So, maybe you’re heading to the islands soon and you need a great beach read. Or maybe you’re just DREAMING of the islands, and want a book to transport you to the tropics, and wrap you up in an excellent tale? Or…you need a Christmas present, quick, for an avid reader! Whatever the case, the Island Runaways have a literary recommendation.
The novel’s called Hemingway Lies and the Search for Sam, and we’ve frankly fallen for this absorbing tale by William H. Strickland. Part of its appeal? It takes place in Cuba, that tropical paradise taboo for most American travelers. The writer also takes us to Africa on safari and to small-town Georgia. If you love travel or armchair travel, you’ll soak up the atmosphere.
But any novel worth its cover price has got to have two things: a main character you want to spend time with, and a story worth diving into. Now, before we go any further, let me (Laura) confess something: in my other, non-island-y life, I’ve reviewed a lot of books professionally, for newspapers and magazines. Translation: I can be fairly picky when it comes to the written word. So, Is Hemingway Lies and the Search for Sam worthy of your (a) time and (b) your hard-earned cash?
Yes. And yes.
First of all, you immediately like the main character. Hawken Turner, who as a young man loses his first and truest love, is deeply sympathetic. We follow his life, from college to his professional career as a travel agent, while he searches for happiness, whether on the African veldt or the sea off Cuba's shore. Readers get genuinely engaged with Hawken's adventures and his dilemmas.
Maybe I have nothing in common with him (Georgia boy, avid hunter, man of many girlfriends) and yet he remains a warm, winning presence. Why? I've thought about this, and decided that despite his adventures, from Cuba to Africa, Hawken retains a basic decency. It's an old-fashioned quality in our day and age, and yet it defines him. It's not that he's boring. On the contrary, he's endlessly intriguing. I kept wondering what he would get up to next. The character makes mistakes, some big ones, even, but he never loses his humanity. As I was reading, I thought, “it’s not every writer that can invent a character equally appealing to BOTH male and female readers.” Yet I’m convinced that Strickland has done exactly that.
(Author William H. Strickland)
Another thing that appealed to me: the setting of Cuba. Hawken gets down to Cuba several times, and discovers the people and a special place, despite its oppressive government and poverty. Some years ago I spent a week in Cuba (legally, let me hasten to add), and the writer’s portrayal felt completely authentic and believable. He obviously knows this island nation extremely well. The perspective is never one of clichés or glossy travel brochures: the story takes you deep into the place, so you feel like you’ve really experienced it, from drinking the Havana Club rum to driving through Habana Vieja’s historic streets.
Why does the title mention Hemingway? It turns out that Hawken’s mother once met Hemingway, and this legend threads itself through the son's life. The writer Strickland handles this aspect of the tale gracefully and believably.
Is this a good beach read? Absolutely! More than that, however, it’s simply a very good read, period. I was not on an island when I read this fine novel, but at moments it did make me feel like I was exploring the tropics. The novel was something to look forward to every night. So, I see Hemingway Lies and the Search for Sam as: a terrific beach read, a good book to have on a cold wintery night, or just an engaging story anytime. The quality of the writing and the compelling nature of the story surprised me, in a very good way.
Mostly on this blog, Zickie and I will stick to islands, rum cocktails, and gorgeous beaches, yet in this case, we couldn’t resist telling our Island Runaways friends about this rewarding, highly worthwhile work of fiction. If you love good novels, hope you get a copy! If so, let us know if you enjoyed it as much as we did.