Review: The Old Man and The Sea

By Ernest Hemingway

Photo by João Silas on Unsplash

Reading Hemingway after reading Tolstoy is like drinking sand and then finding an infinite oasis. Saying that the difference is stark, doesn’t start to cover it.

Where Tolstoy is all about descriptions, in-depth dialogs, psychological rupture, Hemingway is concise. He’s to the point. Not a word more, not a word less. Enough to make you vividly picture, while simple enough to want more.

This is a very short story, one that is considered, by many, his best book. I can’t go on and say it’s the best one, as I haven’t read them all. What I can say, it’s that it’s a brilliant little book.

Hemingway starts off with a simple story, that of an old fisherman and his fish. He then turns the story into an ode to life’s struggles. The way he does that is so natural; it’s brilliant.

He was too simple to wonder when he had attained humility. But he knew he had attained it and he knew it was not disgraceful and it carried no loss of true pride.

Apart from his short and concise style, which contrasts with that of the Russian writers he so much extols, we have a masterful work of description.

In the dark the old man could feel the morning coming and as he rowed he heard the trembling sound as flying fish left the water and the hissing that their stiff set wings made as they soared away in the darkness.

He doesn’t build the psychology of the characters using dialogs or external narrators. He lets you create the sense of each protagonist using how they behave and act. Just like in real life. I would argue that’s the reason why Hemingway makes you feel you can touch his characters.

Why did they make birds so delicate and fine as those sea swallows when the ocean can be so cruel? She is kind and very beautiful. But she can be so cruel and it comes so suddenly and such birds that fly, dipping and hunting, with their small sad voices are made too delicately for the sea.

It’s a book that, despite being short, walks you through the perfect story arch. It’s a fabulous representation of one of my favorite quotes: Don’t tell me, show me.

My big fish must be somewhere.

In the end, you can feel the sea breeze on your skin, taste the saltpeter in your mouth; feel the desperation, the fight, the loneliness and the decay of age.

“Fish,” the old man said. “Fish, you are going to have to die anyway. Do you have to kill me too?”

I can’t recommend this book enough. Not that much from a story perspective, which in and of itself is rather simple, but from the technical side, which is an exercise on concise and extraordinary prose.


Up the road, in his shack, the old man was sleeping again. He was still sleeping on his face and the boy was sitting by him watching him. The old man was dreaming about the lions.