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True at First Light Hardcover – 6 Jul 1999

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: William Heinemann Ltd; UK ed edition (6 July 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 043400832X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0434008322
  • Product Dimensions: 23.4 x 16 x 3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,216,166 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Ernest Hemingway was born in 1899. His father was a doctor and he was the second of six children. Their home was at Oak Park, a Chicago suburb.

In 1917, Hemingway joined the Kansas City Star as a cub reporter. The following year, he volunteered as an ambulance driver on the Italian front, where he was badly wounded but decorated for his services. He returned to America in 1919, and married in 1921. In 1922, he reported on the Greco-Turkish war before resigning from journalism to devote himself to fiction. He settled in Paris where he renewed his earlier friendships with such fellow-American expatriates as Ezra Pound and Gertrude Stein. Their encouragement and criticism were to play a valuable part in the formation of his style.

Hemingway's first two published works were Three Stories and Ten Poems and In Our Time but it was the satirical novel, The Torrents of Spring, that established his name more widely. His international reputation was firmly secured by his next three books; Fiesta, Men Without Women and A Farewell to Arms.

He was passionately involved with bullfighting, big-game hunting and deep-sea fishing and his writing reflected this. He visited Spain during the Civil War and described his experiences in the bestseller, For Whom the Bell Tolls.

His direct and deceptively simple style of writing spawned generations of imitators but no equals. Recognition of his position in contemporary literature came in 1954 when he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, following the publication of The Old Man and the Sea. He died in 1961.

Product Description

Amazon Review

Ernest Hemingway's final posthumous work bears the rather awkward designation "a fictional memoir" and arrives under a cloud of controversial editing and patching--but all of that ends up being beside the point. Though this account of a 1953 safari in Kenya lacks the resolution and clarity of the best Hemingway (The Sun Also Rises, A Farewell to Arms) it is "real" Hemingway nonetheless. Let scholars work out where memoir leaves off and fiction begins: for the common reader, the prose alone casts an irresistible spell.

In True at First Light the glory days of the "great white hunters" are over and the Mau Mau rebellion is violently dislodging European farmers from Kenya's arable lands. But to the African gun bearers, drivers, and game scouts who run his safari in the shadow of Mount Kilimanjaro, Hemingway remains a lordly figure--almost a god. Two parallel quests propel the narrative: Mary, Hemingway's fourth and last wife, doggedly stalks an enormous black-maned lion that she is determined to kill by Christmas, while Hemingway becomes increasingly obsessed with Debba, a beautiful young African woman. What makes the novel especially strange and compelling is that Mary knows all about Debba and accepts her as a "supplementary wife," even as she loses no opportunity to rake her husband over the coals for his drinking, lack of discipline in camp, and condescending protectiveness.

As usual with Hemingway, atmosphere and attitude are far more important than plot. Mary at one point berates her husband as a "conscience-ridden murderer", but this is precisely the moral stance that gives the hunting scenes their tension and beauty. "I was happy that before he died he had lain on the high yellow rounded mound with his tail down", Hemingway writes of "Mary's lion", "and his great paws comfortable before him and looked off across his country to the blue forest and the high white snows of the big Mountain."

Passages like these--and there are many of them-- redeem the book's rambling structure and occasional lapses into self- indulgent posturing. Joan Didion dismissed True at First Light in The New Yorker as "words set down but not yet written", but this fails to acknowledge the power of these words. The value of True at First Light lies in its candour, its nakedness: it provides a rare opportunity to watch a master working his way toward art. --David Laskin


David Gates "Newsweek" A major literary event. In addition to the book's intrinsic pleasures, it provides a new window into the tantalizing, unsettling, oceanic world of his experimental, unfinished late work.

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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Donald Mitchell HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 5 May 2004
Format: Hardcover
One of the most interesting stories that I have read about Ernest Hemingway described his patrolling for submarines during World War II as a booze-ridden exercise in self-indulgence. I was astonished to find that same quality described in the master's own hand in this mildly edited version of Hemingway's personal notes about his last African safari. Hemingway's son, Patrick, makes the same observation in an aside in the book's introduction.
If you read this book as fiction, you will rate it somewhere around two stars. If you rate it as a journal, you will rate it around four stars. I chose the latter interpretation. This book is described as a fictional memoir, but I think the memoir part is here more than the fiction. Hemingway's problems with women, fascination with exercising authority, reticence in sharing his personal thoughts, and open courting of an African "fiancee" will probably make your realize that someone who can write like an angel may not have those same qualities in the rest of his life. There's a section in the book where his publisher sends a letter from a reader making these kind of critical observations about Hemingway's flaws as a person, and he is enraged by what the reader says. Yet the material in the book certainly supports the reader, rather than Hemingway's self-image.
The book finds Hemingway at the head of a camp as a sort of temporary, assistant wild life ranger. His "job" is to kill off rogue predators that are destroying villager cattle. While camped there, Hemingway is authorized to kill a limited amount of the old and lame game to provide meat for his camp.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The way Ernest Hemingway sometimes wrote from the start he would keep very close to own experiences and only later on change circumstances, develop a literary plot, blur actual characters etc. In other words, to find a draft of his can be confusing to a point where you wonder if you're reading a diary or a fictional work. "True at first" light, though edited (which in this case must mainly mean shortened) by his son, is such a strange creature, but once you know and accept that you can sit back an enjoy this unusual look into the literary laboratory of a true genius.

So to answer my own query that was how I got through it. However, had I taken it as a real, finished novel I would have had a very hard time, and in fact I have to admit that my concentration was beginning to slip somewhat towards the end.

Incidentally, many have wondered at the female main character's tolerance towards her husband's infidelity. It think it's pretty much hinted towards the end that she is no virgin Mary and perhaps to allow herself certain escapades she let's him get away with it, too.

The sad thing is, of course, that if the author hadn't "taken the hemingway out" he would have had raw material enough in this draft for several fully finished novels with perhaps a few splendid short stories thrown in, no extra charge.
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By John G. Rouse III on 12 Feb. 2015
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
If you're a Hemingway fan, it's interesting. It's a very raw piece of work about a safari he went on in Kenya with his wife Mary during the Mau Mau rebellion years (1950s), presumably based on a diary he kept on this adventure
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By Rich on 31 Dec. 2013
Format: Hardcover
Just about the best from Hemmimgway and that is saying something. To think that he actually wrote it in the early fifties and it is only available to read from 1999 is incredible. What am amazing final book.
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