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An evening with Raúl Villareal, author of Hemingway’s Cuban Son

Raúl and librarians

Raúl Villareal with librarians Edwin Perez and Patricia Vega. Photo courtesy of Mrs. Vega.

Rightly or wrongly, my impressions of one of America’s most revered authors, Ernest Hemingway, has always been one of a larger than life figure with an insatiable appetite for wine, women and cigars.

Interestingly enough, life often affords us opportunities to examine tightly held ideas and perceptions. I had a chance to challenge some of those thoughts about Ernest Hemingway on Wednesday, September 19, at the Main Branch of the Jersey City Public Library.

Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month, librarians Edwin Perez and Patricia Vega hosted New Jersey author and artist, Raúl Villareal. His presentation, “Hemingway on the Hudson” was based on the book he co-authored with his father, Hemingway’s Cuban Son. The memoir recounts the decades in which Raúl’s father, René Villareal, faithfully served as Hemingway’s mayordomo (butler).

Ernest Hemingway

Hemingway by the pool of the Finca Vigíla ca. 1939–40.

Throughout the presentation which Villareal delivered in English and Spanish, accompanied by black and white photographs, he transports the audience to Cuba during the 1940s and ’50s, a bygone era. Villareal is engaging. There is kindness, warmth and humor in his storytelling as he recounts the day when a young René Villareal playing stickball meets Ernest Hemingway. The stories that follow provide us with a peak into the worlds of both men and the loving bond between them.

I’m anxious to read, Hemingway’s Cuban Son because Villareal piqued my interest as he vividly described the relationship between the two men. According to Raúl, his father admits that working at Finca Vigía, Hemingway’s property in Cuba, represented the most cherished moments of his life.

Raúl Villareal writes in the book’s preface: “This is the story of a poor, young Cuban boy who grew into a man and gained the trust, respect, and love of a famous American writer, a man he called Papa.”

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Stay tuned for our interview with author Raúl Villareal, in an upcoming post.

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