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The Rum Diary

The Rum Diary

3.9 111
by Hunter S. Thompson, Campbell Scott (Read by)

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Soon to be a major motion picture starring Johnny Depp, The Rum Diary—Hunter S. Thompson’s brilliant love story of jealousy, treachery, and violent lust in the Caribbean is now available on audio for only $14.99.

Hailed by The Philadelphia Inquirer as “laugh-out-loud funny” and “a great and an unexpected


Soon to be a major motion picture starring Johnny Depp, The Rum Diary—Hunter S. Thompson’s brilliant love story of jealousy, treachery, and violent lust in the Caribbean is now available on audio for only $14.99.

Hailed by The Philadelphia Inquirer as “laugh-out-loud funny” and “a great and an unexpected joy,” The Rum Diary “reveals a young Hunter S. Thompson brimming with talent.” Based on Thompson’s own experiences as a reporter in Puerto Rico for The Nation, the National Journal, and the San Juan Star in the late fifties and early sixties, The Rum Diary is a tangled love story in a Caribbean boomtown. The narrator, Paul Kemp, irresistibly drawn to a sexy, mysterious woman, is thrust into a world where corruption and get-rich-quick schemes rule, and anything (including murder) is permissible. In his signature tongue-in-cheek style, Thompson presents a dazzling, comedic romp, a fictional excursion as riveting and outrageous as his popular Fear and Loathing books.

Editorial Reviews

David Kelly
. . .[T]here is . . .none of the maniacal wit and deranged exuberance that roared through the Fear and Loathing books. . . .If you're looking for the birthplace of gonzo, you won't find it here.
The New York Times Book Review
Vanessa V. Friedman
. . .[I]f you don't have a kind of anthropological interest in Thompson, it's not a must-read.
Entertainment Weekly
Mark Athitakis

"The Rum Diary is the potential high water mark of 20th century literature," Hunter S. Thompson wrote in a 1961 letter to his friend and fellow aspiring novelist William Kennedy, referring to the novel he was working on at the time. "It is a novel more gripping than The Ginger Man, more skillfully rendered than The Sergeant, more compassionate than A Death in the Family, and more important than Lie Down in Darkness." Thompson was a journalist in his early 20s at the time, having left New York City to take a string of reporting jobs in Puerto Rico. Nearly a decade away from the so-called "gonzo" reporting on the Hell's Angels and Las Vegas that would make him a national institution, he was prone to such desperate overstatements. But after spending decades languishing on various publishers' desks (although portions of the novel have appeared elsewhere), a reworked Rum Diary has finally appeared, in its modest but youthful glory. While Joyce and Faulkner -- and even Agee -- might have a bone to pick with that "high water mark of 20th century literature" business, it's a remarkably full and mature first novel. Thompson never did tell a lie that didn't have a hint of the truth to it.

Indeed, the story of The Rum Diary is close to Thompson's own early experience in journalism's ink-stained and liquor-soaked trenches. Paul Kemp, a writer who's grown tired of New York, decides on a lark to take a job with the San Juan Daily News. "Why not?" he tells the staff photographer when he arrives. "A man could do worse than the Caribbean." "You should've kept on going south," the photographer grunts. Slowly, Kemp starts peeling layers off of the sunny, rum-laden myth of his new habitat and discovers what his colleague meant: The government is corrupt, the locals are violently opposed to the yanqui interlopers and the paper itself is rapidly collapsing. The novel catalogs numerous scuffles with the law and bitter editors, but the heart of its story is Kemp's collision with himself, whether falling in love with the unattainably beautiful Chenault, a fellow American refugee, or contemplating his morality (and mortality) while trapped in the snare of one lost weekend after another. "I ... sat there and drank, trying to decide if I was getting older and wiser, or just plain old," he says.

The Rum Diary has little of the manic tension or wordplay that pervades much of Thompson's reporting. Instead, it's a languid, lovingly executed book that reveals its emotional depths slowly, at the same pace that Kemp himself discovers the things he fears and loathes about San Juan. Unfortunately, by the time the book reaches its climax at a massive street festival in St. Thomas, there's nothing particularly compelling about Thompson's narrative of the frazzled and alcoholic events that ensue. More existential than gonzo, Kemp keeps busy contemplating his ugly predicament instead of enthusiastically pursuing whatever happens next. "When the sun got hot enough," he recalls, "it burned away all the illusions and I saw the place as it was -- cheap, sullen, and garish -- nothing good was going to happen here." The Rum Diary ultimately becomes not so much a novel about how to live in a foreign land, but a cautionary tale about why it's worth escaping. -- Salon

Nick Meyer
The Rum Diary dwells in that murky territory between fact and fiction -- except that, unlike most of his writing, this work is presented as fiction. . . . This is the innocuous, introspective Thompson, and compared to the reckless, drug-addled maniac of later years, he's not that much fun. -- New York Magazine
If you've ever wondered what Thompson was like before his brain turned into fried eggs-well, you're going to have to keep wondering. This 40-year-old work, a nightmarish three-month odyssey through San Juan on the cusp of its commercialization in the 1950s, is the same kind of faithfully recorded carousing, brawling and passing out that passes for living in all of Thompson's work-but without any of the wit and energy. In fact, it's hard to imagine why it's being published now, unless Thompson needs the money. He can't be proud of it.
-Nan Goldberg
Library Journal
Yes, Thompson has written a novel, but it got lost many years ago and has just resurfaced. Not surprisingly, it's autobiographical, so expect some pretty wild antics as its journalist hero carouses through the tropics.
Kirkus Reviews
The original Gonzo journalist (Proud Highway) spent a sober afternoon going through his archives to find this unpublished novel (his only fiction), written at the start of his career. He might as well have let it rest in peace. Thompson's great achievement as a writer, of course, has been the role he played in the development of the "new journalism"of the 1960s. Making the most of a vicious wit, sharp tongue, and riotous imagination, Thompson infused his reporting—most famously, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas with a vigor and depth of personality usually associated more with novels than with newspapers, helping thereby to raise the literary status of nonfiction. It's hardly a surprise, then, to learn that Thompson has had a novel locked away in a desk drawer all these years. What's surprising is how much less compelling it is than his journalism. Paul Kemp, the narrator, is a young New Yorker starting out as a newspaperman in Puerto Rico in the late '50s. Soon after arriving in San Juan, he manages to land a job at the 'Daily News', an English-language rag whose staff, an assortment of has-beens, mad geniuses, drunks, and spongers, would seem more at home in the Foreign Legion. The legendary Thompson manner ("Arriving half-drunk in a foreign place is hard on the nerves") is flourished here, all right, and the typical Thompson high jinks of public misbehavior and private lewdness make up most of the story, which is more portrait than tale. There are fights in bars and trouble with cops. There are crazy chicks from Smith who like to undress in public. There are writers who, though broke, always manage to get an assignment just before their landlady evicts them. Andthrough the whole of it, there is one febrile intelligence noticing and reporting on everything that takes place both inside and outside of himself. A fun drive that takes you nowhere much. Thompson fans won't be disappointed, of course, but most everyone else would be better off going to Henry Miller for that sort of thing.

From the Publisher
“Crackling, twisted, searing, paced to a deft prose rhythm . . . A shot of Gonzo with a rum chaser.”San Francisco Chronicle

“Enough booze to float a yacht and enough fear and loathing to sink it.” New York Daily News

“A great and an unexpected joy . . . Reveals a young Hunter Thompson brimming with talent.” The Philadelphia Inquirer

“At the core of this hard-drinking, hard-talking, hard-living man is a moralist, Puritan, even an innocent. The Rum Diary gives us this side of him without apology . . . with a kind of pride." The Washington Post Book World

"A remarkably full and mature first novel . . . a languid and lovingly executed book that reveals its emotional depths slowly." Salon

“Thompson flashes signs of the vitriol that would later be turned loose on society.” USA Today

"The tools Hunter S. Thompson would use in the years ahead-bizarre wit, mockery without end, redundant excess, supreme self-confidence, the narrative of the wounded meritorious ego, and the idiopathic anger of the righteous outlaw—were all there in his precocious imagination in San Juan. There, too were the beginnings of his future as a masterful prose stylist." —William Kennedy, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Ironweed

"The Run Diary shows a side of human nature that is ugly and wrong. But it is a world that Hunter Thompson knows in the nerves of his neck. This is a brilliant tribal study and a bone in the throat of all decent people." —Jimmy Buffett

Product Details

Simon & Schuster Audio
Publication date:
Edition description:
Product dimensions:
5.20(w) x 5.80(h) x 0.80(d)

Read an Excerpt

San Juan, Winter of 1958

In the early Fifties, when San Juan first became a tourist town, an ex-jockey named Al Arbonito built a bar in the patio behind his house on Calle O'Leary. He called it Al's Backyard and hung a sign above his doorway on the street, with an arrow pointing between two ramshackle buildings to the patio in back. At first he served nothing but beer, at twenty cents a bottle, and rum, at a dime a shot or fifteen cents with ice. After several months he began serving hamburgers, which he made himself.

It was a pleasant place to drink, especially in the mornings when the sun was still cool and the salt mist came up from the ocean to give the air a crisp, healthy smell that for a few early hours would hold its own against the steaming, sweaty heat that clamps San Juan at noon and remains until long after sundown.

It was good in the evenings, too, but not so cool. Sometimes there would be a breeze and Al's would usually catch it because of the fine location -- at the very top of Calle O'Leary hill, so high that if the patio had windows you could look down on the whole city. But there is a thick wall around the patio, and all you can see is the sky and a few plantain trees.

As time passed, Al bought a new cash register, then he bought wood umbrella-tables for the patio; and finally moved his family out of the house on Calle O'Leary, out in the suburbs to a new urbanizacion near the airport. He hired a large negro named Sweep, who washed the dishes and carried hamburgers and eventually learned to cook.

He turned his old living room into a small piano bar, and got a pianist from Miami, a thin, sad-faced man called Nelson Otto. The piano was midway between the cocktail lounge and the patio. It was an old baby-grand, painted light grey and covered with special shellac to keep the salt air from ruining the finish -- and seven nights a week, through all twelve months of the endless Caribbean summer, Nelson Otto sat down at the keyboard to mingle his sweat with the weary chords of his music.

At the Tourist Bureau they talk about the cooling trade winds that caress the shores of Puerto Rico every day and night of the year -- but Nelson Otto was a man the trade winds never seemed to touch. Hour after muggy hour, through a tired repertoire of blues and sentimental ballads, the sweat dripped from his chin and soaked the armpits of his flowered cotton sportshirts. He cursed the "goddamn shitting heat" with such violence and such hatred that it sometimes ruined the atmosphere of the place, and people would get up and walk down the street to the Flamboyan Lounge, where a bottle of beer cost sixty cents and a sirloin steak was three-fifty.

When an ex-communist named Lotterman came down from Florida to start the San Juan Daily News, Al's Backyard became the English-language press club, because none of the drifters and the dreamers who came to work for Lotterman's new paper could afford the high-price "New York" bars that were springing up all over the city like a rash of neon toadstools. The day-shift reporters and deskmen straggled in about seven, and the night-shift types -- sports people, proofreaders and make-up men -- usually arrived en masse around midnight. Once in a while someone had a date, but on any normal night a girl in Al's Backyard was a rare and erotic sight. White girls were not plentiful in San Juan, and most of them were either tourists, hustlers or airline stewardesses. It was not surprising that they preferred the casinos or the terrace bar at the Hilton.

All manner of men came to work for the News: everything from wild young Turks who wanted to rip the world in half and start all over again -- to tired, beer-bellied old hacks who wanted nothing more than to live out their days in peace before a bunch of lunatics ripped the world in half.

They ran the whole gamut from genuine talents and honest men, to degenerates and hopeless losers who could barely write a postcard -- loons and fugitives and dangerous drunks, a shoplifting Cuban who carried a gun in his armpit, a half-wit Mexican who molested small children, pimps and pederasts and human chancres of every description, most of them working just long enough to make the price of a few drinks and a plane ticket.

On the other hand, there were people like Tom Vanderwitz, who later worked for the Washington Post and won a Pulitzer Prize. And a man named Tyrrell, now an editor of the London Times, who worked fifteen hours a day just to keep the paper from going under.

When I arrived the News was three years old and Ed Lotterman was on the verge of a breakdown. To hear him talk you would think he'd been sitting at the very cross-comers of the earth, seeing himself as a combination of God, Pulitzer and the Salvation Army. He often swore that if all the people who had worked for the paper in those years could appear at one time before the throne of The Almighty -- if they all stood there and recited their histories and their quirks and their crimes and their deviations -- there was no doubt in his mind that God himself would fall down in a swoon and tear his hair.

Of course Lotterman exaggerated; in his tirade he forgot about the good men and talked only about what he called the "wineheads." But there were more than a few of these, and the best that can be said of that staff is that they were a strange and unruly lot. At best they were unreliable, and at worst they were drunk, dirty and no more dependable than goats. But they managed to put out a paper, and when they were not working a good many of them passed the time drinking in Al's Backyard.

They bitched and groaned when -- in what some of them called "a fit of greed" -- Al jacked the price of beer up to a quarter; and they kept on bitching until he tacked up a sign listing beer and drink prices at the Caribbean Hilton. It was scrawled in black crayon and hung in plain sight behind the bar.

Since the newspaper functioned as a clearing-house for every writer, photographer and neo-literate con man who happened to find himself in Puerto Rico, Al got the dubious benefit of this trade too. The drawer beneath the cash register was full of unpaid tabs and letters from all over the world, promising to "get that bill squared away in the near future." Vagrant journalists are notorious welshers, and to those who travel in that rootless world, a large unpaid bar tab can be a fashionable burden.

There was no shortage of people to drink with in those days. They never lasted very long, but they kept coming. I call them vagrant journalists because no other term would be quite as valid. No two were alike. They were professionally deviant, but they had a few things in common. They depended, mostly from habit, on newspapers and magazines for the bulk of their income; their lives were geared to long chances and sudden movement; and they claimed no allegiance to any flag and valued no currency but luck and good contacts.

Some of them were more journalists than vagrants, and others were more vagrants than journalists -- but with a few exceptions they were part-time, freelance, would-be foreign correspondents who, for one reason or another, lived at several removes from the journalistic establishment. Not the slick strivers and jingo parrots who staffed the mossback papers and news magazines of the Luce empire. Those were a different breed.

Puerto Rico was a backwater and the Daily News was staffed mainly by ill-tempered wandering rabble. They moved erratically, on the winds of rumor and opportunity, all over Europe, Latin America and the Far East -- wherever there were English-language newspapers, jumping from one to another, looking always for the big break, the crucial assignment, the rich heiress or the fat job at the far end of the next plane ticket.

In a sense I was one of them -- more competent than some and more stable than others -- and in the years that I carried that ragged banner I was seldom unemployed. Sometimes I worked for three newspapers at once. I wrote ad copy for new casinos and bowling alleys. I was a consultant for the cockfighting syndicate, an utterly corrupt high-end restaurant critic, a yachting photographer and a routine victim of police brutality. It was a greedy life and I was good at it. I made some interesting friends, had enough money to get around, and learned a lot about the world that I could never have learned in any other way.

Like most of the others, I was a seeker, a mover, a malcontent, and at times a stupid hell-raiser. I was never idle long enough to do much thinking, but I felt somehow that my instincts were right. I shared a vagrant optimism that some of us were making real progress, that we had taken an honest road, and that the best of us would inevitably make it over the top.

At the same time, I shared a dark suspicion that the life we were leading was a lost cause, that we were all actors, kidding ourselves along on a senseless odyssey. It was the tension between these two poles -- a restless idealism on one hand and a sense of impending doom on the other-that kept me going.

Copyright © 1998 by Gonzo International Corp.

What People are Saying About This

Jimmy Buffett
The Rum Diary shows a side of human nature that is ugly and wrong. But it is a world that Hunter Thompson knows in the nerves of his neck. This is a brilliant tribal study and a bone in the throat of all decent people.
William Kennedy
The tools Hunter S. Thompson would use in the years ahead -- bizarre wit, mockery without end, redundant excess, supreme self-confidence, the narrative of the wounded meritorious ego, and the idiopathic anger of the righteous outlaw -- were all there in his precocious imagination in San Juan. There, too, were the beginnings of his future as a masterful American prose stylist.

Meet the Author

Hunter S. Thompson’s books include Fear and Loathing at Rolling Stone, Fear and Loathing in America, Screwjack, Hell’s Angels, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, The Proud Highway, Better Than Sex, and Kingdom of Fear. He died in February 2005.

Brief Biography

Date of Birth:
July 18, 1937
Date of Death:
February 20, 2005
Place of Birth:
Louisville, Kentucky
Place of Death:
Woody Creek, Colorado
U.S. Air Force, honorably discharged in 1957

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The Rum Diary 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 111 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I like Thompson's writing, however, this one didn't have much of a story.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I was a little bored right from the beginning. Paul moves to San Juan, drinks a lot of rum, eats a lot of hamburgers and works at a crappy newspaper. ok...... now what? I kept reading hoping something big would happen, but it never did. I guess HST's writing made me long for a drink and a beach, but I don't get the hype.. And it's going to be a movie? Really?
stumpw More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed the book I did identify with how the characters felt after a hard night of drinking as I once lived like that before I grew up. The characters try to live their lives like they are constantly on vacation and constantly looking for something to bring them happiness. They all left their homes looking for the easy ride or a place where the grass is greener. One problem that I did have was that I really couldn't find a character to root for. They were all self-centered and kind of despicable. I enjoy reading books that are set in exotic places because I like reading about life there. I like to travel too. For me the book was entertaining enough and moved fast enough to keep my interest but it wasn't excellent. In a way I thought I was reading a story written by some one who had gone on a long drunk. It was a little depressing at times. Overall though it was worth reading.
IVPAGE More than 1 year ago
When I read any of his books I hear Hunters voice.. RIP.. I LOVE YOU
rva_reader More than 1 year ago
While differing from his usual, non-fiction, gonzo-journalism, Rum Diary consists of the same trademark hypnotic HST prose. You can see a lot of what a young Thompson must have been like through this book. While it is a novel, the main character clearly echoes a twenty-something, hopeful HST, already becoming jaded by the society he's trapped in (regardless of what country he's in or continent he's on). A quick, enjoyable read.
Guest More than 1 year ago
One of MY favorite seductively savage.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Good books dont just appear out of thin air. They are created and cared for like children. Even if that book's beginning started in the middle of some wild sexual rum driven backseat action. Life comes at you from all angles and to capture those few important instances that matter in pure essence coherently on paper is a skill few can maintain like our good freind Hunter. If there is any suggestion to be made to you fine people who enjoyed fear and loathing it is this. Don't start reading this book expecting Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. You will not be satisfied. Just imagine a whole new scenario with limitless possabilities, but still maintaining that which made our freind Hunter famous. That pursuit for the American dream, and Gonzo along for the ride.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The back cover of the book tells us that Thompson wrote this when he was twenty and it was sitting in some crate in his house for years before it was brought out to be published. For some reason I doubt it, because the narrator is in his late twenties or early thirties and really knowledgable of the journalism racket. Anyway- the book is pretty decent, but not as good as Fear and Loathing. No drugs here- just lots and lots... and lots! of booze, especially rum... and blue waters and tropical sands. The writing is short and straightforward, not as much sarcasm as F&L, only when he writes about the native Puerto Ricans, who he describes as savages who run around the streets and burn and loot. Haven't read anything like that since 'heart of darkness'- but Thompson does it on purpose of course, tongue in cheek. Would recommend this book to the Thompson fan, otherwise just pick up F&L
Guest More than 1 year ago
In this novel, a young Thompson really portrays how care- free, yet terribly complex and brutal a young man's life can be at times. H.S.T. sucked me in from the moment i opened the book to the moment i turned the last page. This novel really paints a beautiful picture of how paradise can easily take a turn for the worst and leave one in the bowels of hell. If you are looking for a good read and piece of mind, please consider reading this beautifully written novel.
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Very Good!
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Not seen as the typical Gonzo written book, but just as entertaining. A bit more of an old school Kerouac like vain to it. Great stuff.
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Maria73 More than 1 year ago
This is the first book I've read by Thompson. Don't base your decision to read it on the description on the back of the book as the description makes you believe there is alot more to the story than there really is. This is one of those novels where you're just along for the ride and are kind of a "fly on the wall" as the character, Paul Kemp, lives in San Juan. Overall though, it's a pretty easy read and one of those books you don't really need to think too much about to understand.
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