True at First Light Paperback – 6 Apr 2000
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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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
"Captures the beauty of the African landscape and the thrill of the hunt, in true Hemingway style" (Red)
"This is writing of a high order; sympathetic, luminous, hypnotic, humane" (Caledonia)
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Top Customer Reviews
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.Read more ›
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.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I would say when I would be such a good writter
and be in Africa only these words: love on first sight....thats the life I have allways dreamed.
Ah, Hemingway! How divine and irritating you are in equal measure!
His beguiling prose leads you into a sort of mesmerised state of being, so you can miss his themes in... Read more