True at First Light: A Fictional Memoir

Book review

Saturday, July 15, 2000

True at First Light: A Fictional Memoir

Ernest Hemingway

In 1953, Ernest Hemingway went on safari to Africa for the last time, writing about the trip in an 850-page manuscript that was left unpublished at his death. His son Patrick cut it in half, edited it and dubbed it as a "fictional memoir" for release last year on the 100th anniversary of Hemingway's birth.

Set in East Africa during the time of the Mau Mau uprisings, the story chronicles Hemingway's fourth wife Mary's quest to shoot a black-maned lion, and Hemingway's own growing obsession with the African woman Debba. Scholars will no doubt be trying to sort the fiction from the reality for years to come, especially since the writer was well-known for embellishment.

For Hemingway fans, what matters is the writing, that unmistakable voice. And even though much of the book reads like a rambling, rough draft, there are still passages of lyrical beauty, including the one that gives the book its name: "In Africa a thing is true at first light and a lie by noon and you have no more respect for it than the lovely, perfect weed fringed lake you see across the sun baked 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."