I came across this book while looking at lists that enlisted famous books of short length. Wikipedia told me that this book has won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction (1953) and helped Hemingway win the Noble Prize in Literature in 1954. Naturally, I had high hopes as I was about to read the book. Now that I have read it, I have mixed feelings. Let me elaborate.
We meet an old man, Santiago, in a tiny fishing town in Cuba. The old man has failed to catch a fish for eight four days now, earning him the label of salao ”which is the worst form of unlucky”. Perhaps, anyone would have left fishing for good after such a long stretch of failure but the old man is hopeful that he will catch a good fish on the eighty fifth day and make up for the previous days.
Unable to sell any fish, the old man has no money to buy food and drink and no family to take care of him. In such dire circumstances a kind boy Manilo looks after him, bringing him food and coffee. The boy used to be his apprentice, but left on his parents order because he was not earning anything while he stayed with the old man during his unlucky period.
The rest of the novel describes the old man’s eighty-fifth day and the following days during which his patience, skills, and strength are tested to the limits as he tries to catch the largest fish he has ever caught and bring him home. I would not like to spoil the rest of the story for you so I’ll jump to the themes and writing.
I’ll be frank. While the novel discusses important themes through the story of the old man like the utility of being persistent, staying hopeful, and having faith in better days ahead, I found it difficult to stay interested in the novel. The narrative is built up on the old man talking to himself and thinking about the past. Nothing happens during a big part of the already short novel and you might doze off now and then. That said, the novel is simple, perhaps too simple for my linking, but still manages to tell a good story.
After reading the book, I watched its short 20 minute animated adaptation. Aleksandr Petrov and his team have done a wonderful job of adapting the novel. I would strongly recommend watching the movie.