Review: True at First Light by Ernest Hemingway

I might be a little late for this party, seeing that True at First Light has been published for 10 years already and many thoughtful reviews have already been written. It may be an arrogance to think that I have something new to contribute, being neither a Hemingway scholar, nor a professional book reviewer. But I’ve found that people seem to experience Hemingway very differently, so whether it’s love or hate, everyone who reads Papa has something to contribute to the discussion.

I agree with most of the reviews I’ve seen that yes, this book is bad compared to his masterpieces and that it is unfair to compare it to The Old Man and the Sea or For Whom the Bell Tolls. Books written in his prime, with the advantage of time for editing and talented people who assisted in that task, are of course what make up the bulk of his legacy. Also yes, in True at First Light, there is very little plot to speak of, it rambles and proselytizes, and it occasionally makes no sense. And finally, yes, it is confusing to puzzle out what is memoir and what is fiction in this “fictionalized memoir.”

But this is all exactly what makes the book so fascinating. This feels like a rare glimpse into the belly of the whale itself. This is a peek into the writing and thinking process of one of the greatest writers of all time. We get to see a work in progress and in doing so, we get to see parts of his longed-for truth in art almost unadulterated. Continue reading