Hemingway revealed as failed KGB spy

From The Guardian:

Up till now, this has been a notably cheerful year for admirers of Ernest Hemingway – a surprisingly diverse set of people who range from Michael Palin to Elmore Leonard. Almost every month has brought good news: a planned Hemingway biopic; a new, improved version of his memoir, A Moveable Feast; the opening of a digital archive of papers found in his Cuban home; progress on a movie of Islands in the Stream.

Last week, however, saw the publication of Spies: The Rise and Fall of the KGB in America (Yale University Press), which reveals the Nobel prize-winning novelist was for a while on the KGB’s list of its agents in America. Co-written by John Earl Haynes, Harvey Klehr and Alexander Vassiliev, the book is based on notes that Vassiliev, a former KGB officer, made when he was given access in the 90s to Stalin-era intelligence archives in Moscow.

Its section on the author’s secret life as a “dilettante spy” draws on his KGB file in saying he was recruited in 1941 before making a trip to China, given the cover name “Argo”, and “repeatedly expressed his desire and willingness to help us” when he met Soviet agents in Havana and London in the 40s. However, he failed to “give us any political information” and was never “verified in practical work”, so contacts with Argo had ceased by the end of the decade. Was he only ever a pseudo-spook, possibly seeing his clandestine dealings as potential literary material, or a genuine but hopelessly ineffective one?

Link to the rest at The Guardian and thanks to Lucy for the tip.

7 thoughts on “Hemingway revealed as failed KGB spy”

  1. Considering his known actions and associations, it does not surprise me that he wanted to help the Communists.

    It also does not surprise me that he was an abysmal failure at it.

  2. Hemingway’s life was so complex and chaotic that I’m not sure how him getting recruited by the KGB at one point causes him to “lose some of his lustre.” There’s enough bad stuff about him already out there to fill several books. (He stabbed a lot of friends in the back over the years. That seems more relevant to his character than a writer’s flirtation with Communism in the 30’s to 50’s.)

    Also, that the KGB guy handling him didn’t think much of him, is not a huge surprise. “Failed spy?” What was he supposed to so, kill the president? Sneak into a Naval base and blow it up? Most of what spies do is pretty boring. That the KGB might have wanted more from him, and he didn’t give it to them could either because he didn’t have it or didn’t want to help them so much. Maybe he was testing them out as much as they were testing him. Maybe he changed his political views as Stalin’s crimes became more publicized.

    What IS interesting to me, is that this would explain why Hoover was harassing him so much, leading to Hemingway’s breakdown and suicide. I just assumed it was the Cuban connection, but Hoover may have had even more reason to try to destroy him.

  3. Most of what spies do is pretty boring.

    Maybe he failed at the boring stuff, and never made the grade for the blowing up naval bases.

    • Possibly, but lacking in details. You got to check him off on one box just because he didn’t end up in either a Soviet or US prison and the public didn’t find out about it during his lifetime. Easier to believe he wasn’t serious about it than he “failed.”

  4. Hemingway, romanticized war in ways that actual war vets from multi deployments, say, into Mogidishu, Afghan, Mosul, dont.

    Hemingway was a boastful depressed man with an addiction to alcohol, and suicidal ideation. In his ‘ambitions’ to be nefarious,he was more like Elvis contacting Nixon wanting to be part of covert operations.

    It appears part of the serious grandiosity wanna be ninjas that led to both their deaths in different ways, both deeply addicted, both of talent, both wanting more than what they already had, both ever seeking to be knights in a world that didnt want their knighthood, rather some just wanted their singing/writing, and were willing to listen to their ‘enhanced’ versions of their lives.

    Wanting to be christened/crowned as the top of the rock by those in power of govt, can be the smoke screen remedy for deep depression. Problem is, no crowning will mediate a deep depression. But other means can. Just not that.

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