The gap of Hemingway's African excursions in books about "Papa" is partly filled by this copiously illustrated if casually written work from British explorer-biographer Ondaatje (Journey to the Source of the Nile). Hemingway went on only two safaris in a lifetime of traveling (1933-1934 and 1953-1954), but both were vivid, pivotal experiences. The first inspired his famous stories "The Snows of Kilimanjaro" and "The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber" and his bestseller Green Hills of Africa; the latter trip inspired two posthumous works, the less well-received The Garden of Eden and True at First Light. Ondaatje follows the faded trail of Hemingway's safaris in Kenya and Tanzania (then Tanganyika) and puts them in the context of his works and those of other African writers, such as Isak Dinesen and Beryl Markham (whose work Hemingway championed). Although Papa's tracks are fainter in contemporary Africa than in Cuba and Paris, Ondaatje, an old hand on sub-Saharan Africa, has as observant an eye as Hemingway's for the land's beauty and a better one for its residents-which he complements with his photography. By the time of Hemingway's second visit, the era of the traditional colonial safari was closing, just as his own career was. While the opening description in "The Snows of Kilimanjaro" of a leopard carcass on the mountain's highest slopes concluded, "No one has explained what the leopard was seeking at that altitude," Ondaatje possesses a sympathetic insight into what Hemingway was without falling prey to the myth. 98 color photos, 3 maps not seen by PW.
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Ondaatje, author of seven books (including Sindh Revisited, 1996, and Journey to the Sources of the Nile, 1998), follows in the footsteps of Ernest Hemingway's two African safaris, undertaken in the mid-1930s and mid-1950s in Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda, to uncover new insights into Hemingway's life and writings. Thanks to a wealth of photographs of Hemingway on safari as well as of modern photos of East Africa, the reader is offered glimpses of the ambience and environment with which the great author surrounded himself in his egotistical quest for manhood and for artistic immortality. He was always dependent on and jealous of more accomplished hunters on his safaris--such as Bror Blixen (Isak Dinesen's husband) or Philip Percival, who was coaxed out of retirement to guide Hemingway's second safari in 1954. Ondaatje is as much of a romantic as his subject, and in uncovering various letters and early influences, he fleshes out a picture of the great author as an adventurer in spirit, though flawed by his own ego and alcoholism. Allen Weakland
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