I wrote the other day about how The Hating Game was my favorite read of 2022 so far. Well, Hemingway’s Daughter is up there and definitely the most beautiful book I’ve read in a while. It is just a beautiful story and although I was interested in the book to begin with – or else I wouldn’t have accepted the advanced copy last year – I was surprised with just how captivated I was by it.
The novel by Christine M. Whitehead is a historical fiction novel centered around Finley Hemingway. Infamous writer, Ernest Hemingway, never had a daughter. He had 3 sons, but apparently it is known that he always wanted a daughter. Whitehead wrote a whole novel about a fictitious daughter – the daughter Hemingway never had. Let me tell you, it is so spectacularly done that I desperately wish Finn was a real person.
The novel starts with Finley, or Flea as her father calls her, being an early teen on her way to her boarding school. She tells about her early childhood in Paris before her parents divorced and she moved to Chicago with her mother and older brother, Jack. The novel takes place over years, ranging from Finn’s start at boarding school all the way to her late 30s, early 40s and an epilogue as an old woman.
As Finn grows up, always desperate for her father’s love and attention and basking in it when he gave her his full attention, she goes through a lot. School, World War II, personal tragedies, career obstacles, and happy times too. Finley has always wanted to be a lawyer, but in 1940s and 1950s America, it is extremely rare for a female lawyer to get hired and if they are hired they are never allowed in the courtroom. Law firms claimed that female lawyers wouldn’t be taken seriously in the courtroom. Finn works to get past this, because it isn’t fair that a woman, graduating at the top of her class at a prestigious law school is passed over when some man who graduated 500th in his class can get job offers left and right.
Her father is one of her biggest champions and although dealing with his own personal demons i.e. obsession with work, drinking, multiple marriages, etc. he loves her most of all…when he is not putting himself first, but that’s just how he is and his children love him for it. As Finn says throughout the book, her father is “100 percent reliable 60% of the time.”
We follow Finn through her teen years, 20s, 30s, etc. as she navigates the ups and downs of life and visits with her father in Idaho and Cuba are peppered throughout. Key West isn’t really shown as that was where he used to spend time with wife #2 and that marriage was ending around the beginning of the novel.
There is one part early in the novel that really stuck with me. Finn was recalling a time when she was young and feeling sad because she didn’t feel very pretty. She was very tall, had red hair like her father, and didn’t feel beautiful. Her father’s friend, the infamous Zelda Fitzgerald, was known to speak without a filter and had told her that she would never inspire poetry. When her father probed her on why she was upset, she told him and he said, “For starts, you are in fact going to be a beauty. And, honestly, in some ways, I wish you weren’t, because it’s a lazy way some women have of making their splash in the world without really knowing what they’re capable of.” I really love that quote and how he supported his daughter. He made her feel like she is pretty, but that she is more than that. She is intelligent and good and that’s worth more than physical beauty.
I don’t want to give away too much of the novel and spoil the events that shape Finn’s life in the novel, but trust me, it’s such a beautiful story and like I said earlier in this post I really wish she was a real person.
It is a beautiful book. I cried sad and happy tears for her at various points in the novel. If you like historical fiction, you won’t be disappointed with this one.
*This book was sent to me complimentary, but all opinions are my own. This post contains affiliate links.*