Islands in the Stream: One man, three places

Ernest Hemingway’s Islands in the Stream is a three-part novel. Its sections are connected by characters and settings, but are totally different in tone.

Well-read copy of Islands in the Stream

The first section, Bimini, introduces Thomas Hudson, a twice-divorced painter living happily with his personal devils by keeping to a rigid schedule for working and drinking.

His three sons come to visit during their summer holidays. Tom and an old friend, writer Roger Davis, keep the boys busy swimming and fishing.

After the end of their vacation, Tom’s two sons by his second wife are killed in a car accident.

The second section, Cuba, is set during World War II. Tom has just learned that last remaining son has been killed in the war.

When reasonably sober, Tom does reconnaissance work for the US military, using his own boat. During most of the Cuba section, Tom sits in a bar and drinks.

The third section, At Sea, has Tom and his crew tracking survivors of a sunken German U-boat who, in their escape, massacred a village. In a shoot-out, Tom is badly, perhaps fatally wounded.

Islands will probably appeal to Hemingway fans. Those bored by watching others fish or drink, will probably quit reading long before the massacre.

Islands in the Stream by Ernest Hemingway
Scribner, [1970] 466 p.
1970 bestseller #3. My grade: B

Historical note: Islands in the Stream was one of over 300 of Ernest Hemingway’s unpublished works his widow, Mary Hemingway, found after her husband’s death.

© 2018 Linda Gorton Aragoni

“The Chosen” examines friendship, faith, fatherhood

collage of photos of Hasidic Jews, a baseball glove, broken glasses.
The Chosen begins with Hasidic Jews, baseball, and broken glasses.

Chaim Potok’s novel The Chosen opens with a baseball game between two Jewish parochial schools.

The Hasidic school’s best player is Danny Saunders. Reuven Malter leads the orthodox school’s team, which the Hasidim consider as bad as Christians.


The Chosen by Chaim Potok
© 1967. Book Club Edition, 284 pp. 1967 bestseller #3. My grade: A.

Danny slams back one of Reuven’s pitches, sending shards of his glasses into his eye.

Later Danny comes to the hospital to apologize.

Reuven is smart, Danny, with his photographic memory, is brilliant. A friendship springs up between the boys who have no intellectual peers in their schools.

Through the boys’ friendship, Potok takes readers deep into the orthodox scene.

Reuven is very close to his scholarly father. He finds Rabbi Saunders’s refusal to speak to Danny on any topic other than the Talmud appalling.

Danny is hurt by the silent treatment, but loves and respects his father.

As the boys begin college, the question arises: What will happen if they want different careers than their fathers have chosen for them?

In Potok’s deceptively straightforward narrative, it’s easy to miss details that reveal motives deeply rooted in the two faith communities. Some readers will need to read the novel twice to grasp the faith context.

Others may read The Chosen twice because it’s worth reading more than once.

© 2017 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Sorrell and Son has guts and grace

Sorrell and Son is a sweet tale of a decent English gentleman, weakened by war wounds, deserted by his wife, who makes raising his son his life’s work.

Down to nearly his last shilling, army veteran Stephen Sorrell takes a job as a hotel porter.


Sorrell and Son by Warwick Deeping

Alfred A. Knopf, 1926. 400 p. 1927 bestseller #3. My grade: B.


It’s an awful job, but Sorrell does his work to his own exacting standards.  Impressed, a hotel guest, Thomas Roland, taps Sorrell to be second porter at the new country hotel he is opening.

The head porter there makes Sorrell’s life miserable until Roland gets fed up with the man’s bullying and womanizing.

Sorrell takes over as head porter.

Sorrell turns out to have managerial ability, and works his way up to become manager of one of Roland’s chain of hotels.

Sorrell makes enough to live comfortably and also pay for son Christopher ‘s Cambridge education, medical schooling, and surgical practice.

Christopher grows into as fine a man as his father could wish.

Warwick Deeping makes Sorrell just stubborn and resentful enough to keep him from appearing a plaster saint. Christopher, too, has his flaws.

Readers will care what happens to them.

Sadly, American class distinctions are based on economics rather than on ethics: Today’s readers will view this only as a story of a determined man.

©2016 Linda Gorton Aragoni