Both revealing self-portrait and dramatic fictional chronicle of his final African safari, Ernest Hemingway's last unpublished work was written when he returned from Kenya in 1953. Edited by his son Patrick, who accompanied his father on the safari, True at First Light offers rare insights into the legendary American writer in the year of the hundredth anniversary of his birth.
A blend of autobiography and fiction, the book opens on the day his close friend Pop, a celebrated hunter, leaves Ernest in charge of the safari camp and news arrives of a potential attack from a hostile tribe. Drama continues to build as his wife, Mary, pursues the great black-maned lion that has become her obsession. Spicing his depictions of human longings with sharp humor, Hemingway captures the excitement of big-game hunting and the unparalleled beauty of the scenery -- the green plains covered with gray mist, zebra and gazelle traversing the horizon, cool dark nights broken by the sounds of the hyena's cry.
As the group at camp help Mary track her prize, she and Ernest suffer the "incalculable casualties of marriage," and their attempts to love each other well are marred by cruelty, competition and infidelity. Ernest has become involved with Debba, an African girl whom he supposedly plans to take as a second bride. Increasingly enchanted by the local African community, he struggles between the attraction of these two women and the wildly different cultures they represent.
In True at First Light, Hemingway also chronicles his exploits -- sometimes hilarious and sometimes poignant -- among the African men with whom he has become very close, reminisces about encounters with other writers and his days in Paris and Spain and satirizes, among other things, the role of organized religion in Africa. He also muses on the act of writing itself and the author's role in determining the truth. What is fact and what is fiction? This is a question that was posed by Hemingway's readers throughout his career and is one of his principal subjects here.
Equally adept at evoking the singular textures of the landscape, the thrill of the hunt and the complexities of married life, Hemingway weaves a tale that is rich in laughter, beauty and profound insight. True at First Light is an extraordinary publishing event -- a breathtaking final work from one of this nation's most beloved and important writers.
Who wants to go on an 11-hour audio safari with an aging, ego-bloated Hemingway That's the immediate drawback to listening to this posthumous memoir-turned-novel (edited into its current form by the legendary author's son Patrick). If anyone is capable of breathing life into Hemingway's late tale of big-game hunting with his wife in East Africa, however, it is Dennehy, one of the finest narrators in the spoken-audio field. Here he works to convey the essential nature of Hemingway's character; he contrasts the sparse elegance of Hemingway's descriptive prose style against the more swaggering posture of his ever-present pride. By the time Hemingway wrote this book, he was well aware of his celebrity, his aura, his powers was able to flatly say, "I love command." Dennehy plays up this self-conscious quality, offering it as a portrait of the author's psyche. It's that sense of performance that makes this audio adaptation spark to life. Based on the 1999 Scribner hardcover. (Aug.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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July 05, 2000
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Excerpt from True at First Light by Ernest Hemingway
Things were not too simple in this safari because things had changed very much in East Africa. The white hunter had been a close friend of mine for many years. I respected him as I had never respected my father and he trusted me, which was more than I deserved. It was, however, something to try to merit. He had taught me by putting me on my own and correcting me when I made mistakes. When I made a mistake he would explain it. Then if I did not make the same mistake again he would explain a little more. But he was nomadic and he was finally leaving us because it was necessary for him to be at his farm, which is what they call a twenty-thousand-acre cattle ranch in Kenya. He was a very complicated man compounded of absolute courage, all the good human weaknesses and a strangely subtle and very critical understanding of people. He was completely dedicated to his family and his home and he loved much more to live away from them. He loved his home and his wife and his children.
"Do you have any problems?"
"I don't want to make a fool of myself with elephants."
"Know everybody knows more than you but you have to make the decisions and make them stick. Leave the camp and all that to Keiti. Be as good as you can."
There are people who love command and in their eagerness to assume it they are impatient at the formalities of taking over from someone else. I love command since it is the ideal welding of freedom and slavery. You can be happy with your freedom and when it becomes too dangerous you take refuge in your duty. For several years I had exercised no command except over myself and I was bored with this since I knew myself and my defects and strengths too well and they permitted me little freedom and much duty. Lately I had read with distaste various books written about myself by people who knew all about my inner life, aims and motives. Reading them was like reading an account of a battle where you had fought written by someone who had not only not been present but, in some cases, had not even been born when the battle had taken place. All these people who wrote of my life both inner and outer wrote with an absolute assurance that I had never felt.