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True at First Light: A Fictional Memoir by…

True at First Light: A Fictional Memoir (original 1999; edition 2002)

by Ernest Hemingway (Author)

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A fictionalized account of Hemingway's final African safari in which Hemingway's close friend leaves him in charge of the safari camp on the day a hostile tribe threatens to attack.
Title:True at First Light: A Fictional Memoir
Authors:Ernest Hemingway (Author)
Info:Scribner (2002), Edition: 1st Scribner Paperback Fiction Ed, 320 pages
Collections:Your library

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True at First Light: A Fictional Memoir by Ernest Hemingway (1999)

Recently added byessebi7, private library, Matttal, macymae, Ruddman_and_Ratey, oriol73, McSpeddin, carlypancakes

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English (6)  Spanish (1)  Italian (1)  All languages (8)
Showing 1-5 of 6 (next | show all)
Hemingway, for all his sorrow, was a man who knew he had been lucky in his life and was happy to write about things with affection. At least, that is my humble impression: he writes on page two of True at First Light that his various biographers and commentators "wrote of my life both inner and outer… with an absolute assurance that I had never felt." But as a writer his mode of operation was to experience things – many things – and absorb them and then write about them later as honestly and truthfully as he could. True at First Light might not be as polished as similar late-period books like A Moveable Feast but the nostalgia and the wistfulness and the sense of lost and captured memories do still make themselves very evident.

Any review of this book has to mention that it is a posthumously-published manuscript. Hemingway wrote this and then set it aside and there is a reason for that. Any literary effect created by the prose is hard won, only there if the reader is dedicated enough to seek it. Much of it could have been excised and perhaps would have (note that A Moveable Feast is much shorter, and Hemingway thought that he could write about Paris more truly than he could Africa). As his son Patrick says in the Introduction, only Hemingway himself could have really licked this into shape (pg. xi). However, for committed Hemingway aficionados there is still value in seeing a Hemingway work-in-progress, and learning intuitively about his process of honing his books into shape.

There is also much that would have survived a cull. Individual passages are starlight-pure, and there are the usual digressions into writing and literature and other loosely related topics which are always interesting. The part where his wife Mary is writing a poem is a nice moment (pg. 179), the (perhaps semi-fictional) recollection of meeting George Orwell in Paris during the War was fascinating (pp129-30) and the bit where Hemingway recalls shooting an old and faithful horse was heartbreakingly depicted (pp197-8) because of the unassuming way in which it was told. Hemingway writes better about safaris and big-game hunting in Green Hills of Africa and in his short stories, but there is still much to recommend on this in True at First Light, particularly about the politics and group dynamics of the hunt.

But it is the sense of nostalgia and wistfulness the book captures that is its main draw: remarkably, Hemingway manages to write such things without any sentimentality or mawkishness. One must remember that Hemingway was a reporter and a journalist as much as a novelist and whilst he may talk of "the old days" a lot in the book, it is not out of any desire to return so much as to try and understand what makes them so clear and so beloved, so that he can acknowledge them and provide a realistic and truthful snapshot of them as they were. The title of the book has been well-chosen (Hemingway's manuscript was untitled), coming from the passage Hemingway writes on page 179 that "nothing was true and especially not in Africa. In Africa a thing is true at first light and a lie by noon." The assertion that 'nothing is true' is a useful justification for what is a semi-fictional memoir (I don't really see how people classify it as a novel) and the image of light changing by degrees through the day is an exceptional one for Hemingway's purposes; not only does it alter the dynamics of the hunt (it is better to shoot at certain times of day, before the light is gone (pg. 110)) and the appearance of the landscape ("the tents of camp showed under the yellow and green trees which the first light of the sun was now turning to bright dark green and shining gold" (pg. 193)) but it also ties in neatly with Hemingway exploring nostalgia and his past from the insecurities of his advancing age, the evening and the sunset of his days. However unpolished the manuscript may be, it is a bittersweet sentiment for the reader to gorge upon. Hemingway always talks about things with a paradoxically warm detachment, so clean and precise. ( )
  Mike_F | Jul 14, 2017 |
1953-54 East African Safari with Ernest Hemingway and his wife Maty. They were in two plane crashes presumed dead and sparked a controversy.
  Tattersalls | Sep 2, 2016 |
Staged in Africa, Hemingway reflects himself as a hired hunter in the Game Department of the British Administration. The book is set on the African plains, within and out of a hunting camp site established to hunt for an elusive and wanted lion. The book also seems to reflect on the cusp of the change over in Africa from the British (i.e., white man) to the African self-awareness and quest for independence. Though the book does not specifically refer to politics, you get a sense that the story spins on the edge of that change and the reflection of what Africa once was and meant to the likes of someone like the main narrator, Hemingway. ( )
  MikeBiever | Jun 22, 2016 |
  jeremylukehill | Nov 27, 2010 |
Sort of a watered down Hemingway to read. I don't really remember what gave me that impression, but there it is. I guess it's insightful into how much Hemingway edited and punched his works up. ( )
  benjclark | Jul 6, 2007 |
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"The famous style occasionally flares into fineness but is really no more than a pretender to its former royalty . . . [It] serves as a warning to let Hemingway be, both as a literary estate and as a literary influence."
added by GYKM | editNew York Times, James Wood (May 11, 1999)

» Add other authors (6 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Ernest Hemingwayprimary authorall editionscalculated
Dennehy, BrianNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Golüke, EdwinTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Golüke, GuidoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hemingway, PatrickEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lima, JoséTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Sørensen, Henrik EnemarkTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Sparks, RichardIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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In Africa a thing is true at first light and a lie by noon and you have no more respect for it than for the lovely, perfect weed-fringed lake you see across the sun-baked salt plain. You have walked across that plain in the morning and you know that no such lake is there. But now it is there absolutely true, beautiful and believable.
-Ernest Hemingway
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Things were not too simple in this safari because things had changed very much in East Africa.
This story opens in a place and at a time which for me, at least, remains highly significant. (Introduction)
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