Hemingway declares upfront that this book is an attempt to recount real life in a way that is as exciting and dramatic as fiction. He partially succeeds.
The book is, essentially, his account of a few hunting safaris in Africa. As is well known, he was a keen hunter of big game and a keen fisherman for big fish. His wonderful book, The Old Man and the Sea, reflects the second of those interests.
He writes a lot in this book about the practicalities of killing wild animals with a gun. He doesn’t fetishize over the equipment, as some might have done. Even so, the business of organising a hunting trip was considerable – tents, baths, staff, food, vehicles; a lot of paraphernalia.
I don’t have a great affinity for the killing of wild animals, though hunting is a popular pastime for rich people in the country in which I live. To be fair, Hemingway makes much of the beauty of the animals he hunts and I am sure he would see himself as their friend, despite the fact that he is killing them. Attitudes were different in the 1930s, of course.
One of the most interesting episodes in the book is his encounter with a German traveller, who tells him that hunting animals is cruel and unnecessary. Hemingway records it straight, leaving the reader to figure it out.
The other aspect of the book that jars with a modern reader is the author’s attitude to Africans. He occasionally calles them ‘savages’ and while he sometimes treats them with respect, it is entirely obvious that he does not see them as equals.
It is a beautifully written book, because Hemingway writes beautifully. But the subject matter is a little repetitive. On balance, I prefer his fiction.