Why this Book: I was scheduled to travel to Tanzania to climb Mt Kilimanjaro and then afterward participate in a follow on safari tour of the Serengeti and other wild animal parks in northern Tanzania. This book is Hemingway’s account of his big game hunting trip in that same part of Africa and I hoped to learn something about where I was going.
Summary in 3 sentences: Hemingway had hunted in his youth and after some of his initial successes as an author, found a sponsor to subsidize this trip to fulfill one of his manly-man dreams. He took with him a friend and his wife Pauline – the “other woman” from the book, The Paris Wife – as well as guides to help him find and identify his game, and a number of local porters to provide for a comfortable camp life, and to butcher and transport game he had killed. Hemingway writes about his adventure in first person as a story teller, with drama and context, detailing the challenges, excitement, dangers of many of his stalks and kills, his frustrations when he failed, and generally describing his experiences as a big game hunter in 1930s Tanganyika – now Tanzania.
My Impressions: This is not one of Hemingway’s classics, but it does give some insights into the man, the era and the manner of wealthy Western big game trophy hunters. Teddy Roosevelt, who must have been one of Hemingway’s heroes, set the standard and in fact, Hemingway hired the same guide, Phillip Percival (“Pop” in the book,) to lead him through this expedition. It is written in first person and includes Hemingway’s thoughts and musings on more than the hunt. But it is mostly about his feelings and experiences hunting big game in Africa.
The Forward, written by Hemingway’s son Patrick, and the Introduction, written by Hemingway’s grand son Sean offer interesting insights into the background to the book. After reading the book, I found Pauline’s journal, which is provided in the back as an appendix, to be very enlightening as a very different perspective to the events Hemingway describes in the book. Pauline herself was a published writer for magazines and I found her account more straightforward, with less of Hemingway playing the role of man’s man and literary icon on the hunt. Pauline’s account seems more sincere and descriptive of the actual events of the safari.
I wish I had waited until after going on the safari to read the book. Reading it before arriving in Tanzania, much of it was hard for me to relate to – the animal names and locations were often unfamiliar to me. But reviewing it afterward, was more rewarding – I had been to many of the places mentioned and had seen, up close and personal, most of the animals he observed and hunted. Hemingway’s expedition spent time in the Serengeti and the Ngorogoro crater, both of which we visited on my safari.
I read the book with 21st century sensibilities about killing wild animals merely for sport, and the killing of (what are now) endangered species. Frankly, I was disheartened by SO much killing with high powered rifles. Reading Pauline’s journal, it seemed that they were on a killing spree to get great trophies, and just because they could. I can hardly imagine that they needed or were even able to use that much meat.
That said, the guides and Hemingway did show an appreciation for the limitations of the animal resources. They sought to kill only older and mature males, which of course also usually made the best trophies, expressed regret when they unintentionally killed a cow, and scrupulously avoided killing the young. Hemingway spent a whole day trying to follow an animal he had wounded, finally giving up, expressing regret and even a sense of moral unease at being the cause of the likely painful death it would experience, from its wounds, or being ripped apart by hyenas. And in one instance he noted how certain areas had already been overly hunted. At one point he writes, ” We are the intruders and after we are dead we may have ruined it but it will still be there and we don’t know what the next changes are. I suppose they all end up like Mongolia.”
I recommend this book to anyone studying Hemingway the man, or who, as was the case with me, is going to East Africa on safari. This edition of the book includes a number of appendices to provide detailed background and supplementary material for those interested in understand Hemingway, his style, writing process and other background. To me, the appendix of greatest interest was Pauline’s diary. I recommend scanning the Forward and Intro before reading the book and then going back and reading them (with greater interest) after reading Hemingway’s published version of Green Hills of Africa.