Shane's Reviews > Under Kilimanjaro

Under Kilimanjaro by Ernest Hemingway
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it was ok

Being a lifelong fan of Hemingway, I was disappointed in this book, his last. I should have noticed the signals when the piles of hardbound copies in the bookstore were selling for under eight dollars apiece, when it was polythene wrapped so that I could not flip pages to sample what I was buying (in publisher hubris – “don’t question the master, dude!”) and when most of its interesting parts had already been published in a much smaller version titled, True at First Light some years ago.

Although dubbed a fiction, this is a thinly veiled journal of Hemingway and his fourth wife Mary’s sojourn for several months in a hunting camp under the shadow of the great mountain Kilimanjaro. There are endless rounds of drinking, hunting, killing, eating, trading jokes by campfire, bathing, diarrhoea, going local, driving and flying around the game reserve – the routine of life in this place which to Hemingway is his nirvana. The elements of tension and conflict needed to render this travelogue into a novel are provided in the hunt for a lion by Mary and a leopard by Papa, in the latter’s abortive attempts to take a young African wife while still being in love and married to his American one, and from the constant threat of approaching Mau Mau marauders who never really appear in the end.

In his meandering ruminations (I am sure the two editors dared not touch the ramblings of the Great One) Hemingway opens us to his past encounters in the literary field with luminaries such as Ford Madox Ford, Ezra Pound and Scott Fitzgerald, plus his sojourns in France, Spain and Cuba, and he expresses his resignation for not winning the Nobel that year (he lost to Winston Churchill but won in the following year) – not sure what all these had in common with the African novel, but they were good insights nevertheless. I also realized in reading this book that Hemingway used most of his life experiences to form his fiction and that his imaginative component was but a smidgeon applied to a collage of real life experiences.

Hemingway certainly belongs to a vanished age of macho men whose lives were better than their fiction; people who came of age with weapons in hand, surrounded by death, and who had to kill their meat in order to be validated. There is no mention of him ever eating vegetables! Even Mary who comes to hunting later in her life gets hooked on the sport, and obsesses over killing her lion even though her shooting is suspect, and she begins to take pleasure in killing animals as the novel progresses. As a writer, Hemingway’s ego is total; I am sure he would have had choice words for this review if he was alive, just as he tears into the critical reader from Iowa and ends up calling her a bitch. In the process, the hierarchy of creation in Hemingway’s world becomes clear: White Man =>White Woman=>Black Woman=>Animal.

African tribal rituals and culture are brought alive as Hemingway goes native and tries to belong – to be a brother, to smell like them, eat like them, hunt like them, celebrate like them, and love like them. In exchange, and much to the game warden’s chagrin, he teaches his African brothers to drink like him. He also claims relationship to the Native American Indian and talks about his God, Gitche Manitou, and of the Happy Hunting Grounds where there is endless and unrestricted game hunting, drinking and celebration – sometime I wondered whether he was deliberately leading on the locals (and his readers).

The Hemingway style got to me this time. The run-on sentences, word repetitions, indirect and stylized dialogue, oblique references to events happening off stage, the sparse use of commas and the heavy use of the word “and” – lyrical though they may be – did not flow for me this time and I often had to revert to re-reading sentences or to skipping them in frustration.

A nostalgic book for Hemingway aficionados, no doubt – but this is the work of a writer whose best work peaked a long time ago. Just as the trip to Africa in Under Kilimanjaro is a repetition of the one Hemingway did 20 years prior and chronicled in The Green Hills of Africa, this was my romp through a Hemingway tome after a similar time gap – just for old time’s sake!
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Reading Progress

September 20, 2010 – Started Reading
September 20, 2010 – Shelved
October 1, 2010 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-5 of 5 (5 new)

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message 1: by Ben (new)

Ben Shane:

When you get a chance, Shane, pick up Papa Hemingway, a memoir by A. E. Hotchner that provides insights into the man and writer. One wonders how he could write at all when he was in the buzz 24 hours a day. His editors at Scribners polished his prose and cashed on his machismo!

He's a good read for beginning writers to learn how a story can be told in simple style and made absorbing as the novella The Old Man and the Sea.

Ben Antao
Oct. 2/10


message 2: by Shane (last edited Jul 23, 2019 11:24AM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Shane Thanks Ben - there were moments when I wondered if some of this unedited prose had been written in that "buzz" state - it's a pity that the editors acted more as archeologists by trying to preserve every fragment of the original and not as curators of what must have been a rather messy manuscript.
Much to say that literature and the craft of writing has definitely moved on from Hemingway's day - probably aided also by the technology i.e. the PC and the plethora of online editing and research tools available to us today.
I have to revisit my adolescent writing gurus now and strike a few of them off my list.


message 3: by Ben (new)

Ben Glad to note that you got my point, Shane. I like your analogy of the archeologist and the curator for the editors of Hemingway. However, I remember how the Americans love their myths and legends! If it's a question of fact over legend, print the legend!

And yes, as we get more accomplished ourselves as writers and crafters of fiction, we need to discard our teenage heroes.

Thanks. I understand you're into historical fiction now, resurrecting Sri Lanka! I hope it's because you you've something to say and care for it, and not because the Canadian publishers are into publishing historical fiction.

Best, Ben


Shane The foray into historical fiction is to document "what could have been" during the life of an ancestor who travelled from Europe and settled in Sri Lanka 225 years ago. As I was the first of my direct family line to make the journey back to the west, albeit all the way to Canada, I felt it incumbent on me to try and record this piece for posterity. However, as I am covering the period 1793-1800, I find it full of intrigue, mayhem and romance. Lots of action including the French Revolution, the Reign of Terror, the rise of Napoleon and the fall of the Dutch to the British in Sri Lanka (without a shot being fired, or so the story goes). All the ingredients of a good pot boiler!


message 5: by Ben (new)

Ben Sounds interesting, Shane. Could be like Gone with the Wind. Look forward to reading it.
Best, Ben


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