True at First Light: A Fictional Memoir

by Ernest Hemingway

Hardcover, 1999

Call number




Scribner (1999), 320 pages


A fictional memoir of an African safari based on a manuscript edited by the author's son. The action centers on wife Mary's desire to kill a lion and her jealousy of a beautiful African woman Hemingway is eyeing.

Media reviews

"The famous style occasionally flares into fineness but is really no more than a pretender to its former royalty . . . [It] serves as a warning to let Hemingway be, both as a literary estate and as a literary influence."

User reviews

LibraryThing member laytonwoman3rd
OK, I tried. This "fictional memoir" was left behind in manuscript form, untouched for nearly a decade when Ernest Hemingway died. Thirty-five years later, his son Patrick, who was with his father and stepmother in Africa for the real-life events portrayed here, edited it for publication. His
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introduction intrigued me, and I love the title. The book's epigram is this quote from Papa himself: "In Africa, a thing is true at first light, a lie by noon, and you have no more respect for it than for the lovely, perfect wood-fringed lake you see across the sun-baked salt 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." With writing like that, he almost had me. But I couldn't bear more than 60 pages or so of his paternalism; Mary's fawning for his approval; the casual acceptance of his relationship with the village woman, Debba (another "child-wife"); and finally the whole insider attitude of the narrator cryptically referring to native tribes, uprisings, and secret doings without enough background or explanation. Granted, Patrick does cover some of the latter in his fine introduction, but the text itself seems to have been written for readers "in the know". Reportedly there is some very fine writing in here, and I am willing to believe that. I'm just not willing to wade through so much muck to get to it.
Reviewed in 2017
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LibraryThing member benjclark
Good. Sort of a watered down Hemingway to read. I don't really remember what gave me that impression, but there it is. I did like that he gave a nod to the fact that he made his memoir "more true" by fictionalizing bits of it.
LibraryThing member MikeBiever
Staged in Africa, Hemingway reflects himself as a hired hunter in the Game Department of the British Administration. The book is set on the African plains, within and out of a hunting camp site established to hunt for an elusive and wanted lion. The book also seems to reflect on the cusp of the
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change over in Africa from the British (i.e., white man) to the African self-awareness and quest for independence. Though the book does not specifically refer to politics, you get a sense that the story spins on the edge of that change and the reflection of what Africa once was and meant to the likes of someone like the main narrator, Hemingway.
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