Ernest Hemingway enjoyed fame and fortune during most of his lifetime, achieving notoriety as much for his adventurous lifestyle as for his groundbreaking literature. Whether covering foreign wars, fighting bulls or simply hanging out with other members of the so-called "Lost Generation," Hemingway lived life to the fullest. In 1933 and again in 1953, he traveled through Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda hunting big game on safari. These two African excursions inspired some of his best work and are the focus of a new book by best-selling author and East Africa exploration expert Christopher Ondaatje.
Ondaatje, a retired businessman, fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and brother of acclaimed novelist Michael Ondaatje, retraces Hemingway's treks in Hemingway in Africa: The Last Safari. Ondaatje's previous books include Sindh Revisited and Journey to the Source of the Nile, both travelogues following the trail of 19th-century British explorer Sir Richard Francis Burton.
In Hemingway in Africa, Ondaatje crosses hundreds of miles of rugged terrain to look out on the same landscapes Hemingway saw. He experiences firsthand the pink lakes and flapping flamingos Hemingway so masterfully described in Green Hills of Africa, and sees the connections between works like "The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber" and True at First Light and their African settings. Staring down from an airplane at the peak of Mt. Kilimanjaro, Ondaatje redefines the extreme landscape that made the leopard in "The Snows of Kilimanjaro" such a powerful symbol of artistic courage.
As Ondaatje encounters wild animals and real danger of his own, he can also appreciate the ethical dilemma Hemingway faced over killing big game. Hemingway explored such themes in the posthumously published True at First Light (based on his 1953 safari). Perhaps most importantly, as Ondaatje travels through poached lands and almost-extinct tribal villages, it is easy to envision and understand the tragic differences between today's Africa and the one that dominated Hemingway's imagination. Hemingway in Africa wonderfully combines Ondaatje's extensive knowledge of East Africa with his passion for delving into Hemingway's enigmatic personality and exposing the roots of the writer's love affair with the continent. Coy Martin is a writer in Nashville.