The last decade of Ernest Hemingway's life was marked by professional accomplishment and personal disaster. By his fifties, a life of hard living and hard drinking began to catch up with him. His ailments included liver problems, diabetes, depression and the lingering physical damage related to his many injuries. Hemingway had endured a lifelong streak of freak accidents, from that skylight accident in Paris to the time his infant son stuck his finger in his eye and tore his cornea. In 1954, while on safari with Mary in Africa, the couple was seriously injured in two successive plane crashes (the plane that came to rescue them after the first crash crashed as well). He was recovering from those injuries at the same time that his literary career and personal fame reached its peak.
In September 1952, Life magazine published Hemingway's novella The Old Man and the Sea. The book focuses on Santiago, a weathered, quiet, long-suffering Cuban fisherman who spends days at sea wrestling with a marlin, only to see the fish eaten by sharks on the way back to port. Hemingway's literary reputation had dwindled in recent years, thanks largely to his 1950 novel Across the River and Into the Trees, which was regarded as about as bad a book as Ernest Hemingway was capable of writing. The story of Santiago and the elegant telling of his epic, Christ-like suffering was wildly popular among critics and readers. Writers flocked to Hemingway's home to do profiles of Papa, the fishing, hunting writer of near-mythical status. Even Hemingway, his own harshest critic, was pleased with the book, calling it the "best I can write ever for all of my life."