Hemingway and first wife shared heady times in 1920s Paris

by Lynn Lofton

Published: May 8,2011

Tags: Cotton Row Books, Paula McLain, Virginia O’Neal

This book has all the ingredients for an entertaining read. Set in Paris during the exciting 1920s, it’s a fictional look at two historic figures, Ernest Hemingway and Hadley Richardson, his first wife.

Virginia O’Neal, owner of Cotton Row Books in Cleveland, says it is a beautiful love story that makes us care about these two people. “It was so good. I really enjoyed it,” she said. “The book was well researched and has a lot of background. It helps us understand why Hemingway wrote the way he did. It’s fiction but based on fact.”

She points out that other real people of that era, including F. Scott Fitzgerald and his wife, Zelda, are in “The Paris Wife.” “It ties in with a lot of familiar people who were in Paris in the ‘20s,” she said.

Hemingway was 20 years old and unpublished when he met Hadley Richardson, a 28-year-old woman from the Midwest. She tries to find her place in the intoxicating and tumultuous world of Paris at that time. McLain, the author of “The Paris Wife,” says she fell in love with both Hemingways while researching their lives.

“I’m hoping my novel will work to illuminate not just the facts of Ernest Hemingway’s years in Paris, but the essence of that time and of their profound connection by weaving both the fully imagined and undeniably real,” McLain said.

O’Neal feels the character played by Ava Gardner in the movie version of Hemingway’s “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” is based on Hadley.

McLain’s personal story is as dramatic as any work of fiction. She was born in Fresno, Calif., in 1965. After being abandoned by both parents, she and her two sisters became wards of the state and were reared in foster homes. She earned a master’s of fine arts degree in poetry from the University of Michigan and currently lives in Cleveland, Ohio, with her family.

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