view from the hill

A look at the elements and events that come into view from where I'm standing...
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... the stuff that matters in this life. Some flicker and are gone in a matter of hours
only to live in memory, others become life long travelling companions, never far from reach.

Friday, August 12, 2005

The Snows of Kilimanjaro

Just read this short story by Hemingway in the bookstore this evening. A friend had mentioned it in a blog with a not-so-flowering review. All I can say is… are you reading the same book? I was in tears before the end. This is a tragic story of a complex man on his death bed, looking back on a life lived.

kilimanjaroHarry is a writer on safari in Africa, suffering an advanced case of gangrene brought on by a careless scratch. His wife and a servant are by his side, but their vehicle is broken down, and they have no way to get to a hospital. It's a fictional self portrait as Harry looks back on a life in Paris, skiing in the Alps, and dusty wars in Spain, the relationships he's had, and the truth and lies he's lived. Hemingway is brutal in his self-assessment. There's countless small episodes witnessed that he has tucked away in his memories. This writer has been hanging on to gems, waiting until he feels he's honed his talent enough to put them into words. As the hours pass with no sign of a rescue plane, he realizes that all these stories will be lost with him.

Now he would never write the things that he had saved to write until he knew enough to write them well. Well, he would not have to fail at trying to write them either. Maybe you could never write them, and that was why you put them off and delayed the starting. Well he would never know, now.

Hemingway is a master of polishing a single sentence down to its bare essentials. There were times when the words would leap off the page and slam me in the heart. I wasn't ready for the power of some of these thoughts. There's honest regret, a truthful self disgust and stubborn selfishness in this man, and he knows how to express it.

He describes the cold feeling of death lurking just beyond the light of the camp. It approaches and stands at the foot of his cot, then climbs up onto his chest and presses the breath out of him. I was holding my own breath while reading this. All the while his devoted wife is by his side, caring for him even while he spills abuse at her, unpacking his life before he heads off onto his final journey. It's devastating. I really cared about this guy. I wanted the plane to get there and carry him to safety.

It's great stuff, and I can't wait get in to some of the other short stories I have on my shelf. I want to meet this voice again on the page. There's a sparse strength there, a quiet confidence, but also an unblinking assessment of vulnerability. There's a life lived in every sentence.

Check it out here at Amazon.

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