One was a Cuban newspaper reporter working to support his family and writing fiction in his spare time. The other was one of the world’s most famous novelists who came to Havana in search of inspiration.
New research shows that the themes and style in the writing of Enrique Serpa, a little-known Cuban author, find an echo in the works of Ernest Hemingway, who wrote some of his most notable books while in Cuba in the 1940s and 1950s.
US academic Professor Andrew Feldman said there were strong parallels between Serpa’s stories and later works of Hemingway, including To Have and Have Not and The Old Man and the Sea. Although “not a plagiarism situation”, the stories were “incredibly similar, a striking resemblance in terms of themes and style”.
He said: “Serpa’s The Marlin, first published in 1936, is about a boy and an old man fishing. The old man is actually killed by the marlin during the struggle. So this looks very much like The Old Man and the Sea of 1952. Serpa’s novel, Contraband, a story of rum-running, is very much like To Have and Have Not, a story of running contraband.”
Although Contraband was published in Havana in 1938 and Hemingway’s book came out in the previous year, Feldman has firm evidence that Hemingway read the Contraband manuscript before first meeting Serpa in 1934.
He has also discovered an unpublished letter in which writer Martha Gellhorn, briefly married to Hemingway, apparently wrote on his behalf to his editor, trying to get Serpa’s work published in English. She said Hemingway thought his friend was “a wonder”.
Feldman’s research will feature in a book, Ernesto: The Untold Story of Hemingway in Revolutionary Cuba, to be published this month.