A Review of Ernest Hemingway’s Green Hills of Africa

I’m not sure how important, in the modern world, killing animals is, when trying to prove your manhood to anyone else. B’wana Hemingway clearly has his own ideas on the subject. Green Hills of Africa, originally published in 1935, is a brutal slog of an oddly defined thought experiment. The author implies, in a brief foreword, that it is a novel, but claims that “Unlike many novels, none of the characters or incidents in this book is imaginary.” This is a good example of the dry and incisive Hemingway sense of humor (clearly he thinks that some novels contain characters and incidents which are, while purporting to be fictional, in fact real. And he seems to disapprove). Hemingway states that he (he refers to himself as “the writer”) has tried “to write an absolutely true book” in order to see if the product can “compete with a work of fiction.” Emphasis on compete

Because while the ostensible subject of the book (the “story”?) is how Hemingway, his wife, and some friends went on a month-long hunting trip to Tanzania, it’s entire focus is on the idea of competition, in all its forms. Hemingway competes with Karl Kabor to kill the biggest (oryx, sable, rhino, kudu) whatever. Hemingway competes with “Mr. J.P.” to do the best job of making fun of himself bragging about his experiences (in the war, killing animals, hanging out with literary people). Hemingway competes with every professional writer in existence, especially his fellow Americans (see chapters one and four in which many writers are taken down like kudu bulls). Hemingway finally competes with Hemingway to live up to the character of Hemingway he has created in his mind and inserted into the “absolutely true” story of his own real life.

It can be tough to witness. There are some beautifully written passages (although those can be tough also. In chapter thirteen I was convinced I was going to drop dead of heat exhaustion reading about tracking a wounded bull in the brutal sun) because after all Hemingway is Hemingway. 

Does he succeed in writing a true story (no idea) that can compete with a work of the imagination? Yes, it competes. Perhaps those with no professional interest in either hunting or Ernest Hemingway would enjoy The Sun Also Rises or A Farewell to Arms better, but Green Hills of Africa is an interesting account.

Helpful articles:

By Robert Trogdon "Forms of combat": Hemingway, the critics, and 'Green Hills of Africa.' - Free Online Library (thefreelibrary.com)

By Hillel ItalieErnest Hemingway’s ‘Green Hills of Africa’ reissued | The Seattle Times


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