Then they began to climb and they were going to the East it seemed, and then it darkened and they were in a storm, the rain so thick it seemed like flying through a waterfall, and then they were out and Compie turned his head and grinned and pointed and there, ahead, all he could see, as wide as all the world, great, high, and unbelievably white in the sun, was the square top of Kilimanjaro. And then he knew that there was where he was going.” —from The Snows of Kilimanjaro
Often I sit by the kitchen window with a cup of coffee and read a story by Ernest Hemingway, to remind myself that good short-story writing still exists—at least it did until 1961. His sparse, direct style, known for what he left out as much as for what he included, holds my interest. Some consider his work manly–whatever that means–and unlike the wordy, flowery prose of William Faulkner. Either you like Faulkner or you like Hemingway, and for good reason: they didn’t like each other; each gossiped in print about the other’s writing.
Hemingway wrote about strong topics like death, or broken relationships. His stories often included alcohol, or guns. “You do know that he committed suicide?” my wife has said to me, more than once.
My wife is a Faulkner fan.
The above quote from The Snows of Kilimanjaro can be found on the last page of the story, and describes the fevered delirium of a dying man in a cot, in a tent, stranded in the wilderness of Africa. It takes a second reading of the page to discover when reality ends and when his death begins. But in his mind it’s a happy ending as the rain and the snows cool his fever.
This diversion halfway around the world is brought to you on behalf of Daughter Number One, who is presently in Africa to visit two friends in the Peace Corps. After an initial day with Rachel in Ethiopia (where the coffee is terrific, she said), she flew off to Jenny Beth in Tanzania and to rendezvous with a third friend, Natalie. She’ll return to Ethiopia and stay with Rachel for a couple of weeks before coming home. Here’s the full text of an e-mail from a week ago, and we haven’t heard a word since:
Subject line: “I’m in Tanzania with Jenny Beth and Natalie.”
Body of e-mail: “That’s all. The coffee isn’t as good here. We are at Lake Victoria and will go to Kilimanjaro soon!”
When you get back to an internet cafe, tell me if the top is really square, Marya.