Saturday, January 23, 2010

Hemingway's True at First Light - The Final Allotment

Finally. The last chunk of pages was dangerously slow going. (Here's my explanation of why I had to digest this wreck of a book in chunks.) Mary remains in Nairobi. Hemingway shops in a village for the camp and his staff. He kills a leopard. He hunts by moonlight. With a spear. He fawns over Debba, his second "wife." He ruminates on religion. Mary returns and there's some tension there which is resolved. They go and dig up and later plant her Christmas tree. They tell each other how much they love each other and Africa. It ends with them in bed in their tent, Hemingway listening to and thinking about the sounds of night-time Africa.

I'm tellin' ya', Hem's heirs have got a lot to answer for, letting this thing be published. It's crystal clear to me that it was never Hemingway's intent to have this published. Occasional flashes of brilliant prose do not a book make; the author was casting about for something to hook this remembrance to and it simply wasn't there. He'd already done it with Green Hills of Africa so why do it again unless you could do it better or differently but differently in a good way. With this, he could do neither, and though his final years were sadly battered by mental illness, at least he had the good sense to know this wasn't publishable. Not without a lot of work.

Well, I did what I set out to do: to read the last bit of published Hemingway that I hadn't read. So I have that. And I have the published work and the one posthumous work that's worth anything, A Moveable Feast. (Though I have soft spots for Islands in The Stream and The Garden of Eden.) That's plenty enough.


  1. Thanks for the trip through Hemingway's works, Pete. It has given me reason to read (or to re-read) the complete Hemingway, as soon as I've finished with my current go-through of Steinbeck's work.

  2. Oh, I envy you the Steinbeck, Mike. Besides the monumental Grapes of Wrath, of course, my favorite of is Winter of Our Discontent, which nobody else really seems to like. Now that you've stirred up memories of the wonderful time I've spent reading Steinbeck, I'll have to some day do the same as you. Enjoy your journey and let me know how it goes.