Thursday, 8 March 2012

Green Hills of Africa by Ernest Hemingway

When Hemingway wrote Green Hills of Africa he was already an established writer with seven books under his belt. This work is said to be autobiographical with Hemingway himself asserting at the beginning of the book ‘Unlike many novels, none of the characters or incidents in this book is imaginary’. However Hemingway was notorious for exaggerating or encouraging exaggeration of his own achievements in order to build up the masculine imagery surrounding his persona. He mentions this himself during the book when his fellow huntsmen tease him about his bragging.

Arguably the main subject of this short read is hunting, with Hemingway chronicling the events of an African hunting trip he took with his then wife in 1933, which some modern readers will find unpalatable. I didn’t think the hunting would bother me but at times I was aware of the sheer senselessness of the activity particularly when Hemingway was butchering rhinos and lions for no other reason that the thrill of the chase and the trophy at the end of it. Hemingway himself said that he never felt bad about killing the animals but he didn’t like making them suffer.
The book is slow to get started and I didn’t find what I considered to be a classic Hemingway line until about halfway through the book but it does pick up the pace towards the end. The story moves at a reasonable speed but I felt at times it could have been more interesting. Ultimately I found Hemingway’s prose and observations about his own state of mind more enthralling than the slaughter of (largely) defenceless animals.

There are sadder, seedier sides to the book and fans of Hemingway will not be surprised to read that alcohol is an ever present apparition and it isn’t long before Hemingway the hunter is knocking back the beers whilst at camp, on his way back to camp and even while still on the trail of his quarry. I’m not surprised when he states at times he needs four or five attempts to kill his prey, it can’t be easy shooting when drunk. I think it was very telling, and tragic, that Hemingway wrote about beer with more love, affection and attention to detail than his own wife.

There is some racism and Hemingway does take a sexist attitude towards his then wife Pauline Pfeiffer who, for some obscure reason, he refers to throughout the book as P.O.M (Poor Old Mama) and behaves in a patronising, dismissive manner towards her calling her ‘little woman’ but it is important to keep it in perspective and remember the book was written in 1935, not exactly the most enlightened period in history.  

Overall I enjoyed it but I wouldn’t recommend it as a first Hemingway book.
Final verdict 3/5

By Chris


  1. I've never read a single piece of Hemingway's work, although I keep meaning to. It's funny because I know quite a bit about him and yet haven't managed to get round to reading anything!

    I probably wouldn't start with this one (as you advised!) but I can deal with racism and sexism if it comes from an old-fashioned book. It's almost to be expected, just not condoned!

    1. Hanna,

      Hemingway is a writer whose carefully cultivated persona sometimes eclipses his writing.

      This isn't the book to start with. I often say A Moveable Feast, Fiesta: The Sun Also Rises or Farewell to Arms are all good starts :o)


  2. Really nice to meet you yesterday, Chris - and, look, the first book I see mentioned is by Hemingway! I don't think I'll start with this one (not sure I'd want to read about hunting) but will definitely get hold of A Movable Feast before too long. You can keep tabs on me!

    1. Hi Simon,

      It was a pleasure to meet you and chat about books, sorry if I bored you with my Hemingway/Steinbeck obsession! lol

      I'll be keeping up with your blog and look forward to seeing your review for A Moveable Feast, i'm confident you'll like it :o)