Strange Tribe: A Family Memoir


A memoir that is at once fascinating, compelling, and heartbreaking, Strange Tribe reveals the peculiar dynamics between Ernest Hemingway and his youngest son, Gregory, the author's father.
Gregory tried to live up to Ernest's macho reputation throughout his life. Yet as a cross-dresser and (ultimately) a transsexual, Gregory was obsessed with his "female half," and he struggled with personal demons until his death at the Women's Correctional Facility of the Miami-Dade County ...

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A memoir that is at once fascinating, compelling, and heartbreaking, Strange Tribe reveals the peculiar dynamics between Ernest Hemingway and his youngest son, Gregory, the author's father.
Gregory tried to live up to Ernest's macho reputation throughout his life. Yet as a cross-dresser and (ultimately) a transsexual, Gregory was obsessed with his "female half," and he struggled with personal demons until his death at the Women's Correctional Facility of the Miami-Dade County Jail in 2001. The media referred to Gregory as the "black sheep" of the Hemingway family.
Gregory's son, however, wasn't so sure. In this wonderfully crafted narrative, John Hemingway reveals how Ernest himself felt a special kinship with Gregory, and how the two men (who both suffered from bipolar illness and shared a fascination with androgyny) were actually two sides of the same coin. Featuring several newly published letters between Ernest and Gregory, Strange Tribe reveals their unknown similarities. In the end, John comes to feel that in his father's lifelong struggles, Gregory most exemplified Ernest's ideal of grace under pressure.
This is also John's coming-of-age story - of what it was like growing up in Miami and Montana with his father and his schizophrenic mother, how it took him years to deal with the pain their illnesses caused him, and how he ultimately fled the burden of the Hemingway name and family history, one marked by multiple suicides, by moving to Italy in 1984. Now able for the first time to confront the legacy of his troubled father and famous grandfather, John also examines his own life and role as a father. Along the way, his honest, piercing, and uniquely revealing story forces us to reevaluate the work of Ernest Hemingway, one of the most important literary icons of the past hundred years, whose persona continues to loom darkly over the often-troubled lives of his descendants.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Strange Tribe: A Family Memoir is a courageous book by a deft prose stylist whose name happens to be Hemingway. This biography-autobiography is an unabashed, penetrating chronicle of a dysfunctional father and mother and a grandfather, Ernest, who remains one of the most popular writers in the world.

He is an exploratory, interrogative writer, and his metaphors let us share his family and their travails. Whether by nature or nurture, the style is minimalist, not unlike Ernest's.

This memoir is one of creation, struggle and rebirth. John has suffered greatly, yet he has gained knowledge from his suffering. From that pain emerges a better understanding of mental illness and dysfunctional behavior. Thus, possibly, a new generation of Hemingways."—St. Petersberg Times

"The younger Hemingway shows a talent for holding readers' interest."—Library Journal
"Sure to excite fans."—Publishers Weekly

"Strange Tribe is certainly a book that lives up to its title....Strange Tribe is remarkable for the author's detachment, and his even-handed telling of lives that are nothing less than bizarre."—Bay Area Reporter 

"Memoirs are popular these days. Almost everyone thinks his/her life warrants a 300-page tale. Perhaps even 15 years ago, only memoirs of famous people – or people in highly unusual circumstances – were published. But, today, everyone’s tale, if told compellingly, is fair game. John Hemingway is a good writer and his tale is heroic, amazing, but what will probably hold most readers’ interest are the truly bizarre, dysfunctional family dynamics of the Hemingway 'tribe.' John clearly is a survivor –married with two children, living in Italy. He put some distance between himself and the relatives, probably what saved him in the end....

In his fascinating memoir, John Hemingway often refers to his father and his grandfather as 'two sides of the same coin.' For the Ernest Hemingway reader, especially one studying his work after a hiatus and re-appreciating the man’s genius, this book is sure to shock, fascinate, and engage."—
"In Strange Tribe, John Hemingway tells the harrowing, poignant, and powerful story of growing up the grandson of the famous Papa Hemingway and the son of Gregory, Ernest's most troubled and sexually conflicted offspring."
—Scott Donaldson, Hemingway vs.Fitzgerald and The Cambride Companion to Ernest Hemingway

John Hemingway has finally set the record straight on one of the Hemingway family's darkest secrets — the relationship between his grandfather, Ernest Hemingway and his his father,  Dr. Gregroy Hemingway. This is an honest look at one of Americas most complex authors and his love and hate relationship with his youngest son. Hemingway readers and biographers have always wondered what "the inner darkeness" was that Papa and his son, Greg, shared? This amazing story reviels details and facts never before told —  and in telling it, John Hemingway has become the Hemingway family's last True Gen.— Hilary Hemingway, Hunting with Hemingway and Hemingway In Cuba

"John Hemingway’s incisive and moving portrayal of the complex issues of his father, Gregory’s, transgenderism, and the extent to which his grandfather, Ernest Hemingway suppressed similar impulses, casts the Nobel Prize-winning author’s work in a startling new light. The Hemingway legacy will never be the same after reading this beautifully written and exceptionally generous family study."
—John Lyons

"This remarkable memoir deserves a place on the bookshelf of any serious reader and is one of the best books on the Hemingway family that I have read. With the understanding that only the grandson of Ernest Hemingway and the son of Gregory Hemingway could possess, the author provides a sensitive portrait, an inside view of the relationship between grandfather, father and son that no biography on this family can duplicate."

—Carlene Fredericka Brennen, co-author of Hemingway In Cuba and Hemingway’s Cats: An Illustrated Biography

"Sharp, funny, insightful, and utterly absorbing, A Strange Tribe, tells the story of three generations of Hemingways. John Hemingway masterfully weaves memoir with a fascinating portrait of his complicated father and important new insights into his celebrated grandfather. This book forces us to rethink Ernest Hemingway’s relationship with his youngest son—a relationship with profound implications for Hemingway’s writing during the final decade of his life. Shining through the book’s powerful and moving story of a childhood lived in the shadow of mental illness is a love and honest quest for understanding that sustained the author and that drive him to come to terms with his famously troubled family."
—Carl P. Eby, author of Hemingway’s Fetishism: Psychoanalysis and the Mirror of Manhood

"After reading Strange Tribe I think of his son Greg and Guernica, the masterpiece by Picasso, with its claustrophobia and a single light bulb still hanging shedding shadows on the massacre of what a human being became after losing an uncivil war with his father."—playwright Gerald Thomas

"For anyone who admires the work of his grandfather, this is a peek behind the popular legends about him, although it will not prove an easy book to read because of the curse of mental illness that suffuses his family history."—Bookviews

Publishers Weekly

The author, grandson of Nobel Prize winner Ernest Hemingway, and son of his youngest child, Gregory, investigates the similarities between these two paternal figures and seeks to find his place in their "strange tribe" with a "famous last name." Sure to excite fans and Hemingway scholars, the book does much to complicate Ernest's image as a macho man, cataloguing both his dependence on women and his gender-bending proclivities. However, the true heart of the book is in exploring the Hemingways' failure as parents and how the familial disposition toward manic-depression created a genetic "Hemingway curse." The author, having escaped the disease, paints his father and grandfather in blunt strokes as loving and generous men who had little understanding of their psychological disorder; the most endearing and comprehensive portrait is of his father's struggles as a transvestite son of a "pillar of American manhood." When describing his own parents' early neglect (his mother was schizophrenic) and, later, his partial reconciliation with his father, the book focuses on the author's generation of Hemingways—but mostly the book is intent upon setting the record straight about Ernest, his youngest son and their similarities. John Hemingway writes honestly and is a sympathetic scrutinizer of this complicated and famous man, the family he parented and the myths to which his writing has given birth. (May)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Library Journal

The myth of Ernest Hemingway is so large, so outrageous, so macho, so wild, that it is no wonder there is a great deal of interest in the writer's life and family almost 50 years after his death. Ernest's grandson John (child of Ernest's youngest son, Gregory) shares his own perspective on the family. Although he never knew his grandfather, he uses previously unpublished letters between Ernest and his father to explore the pair's tumultuous love/hate relationship. Gregory struggled with gender identity (it has been theorized that Ernest had a similar struggle) and ended his life a cross-dresser. John spent his childhood shuffling between his schizophrenic mother and his bipolar father. Add alcohol, infidelity, and money problems to the mix, and imagine the ensuing mayhem. While the younger Hemingway shows a talent for holding readers' interest, his story is an old one. And while his examination of his relationship with his father holds up well, his speculation about his father's relationship with his grandfather resonates a bit less authentically. Recommended for public libraries with strong Hemingway interest.
—Jan Brue Enright

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781599211121
  • Publisher: Lyons Press, The
  • Publication date: 5/1/2007
  • Pages: 224
  • Sales rank: 521,319
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 1.40 (d)

Meet the Author

John Hemingway is a writer and translator who lives with his wife, Ornella, and their two children, Michael and Jacqueline, just outside of Milan in Italy.

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Read an Excerpt

Ironically, of Ernest's three sons, Gregory was the one who resembled Ernest the most. He was very intelligent, humorous and an excellent hunter and athlete. If anything, you could even say that he was better than his father with a gun. So strong was this identification with my father that in a passage from his novel Islands in the Stream he describes the youngest son of the clearly autobiographical protagonist as a boy who physically was a copy of Thomas Hudson, “but a devil too.” He had a “dark side to him that nobody except Thomas Hudson could ever understand. Neither of them thought about this except that they recognized it in each other and knew that it was bad and the man respected it and understood the boy’s having it.”

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments     11
Memories     15
Bad Beginnings     19
Getting to Know Him     29
My Parents: The Odd Couple     35
If the Shoe Fits     45
Similarities     59
Les and Doris     73
Fort Benton     87
Los Angeles     103
Rewriting the Past     125
The Falling Out     151
The Wilderness     171
Reconciliation     181
End Game     203
Epilogue     213
Endnotes     217
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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 17, 2007

    Magnificent Content! Don't Miss this One!

    While vacationing in Key West, Florida, I was pleasantly surprised to discover John Hemingway, the grandson of Ernest Hemingway, sitting in front of the bookstore at the Hemingway home. To discover he had written further insights about his family background was even more thrilling. Of course, I bought an autographed copy of his soul. The same evening, I began reading, STRANGE TRIBE. This page turner kept me spellbound until I finished the book in the early morning hours. Because secrets became public knowledge, and John, candidly, revealed how the Hemingways were human. They, too, fell in love, were divorced, and children suffered due to parental shortcomings. On the other hand, for each thumbs up for an achievement far greater than the average American, there was another thumbs down. Apparently, John felt like he was on a roller coaster ride throughout his entire life, yet in spite of the obstacles and stupid mistakes, like stealing the car that he admitted to doing himself, this young man excelled at UCLA, married, and promised his children a normal life. But a question remained in my own mind. What would be considered normal in 2007, and what will children being born now face in their futures? Certainly, if the movie industry producers read this book, I believe John will receive a contract right away for a screenplay, and we'll be buying a ticket to seeing the movie next. Furthermore, this author's talents revealed that his knowledge and wisdom should help other families rethink some of their decisions. Because of his experiences, John Hemingway had compassion. STRANGE TRIBE may help adults understand how the roles they model can affect their children's lives in ways that were never intended. Even the best parents can save lives in their work and fall out of love or in love. Then, a little fun on the side can lead to one disaster after another. All human beings should read this book, and next, each one should ask, Would I want my child to write a book about me whenever he or she becomes an adult? John's message may bring love, peace, and happiness to more families who read and think about STRANGE TRIBE.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 12, 2007

    There will always be a Hemingway.......

    Every generation from the 1920s to the 2000s has had it's Hemingway, beginning with the original 'macho' Ernest. Each succeeding branch of the family tree feels compelled to look back and tell it 'like it was.' John Hemingway pulls no punches in his excellent biographical analysis of his forebears. Highly recommended, especially for the Hemingway aficionados.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 19, 2007

    A gem of a memoir

    I've read several books about Ernest and the Hemingway clan, and John Hemingway's book adds new and untold dimensions to the saga. STRANGE TRIBE is an intimate and poignant story written with a skillful, understated grace. Ernest would be proud!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 22, 2009

    growing up in the shadow of the image of Ernest Hemingway

    Grandson of Ernest Hemingway, the author delves into the disturbing effects this major author's macho persona had on the author's father and thus inevitably on himself. Ernest Hemingway committed suicide. The author's father, Ernest's youngest son Gregory, struggled with gender identification his whole life, and died in the Women's Correctional Facility of the Miami Dade County Jail in 2001. The author was spared the worst of the traumas of his grandfather and father. But for the longest time, he lived a rootless, vagabond life exacerbated by concerns about his helplessly irresponsible and unpredictable father and trying to fill in gaps in his life his father had suppressed or ignored in his own life. John Hemingway does not emerge from the cloying shadows cast over him by his father and grandfather until the birth of a son with his wife Ornella in Italy in the Fall 2006, so he ends the memoir. The reader is not assured, however, that his turmoils are behind him for good. Hemingway's tale is told mostly in illustrative vignettes, not an in-depth or intricate narrative searching for the roots of the gender abnormalities of the characters. The style is honest, genuine, and engaging. Hemingway does not strive for the luridness, sensationalism, confessional slant of so many contemporary memoirs. Undoubtedly, the memoir was purgative in some respects for him. But he wrote it as much to present his unique contribution on the Hemingway legend and its reverberations in succeeding generations of his family.

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