Written by Roop Kunwar Singh
‘The Rum Diary’- The first time I read the title, my impression was that of a melancholy love story with two individuals falling heads over heels for each other, blooming of their love, an eventual betrayal and finally a lover drowning in the realm of alcohol. But the very next moment, my glance went over the name of the writer- ‘Hunter S.Thompson’ and I muttered to myself – “Balls”. While the usual ingredients of love (read lust) and alcohol (excessive alcohol) are an integral part of this mystifying read but there is much more to The Rum Diary than that.
Mr. Hunter S. Thompson is one of the most prominent and famous (well maybe infamous) journalists of the twentieth century. He introduced the concept of gonzo journalism to the world and this book is indeed eminent to his style. The book explores a journalist, Paul Kemp’s expedition to San Juan, Puerto Rico, a volatile state fuming with cultural agitation. Kemp is a gifted but eccentric journalist, who is a slave to his desire for alcohol and lust for women. A man who chose to not give a damn through his youth, and aspires “taking the world by the balls” but time has finally started taking its toll on him. So, he moves away from the comforts and elite life of New York to the unpredictable San Juan, Puerto Rico to work for an ill-fated newspaper- ‘Daily News’- in hope of curing himself from boredom and monotony.
The Daily News is the only English daily in San Juan, and is on the verge of being folded. It is owned by Lotterman, an ex-communist and employees some of the most aberrant journalists from around the world. In words of Lotterman –“ If all the people who worked for the paper in those years could appear at one time before the throne of Almighty- if they all stood there and recited their histories and their quirks and their crimes and their deviations- there was no doubt that God himself would fall down in a swoon and tear his hair”.
The way the characters of Kemp’s fellow journalists Sala, Yeamon, Schwartz etc; Yeamon’s girlfriend and Kemp’s crush Chenault; Politically involved and influential Sanderson and others have been portrayed and the way their inhibitions and shortcomings have been brought out is indeed remarkable. Coupled with this, the rising tension in San Juan and the glaring hate in the hearts of locals towards outsiders make up for an intriguing plot. And finally ‘Al’s Backyard’- the most significant piece of the jigsaw. At first impression, it appears as a mere cheap bar where all these drunkards of Daily News come and blabber over a glass of rum. But these conversations are much more than just useless chatter. They provide an insight into the hearts of these Journos and expose their most vulnerable side. Their tone reflects fear and points towards the inevitable crisis which will consume San Juan. There is also a sense of helplessness and discontent, which is brought out remarkably by the following dialogue between Yeamon and Kemp:
“You know- I’m a rebel, I took off – now where’s my reward?’ questioned Yeamon
‘You fool’, I said. ‘There is no reward and there never was.”
Considering this significance, it was only fair that the story concluded with Kemp and Sala sharing a melancholy rum at Al’s.
My language teacher once told me that a great story is one which leaves the reader with questions and asking for more. This is exactly what The Rum Diary does. In the end, you are left wondering that whatever happened of Yeamon and Donovan? What is the situation with Chenault? What lies ahead for Kemp?; The only source you can resort to is your own imagination.
The writing style, the language, the tone of the book- all exude of Hunter S.Thompson. Each and every word has Mr.Gonzo’s persona stamped over it, which in my opinion, is the essence of this book. There is arrogance, rebellion and a blatant disregard for the orthodox conduct. He has resorted to words and sentences which conventional and mainstream writers would never dare to use.
Now, there are some people who read for leisure, some read to relax while there are some who read for intellectual enhancement. If you ask me, this book is for none of them. This piece is for those compulsive readers, who read just to read, who don’t have any motive for reading and for whom the tale contained inside those few hundred sheets of paper is a different world altogether where they tend to elope. Well, this one is just made for them.