By Brian Smith
This book is an account of Ernest Hemingway’s safari with his fourth wife Mary in late 1953 and early 1954. This trip ended abruptly in January 1954 after they had two near-fatal plane crashes in East Africa. While back in Havana, Hemingway wrote his “African Book” and completed it in 1956. He left this manuscript, along with those for A Moveable Feast, Islands in the Stream, and The Garden of Eden, in a safe deposit box in Cuba. Under Kilimanjaro is the last of Hemingway’s manuscripts to be published in its entirety.
I enjoyed spending time with Papa while reading his “African Book.” I am about at the end of the Hemingway canon, and I am going to miss not having anything new to read; however, I always enjoy coming back to his novels for a second and third reading. Under Kilimanjaro was enjoyable to read. I think Hemingway was very happy while on this Safari, and I wonder if it were not for the serious injuries he had sustained on this trip that maybe he would have lived a little longer. The details of the plane crashes are not described in the book.
Hemingway seemed to be at ease and enjoying the company of Mary. This book has a light-hearted feel. It is full of classic Hemingway playing out several fantasies. As usual, he had assembled a group of misfit characters that were his cronies and partners in crime. Hemingway fantasied about being part of the Wakamba tribe and invented his own religion to which he recruited his gun bearer, Ngui, and others in the Safari Staff. This was a religion where when they die, they go to the “Happy Hunting Grounds,” where there is free beer and no game department, and each member gets five fertile wives. They named the religion “The Holy War Meat Eaters and Beer Drinkers Happy Hunting Ground and Mountain” religion.
Hemingway was also serving as an Acting Game Ranger in the absence of his professional hunter that had to leave them for some time on other business. In this position, he acted as though he was the mayor, physician, police chief, or whatever role he wanted to play. It reminds me of his antics in Cuba hunting German U-Boats from Pilar. Along with his role of Acting Game Ranger and founder of a new religion, he befriended a young African girl, Debba, whom he referred to as his fiancée. Mary played along with this fantasy as Debba was to be the “secondary wife,” and Mary would still have the position of the main wife.
In much of the book, Papa and Mary were in the pursuit of a large dark maned lion that Mary had been hunting for months, and he continued to elude her because she was too short to see over the tall grass to get a shot at him. Finally, she does get a shot at the lion, wounding him, and Hemingway gets in the killing shot with a long “hail Mary” shot just before it was to enter thick cover.
The entire book is full of good dialogue in classic Hemingway prose, which includes several ruminations from his past in France, Spain, and Cuba and discussions about Ford Madox Ford, Ezra Pound, and F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Under Kilimanjaro has been criticized by some as being full of macho nonsense, silly fantasy, hunting, drinking, and rambling dialogue. It is certainly not a work of art as some of his best novels; however, I found it entertaining, fun, and pure Hemingway.