Book Review: "The Hemingway Files"

Hemingway - mockup(3).jpg"[E]very once in a while, an unknown cache of letters or an unknown manuscript will turn up in a basement, attic, or estate sale." That sentence, from a new novel called The Hemingway Files (Blank Slate Press, $15.95), seems written with me in mind. Of course, it wasn't, but those who enjoy a good biblio-yarn will be as pleased as I was to read a story that takes the 'manuscript hunting' trope into new territory. To summarize without spoiling: an English professor receives a mysterious package from a former student, Jack Springs, that contains a manuscript describing his post-grad teaching gig in Japan. Turns out Springs was hand-picked for the position by Professor Goto, an enigmatic man with deep pockets and a penchant for collecting "literary objects and artifacts," especially signed first editions, inscribed editions, and one particular trove of material legendarily lost in Paris in 1922. But suspicions arise on both sides and culminate in a natural disaster, the Kobe earthquake of 1995.

The author, H.K. Bush, knows whereof he speaks: Bush is a professor of English at Saint Louis University and formerly senior fellow at the Waseda Institute of Advanced Study in Tokyo. He has published several works of scholarly non-fiction on American authors. This is his first novel, though you wouldn't know it; The Hemingway Files is well plotted and engagingly written. A sinister undercurrent runs through it--manifest not only in the brawny henchmen that appear on doorsteps but in the psychological abuse Springs endures as a perpetual outsider.

The multi-layered tale plays out in letters and manuscripts, and sometimes in shared passages from favorite books. Brimming with literary trivia, it will surely delight those who believe that "anything can be anywhere," as Zach Jenks once said.      

Image courtesy of the author