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From Times Online
June 10, 2008
'Any book in Hemingway's library for $200'
Irish thriller writer Adrian McKinty takes us on an atmospheric journey to one of literature's greatest shrines, and receives an extraordinary offer
The secret policeman wasn’t smiling. It just looked like that because his false teeth didn’t fit correctly. I was relieved. If Russian writer Isaac Babel is to be believed it’s when secret policeman start grinning at you that you should begin to worry.
“Think about it,” he said as he ran his fingernails along the right lapel of a navy double breasted blazer that was miles too big for him. His eyes were dark and squinty and his skin yellowy white. He was small, grey haired and not terribly menacing.
“I’m sorry?” I said, unsure that I had heard him correctly.
He repeated his offer. “Any book in Hemingway’s library for two hundred dollars,” he said in carefully enunciated English.
I nodded to show that I had understood his proposition.
I had spent the last half hour examining the library in Hemingway’s Havana house - the Finca Vigia. There were thousands of books: first editions, engineering texts, old atlases, older dictionaries, galleys mailed to Hemingway for blurbs, review copies, gifts; many of them had been doodled over by Hemingway himself and several were extensively underlined and annotated. A bruised early copy of The Sun Also Rises was probably worth a couple of thousand and at the bar of the Ambos Mundos Hotel a man had told me that somewhere in these stacks was a signed Catcher in the Rye which I knew I could flog on eBay for at least fifty grand.
The secret policeman tapped his foot, leaned backwards and placed his left hand on a cheetah skin which had been draped over a sofa. He patted it gingerly, like an underconfident Bond villain.
The cheetah interested me. In his 1958 Paris Review interview George Plimpton had described Hemingway’s house in Havana, and this room in particular, with meticulous detail. “The walls are lined with white painted bookcases from which books overflow to the floor...Hemingway stands when he writes in a pair of oversized loafers on the worn skin of a lesser kudu.” Opposite the writing desk and directly in Hemingway’s field of view Plimpton noted “an armoire with a leopard skin draped across the top.”
Apart from the books, papers, bull fight posters and letters, Hemingway’s home was dominated by hunting trophies. Plimpton observed dead animals everywhere - skinned, mounted, stuffed and yet more carved from wood and ivory. He also found random bags filled with shotgun shells and carnivore teeth. Hemingway’s writing desk is still opposite the armoire but strangely Plimpton’s leopard skin has metamorphosed into the hide of a cheetah. The animals are difficult to mistake. Their pattern of spots, heads, and bodies are completely different and this beast currently being drummed upon by the secret policeman’s chubby fingers was definitely not a leopard.