Green Hills of Africa (1935) by Ernest Hemingway is Hemingway’s second book of nonfiction — his first book of nonfiction, set in Spain, being Death in the Afternoon (1932). Green Hills of Africa is an account of Hemingway’s adventures while on safari in the early months of 1934.
This edition, the Hemingway Library Edition, includes a personal foreword by Patrick Hemingway, a new introduction by Seán Hemingway, a safari journal by Pauline Pfeiffer (Hemingway’s second wife), safari photographs, illustrations, and early drafts of the manuscript which includes deleted passages.
For the content of the book, Hemingway focuses on “the pattern of a month’s action” which closely follows events primarily from January 25, 1934 to February 17, 1934, but does include a brief flashback on December 29, 1933. Hemingway also provided an author’s note at the beginning of the book which describes his attempts as a writer struggling to create a story as successful and thrilling as fiction but told as truly as one can tell a true story.
“Unlike many novels, none of the characters or incidents in this book is imaginary. Any one not finding sufficient love interest is at liberty, while reading it, to insert whatever love interest he or she may have at the time. The writer has attempted to write an absolutely true book to see whether the shape of a country and the pattern of a month’s action can, if truly presented, compete with a work of the imagination.”
Structure & Organization in Green Hills of Africa
Part I = Pursuit and Conversation (pgs 4 – 32 / Chapters 1 – 2)
Part II = Pursuit Remembered (pgs 34 – 119 / Chapters 3 – 9)
Part III = Pursuit and Failure (pgs 122 – 147 / Chapters 10 – 11)
Part IV = Pursuit as Happiness (pgs 150 – 201 / Chapters 12 – 13)
Timeline in Green Hills of Africa
Chapter 1 = Feb. 12, 1934
Chapter 2 = Dec. 29, 1933
Chapter 3 = Jan. 25, 1934
Chapter 4 = Jan. 28-29, 1934
Chapter 5 = Feb. 1, 1934
Chapter 6 = Feb. 5, 1934
Chapter 7 = Feb. 6-7, 1934
Chapter 8 = Feb. 9-10, 1934
Chapter 9 = Feb. 11, 1934
Chapter 10 = Feb. 12, 1934
Chapter 11 = Feb. 13-16, 1934
Chapter 12 = Feb. 16, 1934
Chapter 13 = Feb. 17, 1934
Thoughts on Green Hills of Africa
Hemingway is mostly known as a writer who writes short, concise sentences, which helped reshape fiction as we know it today. In Green Hills of Africa, though, Hemingway stretched his legs and craft with long, descriptive sentences that swerve and weave in and out and between the senses, the locale, the immediate, the distant, the coming, the going, the emotions, and the tangible:
“So now, going along the sandy track of the road in the car, the lights picking out the eyes of night birds that squatted close on the sand until the bulk of the car was on them and they rose in soft panic; passing the fires of the travellers that all moved to the westward by day along this road, abandoning the famine country that was ahead of us; me sitting, the butt of my rifle on my foot, the barrel in the crook of my left arm, a flask of whiskey between my knees, pouring the whiskey into a tin cup and passing it over my shoulder in the dark for M’Cola to pour water into it from the canteen, drinking this, the first one of the day, the finest one there is, and looking at the thick bush we passed in the dark, feeling the cool wind of the night and smelling the good smell of Africa, I was altogether happy” (pgs 6-7).
“It was a green, pleasant country, with hills below the forest that grew thick on the side of a mountain, and it was cut by the valleys of several watercourses that came down out of the thick timber on the mountain. Fingers of the forest came down onto the heads of some of the slopes and it was there, at the forest edge, that we watched for rhino to come out. If you looked away from the forest and the mountain side you could follow the watercourses and the hilly slope of the land down until the land flattened and the grass was brown and burned and, away, across a long sweep of country, was the brown Rift Valley and the shine of Lake Manyara” (p 36).
Hemingway reaches the level of prophethood with his awareness as a writer of how humanity has impacted and damaged the Earth. Especially now in this novel coronavirus COVID-19 world that teaches each individual, likely in self-quarantine and in self-isolation, that the human species is dispensable and superfluous, that the natural world will survive even if we do not, that the human race has become unmindful and uncoupled with the natural order and processes of far simpler, more sustainable, and healthier ways of living. Hemingway explains:
“I loved this country and I felt at home and where a man feels at home, outside of where he’s born, is where he’s meant to go… It was easier to keep well in a good country by taking simple precautions than to pretend that a country which is finished is still good… The earth gets tired of being exploited. A country wears out quickly unless man puts back in it all his residue and that of all his beasts. When he quits using beasts and uses machines, the earth defeats him quickly. The machine can’t reproduce, nor does it fertilize the soil, and it eats what he cannot raise. A country was made to be as we found it. We are the intruders and after we are dead we may have ruined it but it will be there and we don’t know what the next changes are… I would come back to Africa but not to make a living from it. I could do that with two pencils and a few hundred sheets of the cheapest paper. But I would come back to where it pleased me to live; to really live” (pgs 194-195).
Hemingway also provides advice and thoughts on writers and writing in Green Hills of Africa, making for delightful surprises as he takes the reader through the adventures of the hunts. At one point, he’s reflecting on the comparisons between hunting and writing. He contemplates,
“The way to hunt is for as long as you live against as long as there is such and such an animal; just as the way to paint is as long as there is you and colors and canvas, and to write as long as you can live and there is pencil and paper or ink or any machine to do it with, or anything you care to write about, and you feel a fool, and you are a fool, to do it any other way” (pgs 10-11).
A man born of America’s heartland, Hemingway has his strong opinions about those writers, even today, found in New York; far more often than not, those coastal writers blindly pursue building relationships in order to get published rather than building their craft in isolation. Salinger had it right, and probably took Papa’s advice to heart. Hemingway knows the difference between a true writer who sacrifices and a writer who fools herself by not living the work. The Nobel-winning and Pulitzer-winning novelist elucidates,
“Some writers are only born to help another writer to write one sentence… Writers should work alone. They should see each other only after their work is done, and not too often then. Otherwise they become like writers in New York. All angleworms in a bottle, trying to derive knowledge and nourishment from their own contact and from the bottle. Sometimes the bottle is shaped art, sometimes economics, sometimes economic-religion. But once they are in the bottle they stay there. They are lonesome outside of the bottle. They do not want to be lonesome. They are afraid to be alone in their beliefs and no woman would love any of them enough so that they could kill their lonesomeness in that woman, or pool it with hers, or make something with her that makes the rest unimportant” (pgs 16-17).
At one point a stranger, who ends up being a fan of Hemingway’s poetry, descends upon the camp. Sitting around the fire later that night the Austrian and the American speak at length about American writers and American literature. Hemingway says,
“You see we make our writers into something very strange.”
“I do not understand.”
“We destroy them in many ways. First, economically. They make money. It is only by hazard that a writer makes money although good books always make money eventually. Then our writers when they have made some money increase their standard of living and they are caught. They have to write to keep up their establishments, their wives, and so on, and they write slop. It is slop not on purpose but because it is hurried. Because they write when there is nothing to say or no water in the well. Because they are ambitious. Then, once they have betrayed themselves, they justify it and you get more slop. Or else they read the critics. If they believe the critics when they say they are great then they must believe them when they say they are rotten and they lose confidence…. There are too many things that happen to them. That is one thing. The others try to save their souls with what they write. That is an easy way out. Others are ruined by the first money, the first praise, the first attack, the first time they find they cannot write, or the first time they cannot do anything else, or else they get frightened and join organizations that do their thinking for them. Or they do not know what they want. Henry James wanted to make money. He never did, of course.”
“I am interested in other things. I have a good life but I must write because if I do not write a certain amount I do not enjoy the rest of my life.”
“And what do you want?”
“To write as well as I can and learn as I go along. At the same time I have my life which I enjoy and which is a damned good life” (pgs 17-19).
Also included in the book as Appendix III, the Tanganyika Letters provide a rare and raw insight into Hemingway’s personality not often found in his novels and short stories. Jokingly, he describes his situation to the editors of Esquire back in America while also shedding a brief-flickering light on what makes good writing.
“To write this sort of thing you need a typewriter. To describe, to narrate, to make funny cracks you need a typewriter. To fake along, to stall, to make light reading, to write a good piece, you need luck, two or more drinks and a typewriter. Gentlemen, there is no typewriter” (p 247).
In another Tanganyika Letter, Hemingway makes it clear where he stands on the classic-literary debate concerning Content vs Style. Hemingway’s precise statement leaves little doubt:
“You find that it is the thing he is writing about that is interesting. Not the way it is written” (p 255).
In the dialogue with the Austrian Kandisky (a “short round little man” named “Mr. Koritschoner” in real life; found in Pauline’s journal, p 233), Hemingway muses on what makes truly special and remarkable prose, the kind of writing that is unquestionably a work of art and worthy of the lasting privilege of immortality. Hemingway elaborates,
“It is much more difficult than poetry. It is a prose that has never been written. But it can be written, without tricks and without cheating. With nothing that will go bad afterwards.”
“And why has it not been written?”
“Because there are too many factors. First, there must be talent, much talent. Talent such as Kipling had. Then there must be discipline. The discipline of Flaubert. Then there must be the conception of what it can be and an absolute conscience as unchanging as the standard meter in Paris, to prevent faking. Then the writer must be intelligent and disinterested and above all he must survive. Try to get all these in one person and have him come through all the influences that press on a writer. The hardest thing, because time is so short, is for him to survive and get his work done. But I would like us to have such a writer and to read what he would write” (p 20).
The American novelist CG FEWSTON has been a Visiting Scholar at the American Academy in Rome (Italy), a Visiting Fellow at Hong Kong’s CityU, & he’s a member of the Hemingway Society, Club Med, and the Royal Society of Literature. He’s also a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA) based in London.
He’s the author of several short stories and novels. His works include A Father’s Son (2005), The New America: A Collection (2007), The Mystic’s Smile ~ A Play in 3 Acts (2007), Vanity of Vanities (2011), A Time to Love in Tehran (2015), Little Hometown, America: A Look Back (2020); and forthcoming: Conquergood & the Center of the Intelligible Mystery of Being; A Time to Forget in East Berlin; and, The Endless Endeavor of Excellence.
He has a B.A. in English, an M.Ed. in Higher Education Leadership (honors), an M.A. in Literature (honors), and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing & Fiction. He was born in Texas in 1979.
You can follow the author on Facebook @ cg.fewston – where he has 450,000+ followers
“The American novelist CG FEWSTON tells a satisfying tale, bolstered by psychology and far-ranging philosophy, calling upon Joseph Campbell, J. D. Salinger, the King James Bible, and Othello.”
“In this way, the author lends intellectual heft to a family story, exploring the ‘purity’ of art, the ‘corrupting’ influences of publishing, the solitary artist, and the messy interconnectedness of human relationships.”
GOLD Winner in the 2020 Human Relations Indie Book Awards for Contemporary Realistic Fiction