relationship and John’s relationship with his father. It was so hard. His family was screwed up, I’m telling you. I had no idea, though I always knew Hemingway was a character, right?
There’s shit that I know many people don’t know about Hemingway or the rest of the family—but still you see how much John loved his father.
The book was in English, but John sent me the version in Spanish.
“Can you bring it to me in English?” I’d first asked.
He said, “No, I want to take it to you in Spanish.”
I’d gone to see him at the hotel, he gave it to me, signed it, whatever.
And I told John, “Look, I liked it a lot…The translation is very good.” I can see the English behind the Spanish words, and that was very good.
I imagine it was morbid between the not knowing—not knowing the many details—and the way in which he wrote it. The story’s so out there. See, to have the courage to talk about such intimate things [hand over heart], to write intimate things that could be sensitive to anyone…
“This is a courage,” I told John. “I admire the sword you had in you to publish this, so that everyone could know how complicated and turbulent a relationship it was…”
Not just with the example of Ernest and Gregory, but John with his father Gregory.
Yes, yes—a thousand things happened! I’m not going to tell you anymore. Get the book, and you’re going to read it. At least I perceived the love John had for his father—and John condemned him for a lot, for all these situations and things the man did. Well, Gregory was totally fucked up in the head.
But just so you have a small idea, he married people who were no good for his life, ultimately, and all that reverted to his kids, but, well, what most hurts is the relationship between father and son, and despite all that craziness and all that pain and all that stuff, you realize that the love is there, but John doesn’t resent him, really. Maybe he would have liked to have more time with him, whatever, whatever, but the love is there.
It’s amazing, because you read about things like that about other people, and all that you are they ain’t. Like, This guy, wao, blah, blah…
Public figures, you know how the people destroy you, make you dirt.
Not him, he brought the facts, he published them: Yes, this is what it was: Now my father is a woman.
[Gregory] had a sex operation and shit. He turned into a sexy woman. I won’t tell you anymore—read it!
I tell you, I liked the book a lot. I tell you, in hours. Those hours of Sunday, between midnight and one in the morning, I read me that book…pah! I tell you, this was like that hook of the famous ‘I can’t put it down’.
Heavy, no? [scratches head]
That has happened to me with very few books.