True At First Light

Essay by PaperNerd ContributorCollege, Undergraduate April 2001

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Just in time to mark the 100th anniversary of the birth of Ernest Hemingway, comes his latest book, True At First Light. His son, Patrick, has edited an unpublished manuscript the author wrote about his trip to Africa in 1953-54. Patrick shouldn't have bothered.

The book is an aimless, boring ramble where nothing much happens. Hemingway has been left in charge of the bush camp and he dwells on the responsibility. He writes about hunting, his men, the threat of an attack by local men and the determination of his wife Mary to kill a lion.

Her obsession with the lion is just one subject causing some domestic discord; the other is his relationship with a local woman named Debba. Much of the dialogue revolves around their daily bickering. Hemingway's use of the endearment "Honey" drips with barely concealed impatience and condescension and becomes wholly annoying.

True At First Light is a fictional memoir, which blends real events or people with the technique of fiction.

In his introduction, Patrick writes that "ambiguous counterpoint between fiction and truth lies at the heart of this memoir." That would mean something if the story had any feeling. The real fault of this book is there's no connection to Hemingway's usual ideas and passions; it remains limp.

Aside from the occasional nice description of wildlife or landscape, the only passage of note is one where we can appreciate Hemingway's reverence for Africa. "Men know that they are children in relation to the country...To have the heart of a child is not a disgrace. It is an honour. A man must comport himself as a man. He must fight ... He should follow his tribal laws and customs ... But it is never a reproach that he has kept a child's heart, a child's honesty and a child's freshness and nobility." Sadly, there's very little else of value here. If you really want to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Papa's birth, reread one of his masterpieces. It'll be time better spent.