Skip to Main Content

The most intimate and elaborately enhanced addition to the Hemingway Library series: Hemingway’s memoir of his safari across the Serengeti—presented with archival material from the Hemingway Collection at the John F. Kennedy Library, and with the never-before-published safari journal of Hemingway’s second wife, Pauline Pfeiffer.

First published in 1935, Green Hills of Africa is Ernest Hemingway’s lyrical account of his safari in the great game country of East Africa with his wife Pauline. Hemingway’s fascination with big-game hunting is magnificently captured in this evocative narrative of his trip. In examining the poetic grace of the chase, and the ferocity of the kill, Hemingway looks inward, seeking to explain the lure of the hunt and the primal undercurrent that comes alive on the plains of Africa. Green Hills of Africa is also an impassioned portrait of the glory of the African landscape, and of the beauty of a wilderness that was, even then, being threatened by the incursions of man. Hemingway’s rich description of the land and his passion for hunting combine to give Green Hills of Africa the immediacy of a deeply felt individual experience that is the hallmark of the greatest travel writing.

This new Hemingway Library Edition offers a fresh perspective on Hemingway’s classic travelogue with a personal foreword by Patrick Hemingway, the author’s sole surviving son, who, himself, spent many years as a professional hunter in East Africa; a new introduction by Seán Hemingway, grandson of the author; and published for the first time in its entirety the African journal of Hemingway’s wife, Pauline Pfeiffer, which provides new insight into the experiences that shaped her husband’s craft.

Green Hills of Africa INTRODUCTION
A WISE MAN ONCE WROTE that hunting is “the old religion.”1 He used the word religion in the sense of the Latin term religio, meaning to bind people together through repeated rituals. Hunting big game, one of mankind’s oldest pursuits, appears in our earliest artistic expressions—the magnificent cave paintings in France and Spain and the petroglyphs of southern and eastern Africa. Hunting was a key activity in ancient societies. It was more than simply a means of sustenance or, as in later times, a way to procure a trophy for display. Take the central place of the American bison in the lives of the first peoples of North America—particularly the Plains Indian tribes who exploited every part of the animal for many uses, from food, clothing, and shelter to tools, medicine, and cultural rituals. On a recent trip to Montana, I stood on the edge of a buffalo jump and looked out across the vast plain that stretched so far that I could see the curvature of the earth. I tried to envision the plain teeming with buffalo, once the most populous large mammal on the planet, and the great hunts that brought down those massive woolly creatures with nothing but the simplest weapons and human ingenuity. It is a sight now left only to the imagination.

Twentieth-century African big-game trophy hunting was practiced for the most part by a small group of some of the wealthiest people in the world; but it carried on, if distantly, the tradition of the royal lion hunts of the ancient Persian and Macedonian kings, which were heralded in art and song as signs of the kings’ strength, bravery, and achievement. For Ernest Hemingway, hunting dangerous game in Africa was a personal test of courage, and hunting was for him one of life’s great pleasures. No small part of the achievement of Green Hills of Africa is the way that Hemingway’s writing brings alive for the reader the experience of being part of a motorcar safari on the Serengeti Plains in the 1930s and what it was like to hunt at that time in the Edenic paradise of the Great Rift Valley in East Africa. On one level, Green Hills of Africa belongs to a tradition of African hunting safari writing, along with such works as Frederick Selous’s A Hunter’s Wanderings in Africa (1881) and Theodore Roosevelt’s African Game Trails (1910).2 However, it is also a departure from these earlier works, since Hemingway wrote it as a novel that combined the act of hunting on safari with the author’s thoughts on literature and writing. Green Hills of Africa did much to shape the impression of Africa in the minds of its readers, especially those in America and Europe.

Going on an African safari was a major undertaking in the 1930s. Hemingway had probably dreamed of hunting in Africa ever since Teddy Roosevelt returned from his African safari in 1910. His own plans finally materialized in 1930 when Gus Pfeiffer, the wealthy uncle of Hemingway’s wife Pauline (see Figure 1), offered to underwrite the exorbitant cost of such an endeavor.3 The journey started in Key West on August 4, 1933, when Ernest and Pauline Hemingway and their sons Jack and Patrick, along with Pauline’s sister, Jinny, boarded a steamer to Havana, Cuba, a country in the midst of a violent revolution. In Green Hills of Africa, Hemingway alludes to the coup that ousted Cuban president Gerardo Machado y Morales (an early draft of the scene appears in Appendix IV of this edition).4 Ernest and Pauline left Havana on August 7 to begin their weeklong transatlantic crossing aboard the Riena de la Pacifica, bound for Madrid.5 Ernest remained in Madrid until late October, preparing for the African expedition, writing, and acquiring new, custom-made leather hunting boots. Pauline, Jinny, and the children went on to Paris, where Pauline made her own preparations for the trip—purchasing a grand traveling jacket, new pajamas, and, among other items, bathrobes for her and Ernest.6 In Spain, Hemingway took the opportunity to hunt partridge and wild boar to break in his boots before rejoining Pauline. Charles Thompson (Karl in Green Hills of Africa), their friend and neighbor from Key West, flew to Paris to join them in November. Shortly before setting out for Africa on November 22, Ernest and Pauline dined with James and Nora Joyce in Paris. Joyce envied them for their impending African adventure and wondered to Hemingway if his own writing was not too suburban. Even Nora exclaimed that perhaps her husband could do with “a spot of that lion hunting.”7

In planning for the penultimate leg of the journey aboard the SS General Metzinger from the port of Marseille, France, to Mombasa, Kenya, Hemingway made a list of their twenty-one pieces of luggage: seven suitcases (three for Charles and four for Ernest and Pauline), five gun cases, one tackle box, one rod case, one gun-cleaning-rod case, one camera case, one trunk, one hatbox, one duffel bag, one shell box, and one zipper bag.8 Charles and Ernest each brought .30-06 Springfield rifles (see Figure 6) modified by Griffin and Howe, and Pauline brought her Mannlicher-Schönauer 6.5mm rifle (see Figure 5). Ernest had decided that if they should need a double-barreled .470 rifle for large, dangerous game, they could rent one from the safari outfit. For bird shooting he brought his Winchester 12 gauge shotgun and Pauline’s Darme 28 gauge double-barreled shotgun.9

While cruising the Red Sea aboard the Metzinger, Hemingway wrote to his five-year-old son, Patrick, that the weather had been cold and rainy on the Mediterranean Sea and then hot in Egypt, and that they saw camels in the desert while passing through the Suez Canal. He compared the landscape, dotted with palm trees and Australian pines, to that of Key West.10 On December 8, 1933, Ernest, Pauline, and Charles Thompson arrived in Mombasa, where they spent the night at the Palace Hotel.11 The next morning they boarded a Kenya-Uganda Railways train for a 330-mile overnight journey to Nairobi. At the New Stanley Hotel in Nairobi, Hemingway finalized the safari arrangements with Tanganyika Guides and secured the services of Philip Percival, who had served as Teddy Roosevelt’s professional hunter and hosted many other prominent and wealthy American clients such as George Eastman and Alfred Vanderbilt (grandson of Cornelius).12 As Percival was not available until December 20, Tanganyika Guides provided some local hunting excursions for antelope and birds on the Kapiti Plain, where Ernest shot a kongoni, a subspecies of hartebeest (see his safari notes of December 15 in Appendix II). Finally, on December 20, nearly a month after they had left Paris, the Hemingways, Charles Thompson, and Philip Percival set out from Percival’s farm for the Tanganyika border.

The Great Rift Valley of East Africa, formed at the end of the Cretaceous period after the demise of the dinosaurs, is a complex, unique environment that provides a diverse landscape for plants and animals.13 As Hemingway notes in his second Tanganyika Letter (see Appendix III), the Serengeti in the 1930s was the premier hunting ground for lions. In the first two weeks they saw eighty-three lions (see Figures 24), which was not unusual, and was an indication that at the top of the food chain the ecosystem was working smoothly. As there was an abundance of game, their quota of trophies (see Appendix II and Figure 14 for Hemingway’s final list of the haul) did not unfavorably impact the sustainability of wildlife. However, this special environment was already threatened by human encroachment, as Hemingway alludes in Green Hills of Africa when Philip Percival suggests that Ernest could always sell a rhinoceros horn if he wanted to do so. It is, indeed, tragic that over the past decades rhinoceroses have been driven out of Tanzania—and, for that matter, can hardly be found in the wild anywhere in Africa. They have been annihilated through systematic poaching with automatic weapons. It is feared that the elephant is on a similar trajectory.14 Many of the places that my grandfather hunted are now national parks and world heritage sites where visitors may only observe—not hunt—wildlife.

The supplementary material included in this new edition of Green Hills of Africa begins with the safari journal (see Figure 12) kept by my grandmother, Pauline Pfeiffer Hemingway, and published here in its entirety for the first time. My uncle Patrick remembers that my grandfather asked my grandmother to keep the journal, which he used as a reference when he wrote Green Hills of Africa. Ernest Hemingway had an exceptionally fine memory, and, as Philip Percival later remarked, he did not generally take notes during the safari.15 Some of the very few notes that he did make were jotted down in the endpapers of a bird book that he had bought in Nairobi (see Figure 13). A transcription of these notes is included in Appendix II of this edition. In addition to the counts of game sightings and animals shot, there is a remarkable description of lions on a wildebeest kill that reads like a National Geographic documentary on African wildlife. It includes my grandfather’s acutely observed description of the tender interaction between lioness and lion.

Pauline’s journal records the day-to-day activities of the safari, especially the game pursued and killed. Pauline studied writing at the University of Missouri and received her undergraduate degree in journalism. Before marrying, she was a professional freelance writer and wrote for Vogue magazine in Paris and Vanity Fair. Her viewpoint is quite different from Ernest’s, and her journal adds a fresh perspective and a wealth of additional information recorded on the day each event occurred. How enchanting is her description of sitting on the edge of the Ngorongoro Crater on Christmas Eve and looking out for the first time at the thousands of animals grazing below in a rainy mist. Elsewhere she whimsically likens Mount Kilimanjaro to the Cheshire Cat in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland when she describes the way its looming mass appears and disappears on the horizon.

Pauline originally planned to be on safari for only one month (see Appendix II, Ernest Hemingway’s introductory letter) and to spend the remaining time abroad with friends while Ernest continued to hunt for another month with Charles.16 Her primary interest in the safari was sharing the experience with her husband, not securing animal trophies (see Figure 14). Having hunted with Ernest in Montana and Wyoming, she was well aware of the skills and stamina that such an activity required. In her journal, she writes honestly of her difficulties with shooting big game, but maintains a sense of humor about it. She describes her “characteristic good shot, just a l-i-t-t-l-e high, or low or right or left.” Pauline also vividly recounts shooting (and missing) her first lion, featured in Green Hills as P.O.M.’s lion, and later describes with evident satisfaction the time she successfully shot another, which is not mentioned in Hemingway’s novel.

Pauline’s journal provides details of the safari that Hemingway chose to leave out of Green Hills of Africa and confirms others, such as his fear of snakes. She observes how Ernest missed his mark many times at the beginning of the safari, and she records Philip Percival’s comment that everyone misses when they first come out on safari. Early on, she describes an embarrassing moment when Ernest leaves his loaded rifle uncocked on the hood of the car while out hunting. It fell off the hood and landed stock first, discharging and nearly killing him, leaving them both shaken. This real-life scenario sparked the idea for the accidental shooting in Hemingway’s short story “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber.” Pauline also records in detail the progress of Ernest’s dysentery, which had a significant impact on the safari but is only alluded to in the book.17 She writes that his condition got so bad that he had to be flown to Arusha and that it worsened as they waited for the pilot, Fatty Pearson, who finally arrived and flew Hemingway to safety.18 The episode, as recounted by Pauline, was the real-life inspiration for a similar scene in “The Snows of Kilimanjaro.” No doubt Hemingway did not want to dwell on the hazards and uncomfortable aspects of dysentery in his book, fearing it would not sustain the reader’s interest. Instead, he wrote briefly and comically about the debilitating effects of the disease in his first Tanganyika Letter for the then newly established Esquire magazine, which is included in Appendix III of this edition.

Like the observant, nimble Vogue writer she was, Pauline notes in her journal that her nail polish fades within a few hours from the extreme heat and the bright African sunlight. She candidly admits that she does not enjoy the long, dusty rides in the motor vehicles and, after several weeks in the bush as the only female in the group, writes of her dark mood. Growing up very close to her sister, Jinny, she most likely was missing female companionship and was understandably tired of prolonged travel in a remote land. My grandmother was a private person, and is the least understood of Hemingway’s wives. Even in her journal, she chooses not to share deeply personal reflections. Gender stereotyping and a lack of knowledge about her nature has led some scholars to characterize Pauline’s time on the safari as unhappy and ill-fitted to her chic Parisian lifestyle. They see her as merely playing the role of dutiful wife, misinterpreting Hemingway’s comical moniker P.O.M.—“Poor Old Mama”—in Green Hills of Africa, which was intended as the counterpart to “Poor Old Papa.”19 On the contrary, my grandmother wrote to her mother-in-law in January 1934 describing how she and Ernest had never had a more perfect time together.20 She notes that he looks marvelous after having lost so much weight from the dysentery, and that his physique is as hard as nails from all of the hunting.21 While on the mend in his bed at the New Stanley Hotel in Nairobi, Ernest wrote to his editor, Maxwell Perkins, that Pauline was thrilled with the country.22 My uncle Patrick and my father, Gregory, shared the impression of the safari as a happy period in my grandparents’ married life. They grew up listening to stories of that remarkable adventure and lived with the multitude of African hunting trophies displayed in their home in Key West and afterward at the Finca Vigía in Cuba.23 Both sons would later go to East Africa to see it for themselves and hunt. Patrick, who also learned how to hunt African big game from Philip Percival, was a successful professional hunter in Tanganyika for many years.24

A romantic vision of Green Hills of Africa as the pursuit of happiness was passed down to my generation. My father, wanting to share the beauty of East Africa with us, took our family on safari when I was only seven years old, and my parents hunted with my uncle Patrick in Tanzania. As a young man I went on photographic safaris in South Africa, Botswana, and Zimbabwe, and later visited Madagascar, parts of North Africa, and, again, East Africa with my wife. The most vivid and life-changing experience for me was the summer I spent as an apprentice photographic safari guide with Norman Carr in the South Luangwa Valley in Zambia. There, on the southern end of the Great Rift, I lived in the bush for three months and got to know the rhythms of the African wild. Encountering a leopard sitting high in a fig tree with its big yellow eyes shaded from the sun and its tail twitching on alert, walking through Mopane woodlands and sighting a flock of Lilian’s lovebirds chattering in a bush that shimmered electric green from their constant movement, and looking an elephant in the eye on a moonlit night are just three of a thousand indelible experiences. Coming to know Africa’s amazing natural beauty and delicate, complex web of life have stayed with me as some of the most memorable times of my life. In much the same way, my grandfather describes feeling at one with the land in the last part of his safari in Green Hills of Africa when he is hunting alone with his native guide.

When Ernest Hemingway returned to America in April 1934, he stopped first in New York. He told his friend Guy Hickock, in an interview for the Brooklyn Daily Eagle (see Figure 15), that he was not going to write a book about Africa for a long time until he could learn more.25 He proved himself wrong, however, by beginning to write about the safari as soon as he returned to Key West (see Figure 16). At first he thought it would be a short story, but by the end of April he had written fifty pages, thirty of which he discarded.26 At that point he became determined to write an absolutely true book covering a month’s worth of action to see if it could compete with a work of fiction. He realized that he would need all of the skills at his command in order to write it well, and—as he wrote on the back of a manuscript page—if he failed, then he may “simply write good prose and that is worth doing” (see Appendix IV). In May 1934 he wrote to his friend Waldo Peirce that he had completed sixty pages of such a book, and only one month later he had 137 pages.27 Hemingway worked steadily in Key West, writing in the mornings at the family home on Whitehead Street. Afternoons were spent fishing on his new boat, the Pilar. In July 1934 he set off for Havana, where he worked on the book at the Hotel Ambos Mundos in the mornings and fished in the afternoons. By August 14 he had 23,000 words.28 He continued to work through September, and by October 3 he had some 50,000 words. The first draft, consisting of 491 pages, was finished in Key West on November 16, 1934.

Pauline’s day-to-day account in her journal reveals how much Hemingway reshaped the events of the safari into a narrative that does not follow a strictly chronological order. One of the most interesting characters in Green Hills of Africa is the Austrian gentleman whose broken-down truck spoils Hemingway’s kudu hunt in the opening scene. It was a remarkable coincidence—truth is stranger than fiction—that he had read Hemingway’s poetry (still my grandfather’s least-known writing) in Der Querschnitt, a relatively obscure German avant-garde art magazine. Their literary discussions make for fascinating reading, though some reviewers have questioned the veracity of this encounter and wondered whether the man’s conversations with Hemingway were a product of the author’s imagination. Pauline’s journal, however, confirms his existence—the Austrian gentleman, called Kandisky in the novel, is identified as Hans Koritschoner. In the book, Kandisky tells the safari party that he is fascinated with the natives, particularly with their language and music. He sings for them an African song and performs a traditional tribal dance. In fact, Koritschoner went on to become an important anthropologist of the old school in Tanganyika, publishing many articles and books on local songs, lore, magic, medicine, and tribal customs.29 His writings show that he was a man of great sensitivity and intelligence. He also had a considerable collection of tribal art.30 Kandisky’s remarks about the value of having a daughter resonated with both Ernest and Pauline, who hoped to have one of their own. Koritschoner later reflected on his chance meeting with the Hemingways and stated that the events recorded in Green Hills of Africa—notably the breaking down of his lorry and his knowledge of Hemingway the poet from Der Querschnitt—were true, but that the conversation did not take place exactly as quoted. They had had many amusing and interesting conversations over the course of the three days the Hemingways hosted him as their guest.31

In total, four working drafts of Green Hills of Africa are preserved. The first complete handwritten draft manuscript establishes the essential framework followed by the final version, though Hemingway made many edits to it before he had it typed by his secretary, Jane Armstrong.32 The original text is one long narrative without chapter or section breaks, which came later. Mainly, Hemingway cut sections from the first draft, especially personal references and references to individuals that anchored the safari in his own experience. In this way, he made the book a timeless experience for the reader, one that the reader could relate to. For example, his conversation with Kandisky in the first draft includes a long list of things that Hemingway likes, which he first shortened and then cut entirely. The cut sections are included in Appendix IV of this edition. Also included in Appendix IV is an alternate draft of the opening of chapter eleven, which contains an amusing defense of social drinking set beneath a brilliantly starry sky in the bush (see Figure 17).

Hemingway continued to make edits to each following draft right up to the time the manuscript was typeset. In many places he revised passages in order to improve them, or added material that does not appear in the first draft. A characteristic example occurs at the end of the novel, when the characters are having lunch by the Dead Sea and Hemingway observes grebes on the water (see Figure 18). He revised the scene in the next draft, adding: “There were many grebes, making spreading wakes in the water as they swam and I was counting them and wondering why they never were mentioned in the Bible. I decided those people were not naturalists.”

The handwritten first-draft manuscript was untitled, but between pages ninety-nine and one hundred, during the rhino hunt in hill country, Hemingway wrote two potential titles for the book: “The Highlands of Africa” and “Hunters Are Brothers.” “The Highlands of Africa” became Hemingway’s working title, which his editor, Maxwell Perkins, tried to convince him to modify to “In the Highlands of Africa” so that readers would not think it simply a travel book.33 Unlike for many of Hemingway’s other books, no lengthy list of alternate titles exists, and it is not clear that he ever wrote one. A third title, written by hand on the first page of the setting copy and then crossed out, is “Africa Is Cold” (see Figure 19). Above this, also handwritten, is nearly the final title that Hemingway settled on: “The Green Hills of Africa.” In the last preserved carbon typescript annotated by Hemingway, the title page reads “Green Hills of Africa.” His emphasis on the country itself in the title is notable. Clearly not swayed by Perkins’s advice, Hemingway chose to call attention to the land, which he knew was good country where he could be happy. It is only with mankind’s care and stewardship of the land that wildlife will survive; otherwise, as Hemingway somberly observes at the end of the book, all countries will eventually end up looking like the desolate, barren stretches of windswept Mongolia.

Hemingway sent the revised typescript to Perkins in February 1935. It was decided that they would publish it first in seven parts in Scribner’s Magazine, along with illustrations by the staff illustrator, Edward Shenton.34 Shenton’s art was so successful that Hemingway and Perkins decided to use a selection of them for the book itself. Although my grandfather generally did not care for illustrated editions of his writings, he was pleased with Shenton’s work.35 This new Hemingway Library Edition of Green Hills of Africa also includes a number of black-and-white photographs taken on the safari (see Figures 211), especially those of Ernest and Pauline with their trophies.

Chapter breaks and the division into parts came in the setting draft. At that time, Hemingway had divided the book into three sections: “Pursuit and Conversation,” “Pursuit Remembered,” and “Pursuit as Happiness.” In the later carbon typescript, he changed the divisions into four parts, adding, by hand, “Pursuit and Failure” before “Pursuit as Happiness” (see Figure 20). The introductory note about how the book is a true account meant to rival a work of the imagination first appears in this last annotated carbon typescript.

In his acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize in Literature on December 10, 1954, Ernest Hemingway said:

For a true writer each book should be a new beginning where he tries again for something that is beyond attainment. He should always try for something that has never been done or that others have tried and failed. Then sometimes, with great luck, he will succeed.

With Green Hills of Africa, Hemingway was attempting something new by striving to create, using the techniques of fiction writing, a work of nonfiction that would rival a work of fiction. When he finished the manuscript in November 1934, he wrote to Maxwell Perkins that he thought it was his best work yet.36 It was new and different, but it received only a lukewarm reception from the critics.37 Sales were moderate even as it became a cherished work among those interested in hunting and photographic safaris in East Africa.38 While more scholarly attention has been paid to it in recent years, scholars and critics have tended to overlook Green Hills of Africa as a minor work in Hemingway’s oeuvre.39 Most rank his later African short stories—“The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber” and “The Snows of Kilimanjaro”—as better than Green Hills of Africa. In many ways they are better stories, crafted from the brilliant and well-informed imagination of an exceptional writer. But this is not the point. What is extraordinary about Green Hills of Africa is that it was not invented; rather, it is an eloquent and evocative firsthand account of the writer’s actual experiences hunting in East Africa. As this edition shows, a great deal of craft went into its creation. It is a book of lasting value about a very special time and place on earth.

Seán Hemingway
Earl Theisen, 1953

Ernest Hemingway did more to influence the style of English prose than any other writer of his time. Publication of The Sun Also Rises and A Farewell to Arms immediately established him as one of the greatest literary lights of the 20th century. His classic novella The Old Man and the Sea won the Pulitzer Prize in 1953. Hemingway was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1954. He died in 1961.

"[An] account of a hunting safari on the Serengeti Plains, a chronicle of adventure and a literary challenge Hemingway set up for himself. Anticipating by decades Truman Capote's 'nonfiction novel,' the classic 'In Cold Blood,' Hemingway wanted to prove that 'an absolutely true book' can 'compete with a work of the imagination.'"

– Hillel Italie, Associated Press

“[Hemingway’s wife, Pauline’s] engaging, laconic observations offer yet another lens through which to witness Hemingway at large in the world, while also helping the reader gauge how much, or how little, Hemingway reshaped the reality of his experiences in order to express, to his own satisfaction, his fondness for the hunt, his affinity for the natural world, and his abiding love of ‘the dark continent’ itself....With its journal entries, an insightful foreword, and a moving introduction by Hemingway’s sons, and some charming ‘letters from Africa’ that Hemingway published in Esquirethe reissue of this book is an opportunity, a reminder, to dive in again to a title we probably haven’t thought about for years….Encountering the book again after all these years, it’s hard not to marvel, page after page, at Hemingway’s singular gift for pure, descriptive prose.”

– The Daily Beast

“The true joy lies in reading in Hemingway’s prose again: precise, lyrical, unwinding in long sentences, suggesting more than it reveals, sumptuous in its descriptions of the valleys, ravines, salt-licks, hills and forests of his beloved Africa. What I really want to do is quote great swaths of his style at its most beautiful, hypnotic and expert.”

– Sam Coale, Providence Journal

More books from this author: Ernest Hemingway