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TRUE AT FIRST LIGHT by Ernest Hemingway


A Fictional Memoir

by Ernest Hemingway & edited by Patrick Hemingway

Pub Date: July 6th, 1999
ISBN: 0-684-84921-6
Publisher: Scribner

Ernest Hemingway never kept a journal, says his son Patrick, editor of this book from a manuscript twice its size describing life in a Kenyan safari camp in the winter of 1953—54. It can of course be called fiction, however much it seems like a journal. An autobiography, say. Little —happens.— The threat of an uprising of local Africans soon dissipates. Christmas is coming (—the Birthday of the Baby Jesus—) and wife Mary chooses a tree that —would make an elephant drunk for two days if he ever ate it.— Daily hunting has taken place for six months in hopes of fulfilling Mary’s strong wish to kill a lion, a desire both she and Hemingway say they —understand,— though the reader may not. Patrick hints that it has to do with Mary’s feelings about Debba, a beautiful and charming African girl whom Hemingway would like (quite seriously) to take as a second wife if law only permitted. The lion is killed, but Mary is unsatisfied, believing that Hemingway shot first (he didn—t). In time, after Mary takes a trip to Nairobi, all is well again and the two embarrass the reader anew with their love-endearments (—we—ll both sleep like good kittens—). The true book, though, is less in its events than in the unmonitored voice of its author. Hemingway, talking, offers a compendium of his familiar old symbols, themes, moods, feelings, details. But the voice is also like hearing the author from somewhere beyond the grave, speaking from within his own absence. —You don—t ever have despair do you Ernie?— asks a friend. The answer, sad in a way it could never have been when written: —I—ve seen it close enough to touch it but I always turned it down.— Uneven, imperfect, irritating, amusing, moving, and of treasurable importance to an understanding of this massive however flawed genius of our literature.