Two Versions of The Old Man and the Sea

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Two Versions of the Old Man and the Sea

My teenage daughter borrowed my copy of The Old Man and the Sea and read it one afternoon. I had been about the same age when I first read it, thirty years ago. “You’ll either love it or it will bore you to tears,” I warned. “It’s that kind of book.”

“I’ve finished it,” she said later at dinner, looking a bit sheepish.

“You didn’t like it.” It wasn’t hard to divine. She knows that it’s one of my favourite books. “You didn’t click.”

“No,” she said. “It’s just about an old man who went fishing. It’s boring.”

Talk about different points of view. Personally, I think it’s a book about the invincible human spirit. Taut and compelling.

Literature is not exhaustible, for the sufficient and simple reason that a single book is not. A book is not an isolated entity: it is a narration, an axis of innumerable narrations. One literature differs from another, either before or after it, not so much because of the text as for the manner in which it is read…

Jorge Luis Borges, 1951

A book is more than printed words, black ink on white paper. It’s the unique, unrepeatable interaction of three things – the author, the reader and the words – at a particular moment in time. When my daughter read The Old Man and the Sea,  it was a different book from the one I read. And when I re-read it today, it wasn’t the same book that I read some thirty years ago.

But I still think it’s one of the best ever.

Photo by / Foto de Calua via Pixabay [public domain].



Dos versiones de El viejo y el mar

Mi hija adolescente tomó mi libro, El viejo y el mar por Hemingway y lo leyó una tarde. Creo que yo tenía la misma edad cuando lo había leído por la primera vez, hace unos treinta años. «Mira, o te a va a gustar mucho, o te va a aburrir soberanamente», le advertí. «Es uno de esos tipos de libros».

–Acabo de leerlo–me dijo más tarde, cuando cenamos. Parecía un poco avergonzada.

–No te lo gustó–. No era difícil de adivinar. Ella sabía que es uno de mis libros favoritos–. No te cayó bien.

–No–dijo–. Sólo se trata de un hombre viejo que fue a pescar. Es aburrido.

¡Qué diferentes puntos de vista! Personalmente pienso que se trata del invencible espíritu humano. Que es un libro tenso y apasionante.

La literatura no es agotable, por la suficiente y simple razón de que un solo libro no lo es. El libro no es un ente incomunicado: es una relación, es un eje de innumerables relaciones. Una literatura difiere de otra, ulterior o anterior, menos por el texto que por la manera de ser leída…

Jorge Luis Borges, 1951

Un libro es más que palabras impresas, tinta negra sobre papel blanco. Es la interacción única, irrepetible, de tres cosas – el autor, el lector y las palabras – en un momento concreto en el tiempo. Cuando mi hija leyó El viejo y el mar, leyó un libro diferente de que yo había leído. Y cuando yo he vuelto a leerlo hoy, tampoco ha sido el mismo libro que había leído hace treinta años.

No obstante sigo creyendo que es uno de los mejores siempre.

Throwback Thursday:
Originally written on 23 July 2015 in English only

You might also like / Quizás también te gusta:A photo of Hemingway and the marlin half-eaten by the sharks / Foto de Hemingway y el marlín medio comido por los tiburonesWilliam Faulkner's Review of Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea (1952)Jorge Luis Borges: Nota sobre (hacia) Bernard Shaw

37 thoughts on “Two Versions of The Old Man and the Sea

  1. I completely admire anyone that encourages the use of more than one language! Good for YOU! I have a horrible time with other l\spoken languages. I took Latin in high school and college and it is amazingly helpful in understanding the roots of words, but it didn’t do a thing to help me learn how to speak other languages. Keep it up, I think it is an incredible idea!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you very much for your kind words! Encouragement is always welcome but it means even more when you’re only starting out on something.

      I say I wish I could have learned Latin in school! It’s amazingly useful like you say but it was considered a dead language (well, to be fair, it is) so I had to learn German and Russian instead, both of which I hated… I managed to learn some decent amount of German (only to forget it afterwards) but Russian I never mastered. I always found languages easy (I’m completely self-taught both in English and now Spanish) but with Russian it was a matter of patriotic pride with the entire population to fail to learn it. After ten years of being taught Russian, I was unable to ask for a glass of water – which however didn’t stop me passing the final exam with the top grade. 🙂 So you can see how everybody felt about it!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you to @munchkinontheroad for pointing me to this piece. I love Hemingway and I love The Old Man and The Sea but of course that only makes me right when I am having a one sided conversation with myself. Books like all art are entirely subjective and maybe it is because they are by definition words that we feel everyone should read them as we do but of course we don’t …. in fact my Grandmother used to caution against putting things in writing in case the words were misunderstood by the recipient. I am currently struggling with a book that a friend recommended as the best she has ever read pointing to its fantastic characterisations yet I can’t get beyond the fact that I just find the characters irritating! I wonder if your daughter will change her view later of if she will always think the book is about an old bloke who goes fishing!! Loved this ❤️

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your comment, I’m in complete agreement about all art being subjective… and I think being able to discuss how we see a work of art differently contributes to our appreciation and enjoyment of it.

      You can’t force yourself to enjoy a book so I’d give up reading the one your friend recommended – life is too short and there are too many great books still waiting for you! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. To be honest, I think this book is overrated. I was finishing my university degree when I read it. By then I had read a few novels by Hemingway cover to cover. I had even read all of his short stories! Hemingway is actually one of my favourite writers, although I like Borges even more ;). “The Old Man and the Sea” develops a brilliant idea. The only issue is the extension. It is an incredily long book for so few elements. Borges once said that he enjoyed renowned writers’ short stories more than their novels. Well, I think “The Old Man and the Sea” would fair better as a short story. This is of course my biased opinion.


    1. And you’re entitled to your ‘biased opinion’. 🙂 After all, aren’t all of our opinions biased? I didn’t find The Old Man and the Sea too long myself but then I’m rather fascinated by the sea. Had the setting been different, perhaps I’d be less keen.

      I read most of Hemingway’s books and some of his short stories when I was in my late teens and early twenties and at the time I was quite keen on him. I need to re-read more of his books though – for better or worse but I changed quite a lot since then and I suspect that I’ll have a completely different take on some of them! The Sun Also Rises (Fiesta) has been on my re-read pile for ages.

      Which Hemingway book is your favourite?


      1. I also like the sea! Actually, I was hooked to Salgari’s books as a kid. I guess I didn’t read “The Old Man and the Sea” in the right mood. I also used to read Hemingway in my late teens/early twenties and would say “For Whom the Bells Toll” is the best novel by him I have read so far. However, I have a warmer recollection of “París era una fiesta”. It was the first book by him I read. I was 18 and it dazzled me.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I loved For Whom the Bells Toll when I was young but I think I definitely prefer The Old Man and the Sea now. I had to look up Paris era una fiesta in the Spanish wikipedia – in Hungarian it was called something else – but as soon as I started to read the synopsis I knew which one you mean. Which is not to say I remember much of it. I think I was too young at the time I read it and much of it meant nothing to me – I didn’t know who any of the people he talked about were, for example. One more to the read again pile, I think!


        1. The first book I recall like that wasn’t a book, so to speak, but a play: Antigone by Sophocles. I was 14 when we read it at school. It’s not that I haven’t read good authors before – I read Tolstoy, Victor Hugo, Zola from my father’s bookshelf when I was 12 – but I had been too young to do anything but follow the narrative thread. It was with Antigone that I first went deeper than that, the first time I experienced catharsis, the first time I realised that two people might stand on the exact opposite side of an issue and still both may have a valid point. It was a revelation.


          1. Yes exactly. Well, I experienced that before Hemingway and had read good authors before (Calvino, Eco, Lorca…). But after reading them I used to go back to fantasy books or bestsellers. When I first read Hemingway I also read Borges and Woolf one after another and I just felt I couldn’t go back to the books I used to read. It was sort of a literature coming-of-age.


            1. I have to admit I still go back to – well, in my case not to fantasy but to science-fiction, adventure and similar in between reading more thought provoking books. When I re-read War and Peace recently, I was also simultaneouslyo re-read a series of space opera – I needed a break! 🙂 You might like what I wrote about that: Chewing Gum for the Mind. I think a lot of people think that I only read ‘high-flown’ books – no, I still read plenty of light stuff, it’s just they seldom inspire thoughts worth typing up! 🙂

              Liked by 1 person

              1. It is interesting. I find myself not attached to fantasy anymore. I loved it but was fed up with it. I sometimes think I should finish some of the series I left unfinished but I don’t really feel like. I understand what you say though, since I also need to read less challenging books on and off! I will peak at that article.


                1. Life is too short to read rubbish books! 🙂 Or even just books you don’t enjoy, let them be ever so good – so I wouldn’t bother to finish a series if you lost interest in it! Wasn’t it Borges who said that if you don’t like a book, then don’t read it, it’s just not been written for you?

                  Anyhow, it’s really terrible but I don’t think I’ve actually ever read any of Borges’s books yet! Since I started to read in Spanish I put him on my list of authors to explore but didn’t get any further than that. Since you’ve read him, care to recommend me a book? I’d like to read Sobre la escritura but perhaps you can recommend some of the short stories he wrote!


                  1. You may be right! Oh, I absolutely love Borges. People are quite particular about him since they either love him or hate him. I would say “Ficciones” is the best book of short stories I have ever come across. I also like a lot his poetry and short essays.

                    Liked by 1 person

                    1. I think reading Spanish poetry is a bit beyond me st the moment. 🙂 I’ll stick to Ficciones instead, thanks a lot for the recommendation!


  4. Estoy completamente de acuerdo en la idea de que un libro es muchos libros dependiendo de la persona que lo lee y en el tiempo que lo lee.

    Yo leí la casa de los espíritus dos veces. Una tenía quine años y otra veintiuno. No se parececía en nada el libro que recordaba al que leí la segunda vez, mismo caso con A brave new world.

    Muy buen artículo y muy buenos gustos haha, saludos y los mejores deseos.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Pues me alegre que te gusta el artículo… 🙂 De verdad, El viejo y el mar me gustaba mucho, aunque no me extraña que a la Señorita no.

      ¿Qué opinas sobre La casa de los espíritus? Porque el único libro de Isabel Allende que he leído hasta ahora es De amor y de sombra que estaba bien pero no me impresionaba en absoluto. Así que como tengo una lista de libros para leer que es muy larga, no he vuelto a Allende todavía.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Fíjate que no soy tan fanática de Allende, no es un tipo de literatura que disfrute mucho. El libro de la casa de los espíritus tiene algo de cien años de soledad en el sentido de que también es la historia (muy angustiante) de una familia y su genealogía y eso lo combinan un poco con tintes políticos que refieren al golpe de estado que sufrió Chile en 1973.

        Te comparto una página que me sirve mucho como guía para seleccionar libros y conocerlos un poco más a fondo 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Bueno. No me gustó Cien años de soledad cuando tenía veinte años o así… y por eso nunca leí más de Gabriel García Márquez hasta hace dos años. No estoy segura por qué, aparte por aprender español, pero vi El coronel no tiene quién le escriba en una librería, lo compré y… bueno. Es uno de los mejores libros que he leído nunca. 🙂 Hay que leer Cien años de soledad de nuevo, claro (el problema es que no creo que puede ser mejor que El coronel…).

          Quizás si me gusta Cien años esta vez, voy a leer La casa de los espíritus después. 🙂


          1. I was wondering if your native language was English or Spanish, but I’ve been reading you a little bit more and I think it’s English right?? I’m so sorry haha got confused cause your Spanish is really good 🙂 however maybes you feel comfortable reading/writing in English. I’ve been thinking about writing my posts in English to broaden my readers but it’s a mixture of lazy and fear of my grammar skills…

            Liked by 1 person

            1. This is a very pretty compliment you’re paying me because actually my mother tongue is neither. 🙂 But yes I speak English much better, I’m only learning Spanish now. I think I can read Spanish pretty well now but writing and speaking it is much more difficult!

              Liked by 1 person

              1. Oh then you’re a polyglot? That’s amazing! If there is anything you need to polish your spanish I’d be more than happy to help you 🙂 And I get what you mean, I can read perfectly english but I suck at pronunciation, my accent is just horrible!

                Liked by 1 person

                1. Acabo de volver de Sevilla hace dos días y era una experiencia educativo en cuanto a hablar en castellano… El primer día, te lo juro, no puedo decir la más sencilla frase sin errores horrorosos de gramática. El último día, que era cuatro días más tarde, pude hablar con cierta fluidez y mucho menos errores pero todavía no tan bien como pudiera esperar… Es el acto real de pronunciar las palabras en vez de solamente pensarlas o escribirlas y interactuar a la vez con la gente que se hace muy difícil. Lo que necesito es hablar con la gente, y resolví a asistir en una clase de conversación.

                  Liked by 1 person

          2. BTW “El coronel no tiene quien le escriba” is a great book. I want to buy a special edition I once saw at a library and add it to my special shelf hehe. Right now I’m reading of mice and men, I’m trying to read various short books and make an special entry in my blogg for people who’d like to start reading as a hobby

            Liked by 1 person

            1. That sounds a great idea – you mean drawing up a list of recommendations of shorter bit great books to encourage beginner readers?

              I too have a special shelf (well, strictly speaking more than one shelf) for my favourite books. 🙂 My husband finds it very strange- he keeps his books in alphabetical order!


              1. Seems like your family is a full clan of readers! I’m the only one at home…Well my grandpa used to read a lot but he passed away about 5 years ago. And yeah, I’m making a list of books you can read easily in one or two days, nothing too profound to avoid people getting bored or confused.

                I’ve got:
                1. Of mice and men
                2. La familia de Pascual Orozco
                3. Las batallas en el desierto
                4.The old men and the sea
                5. Memorias de mis putas tristes.

                If you have any suggestion I’d be more than glad to hear it! (read it 😉 )


                1. Haha, I’ve got a picture of my husband and my two daughters sitting on the sofa together and all three reading. 🙂 We all are very fond of books although are tastes are very different!

                  I’d certainly add El coronel no tiene quien le escriba to your list and also The Moon Is Down by John Steinbeck. And The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. These are the first short books that come to my mind… I ought to make a list too. 🙂 Books that you can finish in a plane journey!


  5. Read your daughter’s “review” but yours is not in English. I can’t read it and don’t know how to make my computer do the work for me. I’ll check back and see what I can do. 😀


    1. It’s a bilingual post, Oneta, so what you read is all the ‘review, so to speak. The other text below is exactly the same: it’s the Spanish translation. You don’t need to get the computer to translate it for you because it’s the same as what you already read. 🙂


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