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Hemingway and Africa ed. by Miriam B. Mandel (review)

From: The Hemingway Review
Volume 32, Number 1, Fall 2012
pp. 131-135 | 10.1353/hem.2012.0016

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Hemingway and Africa studies a confluence of themes that is fertile and often unsettled. As Miriam B. Mandel points out in her Introduction, Hemingway produced a large body of work centered on the relatively small period of time—nine months—he spent in Africa (17-18). Articles and stories Hemingway developed from this time appeared in Esquire, Look, and Sports Illustrated magazines; and the books Green Hills of Africa, Under Kilimanjaro (preceded by its earlier edition True at First Light), and to a significant extent The Garden of Eden all hinge on Africa. As is well known, this last, posthumous novel inspired whole new approaches to Hemingway the writer and Hemingway the person, while his attitude regarding Africa and race has provoked many studies, including the much-discussed criticism by Toni Morrison in her book Playing in the Dark. That book is referenced several times in the essays collected here, as is much else from the scholarship focused on these texts.

Mandel's collection makes clear that Africa provoked powerful responses from Hemingway that are not always easily assimilated into existing views of him. His writing about the continent takes many risks, attempts generic experiments, and in some cases, being significantly unfinished at the time of Hemingway's death, raises questions about authorial intention and the ethics of publication. Fundamental concerns of his day and ours arise through this work: how can we understand cross-cultural encounters, with their attendant differences not just of beliefs but of access to power, technology, and so on? What are the ethics of cross-cultural meetings, and what do they tell us about both African and American cultures?

This collection offers a wide variety of approaches to such questions, some deeply skeptical of Hemingway's presence in and writing about Africa, others deeply sympathetic to his attempts to engage complex issues. The range of arguments and the great deal of information this book gathers on its themes—including a chronology of Hemingway's time in Africa, a bibliography of his reading in natural history, an annotated bibliography of scholarship on Hemingway and Africa, and a detailed description of the guns Hemingway used on safari—make it a useful as well as interesting text. Indeed, it seems particularly appropriate to this book's subject that it includes the perspectives of scholars who themselves reside in a broad range of places (to name a few—Israel, Germany, Wales, Spain, Illinois, Japan, Pennsylvania) and professional positions (a sporting publications expert, along with scholars of language, American Studies, Cultural Studies, and more).

In her Introduction Mandel focuses on relevant biographical facts concerning Hemingway and his life travels generally, including those in Africa. She recognizes him as among "the most peripatetic of the authors who shaped American literature" and identifies a dominant pattern in his journeys: Hemingway, having first seen a place, tended to return, often in a series of "closely spaced return visits." Frequently, as with Africa, he took yet another return trip much later in life (7). She notes that over the course of his life, Hemingway moved progressively further away from home and allows that his affection for Africa, the place perhaps most removed from his native home in terms of culture, geography, and more, clearly indicates his desire to continue moving away. The safari extends this pattern as it, Mandel argues, "is the antithesis of home." Safari involves constant movement—"constant displacement"—and therefore is particularly suited what she calls Hemingway's "restless soul" (19).

A summary of the book's other arguments, pursued in contrapuntal style, clarifies their variety. We find engagement with the ostensibly racist, misogynist, culturally insensitive Hemingway in Frank Mehring's essay, which uses "The Snows of Kilimanjaro" to argue that Hemingway's interest in and knowledge about other cultures is superficial at best. Mehring looks for Harry to show his curiosity about Africa by engaging "with the environment" while he is on his deathbed, but fails to see such engagement. Instead, Harry "constantly ponders the past" (221). Borrowing from the biographical approaches of Kenneth Lynn, Jeffrey Meyers, and others, Mehring essentially sees Hemingway as a fraud. Jeremiah M. Kitunda, asking a similar question about Hemingway's attitude toward Africa, exposes...

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