Writer, Sailor, Soldier, Spy

Title:                      Writer, Sailor, Soldier, Spy

Author:                  Nicholas E Reynolds

Reynolds, Nicholas E. (2017). Writer, Sailor, Soldier, Spy: Ernest Hemingway’s Secret Adventures, 1935-1961. New York: William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers

OCLC:                    974717306

PS3515.E37 Z75493 2017



A former CIA officer and curator of the CIA Museum reveals the untold story of Ernest Hemingway’s secret life as a spy for both the Americans and Soviets before and during World War II, and explores how his espionage activities influenced his literary work.

An international cloak-and-dagger epic ranging from the Spanish Civil War to the liberation of Western Europe, wartime China, the Red Scare of Cold War America, and the Cuban Revolution, here is the stunning story of a literary icon’s dangerous secret life—including his role as a Soviet agent—that fueled his art and his undoing. In 2010, official CIA historian Nicholas Reynolds, a longtime American intelligence officer, former U.S. Marine colonel, and Oxford-trained historian, began to uncover clues suggesting Nobel Prize-winning novelist Ernest Hemingway’s involvement in mid-twentieth-century spycraft was far more complex, sustained, and fraught with risks than has been previously supposed. Now Reynolds’ deeply researched narrative reveals his discoveries for the first time, bringing to light the whole story of this hidden side of Hemingway’s life: his recruitment by Soviet spies to work with the NKVD (forerunner to the KGB), followed by a complex set of secret relationships with American agencies, including the FBI, the Department of State, the Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI), and the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), a precursor to the CIA. Starting with Hemingway’s sympathy to antifascist forces during the 1930s, Reynolds illuminates Hemingway’s immersion in the life-and-death world of the revolutionary left, from his passionate commitment to the Spanish Republic; his successful pursuit by Soviet NKVD agents, who valued Hemingway’s influence, access, and mobility; his wartime meeting with communist leader Chou En-Lai, future premier of the People’s Republic of China; and finally to his undercover involvement with Cuban rebels in the late 1950s and his sympathy for Fidel Castro. Reynolds equally explores Hemingway’s participation in various roles as an agent for the United States government, including hunting Nazi submarines with ONI-supplied munitions in the Caribbean on his boat, Pilar; his command of an informant ring in Cuba called the “Crook Factory” that reported to the American embassy in Havana; and his on-the-ground role in Europe, where he helped OSS gain key tactical intelligence for the liberation of Paris and fought alongside the U.S. infantry in the bloody endgame of World War II. As he examines the links between Hemingway’s work as an operative and as an author, Reynolds reveals how Hemingway’s secret adventures influenced his literary output and contributed to the writer’s block and mental decline (including paranoia) that plagued him during the postwar years—a period marked by the Red Scare and McCarthy hearings, which destroyed the life of anyone with Soviet connections. Reynolds also illuminates how those same experiences played a role in some of Hemingway’s greatest works, while also adding to the burden that he carried at the end of his life and perhaps contributing to his suicide. A literary biography with the soul of an espionage thriller, this book is an essential contribution to our understanding of the life, work, and fate of one of America’s most legendary authors.—Adapted from jacket.

Contents Awakening: when the sea turned the land inside out—The writer and the commissar: going to war in Spain—Returning to Spain: to stay the course—The bell tolls for the republic: Hemingway bears witness—The secret file: the NKVD plays its hand—To spy or not to spy: China and the strain of war—The crook factory: a secret war on land—Pilar and the war at sea: a secret agent of my government—On to Paris: brave as a Saladano—At the front: the last months of the Great War against fascism—“The creeps”: not war, not peace—The Cold War: no more brave words—No room to maneuver: the mature antifascist in Cuba and Ketchum—Calculating the hidden costs.

Date Posted:      April 6, 2017

Reviewed by Gregory Cowles[1]

The Old Man And The C.C.C.P.: The military historian Nicholas Reynolds considers himself a lifelong fan of Ernest Hemingway. “I started reading Hemingway when I was in junior high,” he told me in a recent email exchange, and even at that precocious age he admired all the things you might expect a future military historian to admire in Hemingway’s work. “The characters he created embodied so many American values we still cherish,” Reynolds explains in the introduction to his new Hemingway biography, Writer, Sailor, Soldier, Spy, which enters the hardcover nonfiction list at No. 14. “Truth, bravery, independence, grace under pressure, standing up for the underdog.”

So it was only natural, when Reynolds was curating a 2010 exhibition at the C.I.A. Museum about the agency’s roots in World War II, to wonder if Hemingway, with his love of adventure, had ever spied for his country. “And then I learned something that surprised me,” Reynolds writes in the book: “He had signed on with another intelligence service, one that did not fit the conventional narrative of his life. That service turned out to be the Soviet N.K.V.D., the People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs, the predecessor of the better-known K.G.B.”

Hemingway, a Soviet spy? “I was a traditional product of the Cold War,” Reynolds told me. “There was little sympathy for Communism in our house. So I felt like le Carré’s character George Smiley, who learns of yet another betrayal: I felt like I had taken an elbow deep in the gut.” But the more Reynolds dug, the murkier the picture became. Hemingway seems never to have provided any secrets to the Soviets, and was probably motivated more by anti-fascist politics than by any love for the Soviet Union or antipathy to America. The biography, then, is Reynolds’s attempt to tease out how his subject’s undercover life fit into the more familiar world of his work. “Hemingway did not write much about his spying, at least not for public consumption,” he told me. “His interest in intelligence emerges mostly from his letters, especially those to his close friend Gen. Buck Lanham, which include comments on Cold War espionage and the Red Scare of the late 1940s and early 1950s.” Hemingway’s voice, he added, “was uniquely American—and revolutionary only for its effect on the English language.”

[1] Gregory Cowles, “The Great American Novelist Who Spied for the Soviets,” New  York Times (March 24, 2017), downloaded April 7, 2017. A version of this list appears in print on April 2, 2017, on Page BR24 of the Sunday Book Review with the headline: “Inside the List.”

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