Big Name Hunter ; Ernest Hemingway Was Passionate about East Africa and the Thrill of the Safari. CHRISTOPHER ONDAATJE (Right) Uses Hemingway's Stories to Retrace His Steps on the Trail of the Most Elusive of the Big Cats - the Leopard
Ondaatje, Christopher, The Independent (London, England)
The most dangerous, withdrawn and charismatic of all the African cats, leopards hold a strange but powerful allure. Perhaps it is their combination of supremely indolent beauty and deadliness. Perhaps it is their secretiveness. Leopards are antisocial creatures; they are seen together only during the mating season, and they hunt almost exclusively at night, making stealthy, cunning predators. It is their mystery as well as their beauty that compels. What begins as a straightforward hunt for a leopard can take on the significance of a personal, spiritual quest. They are famously reclusive and, for some, the thought of catching a glimpse of such a creature is as irresistible as the sirens' song. For those trapped in the corporate realm, a world that can stifle the sense of adventure and disillusion the spirit, the leopard can come to symbolise freedom of the soul.
Fifteen years after my first hunt for a leopard, documented in Leopard in the Afternoon, I decided to retrace Ernest Hemingway's travels in East Africa. By this time, I'd made several journeys that had changed my own life but, perhaps more importantly, journeys that had taught me to see the lives of others in a unique way - as if from the inside out: one step ahead of renegade Tamils, I'd searched for the man-eating leopard of Punanai in Sri Lanka, where I was born; I'd followed in the footsteps of Sir Richard Francis Burton in the wilderness of the Indus river valley in the Sindh; then, armed with modem technology and ancient maps, I'd traced the paths of the great Nile explorers and seen for myself that mighty river's sources.
However, as I learnt from Burton, "The devil drives..." I was restless and still wondering what had so captivated a writer who had fascinated me for years. A love for East Africa was the only thing I had in common with Hemingway but it was enough to propel me on to another journey. I had spent years seeking the Nile sources. Now, I set out to find the sources of Hemingway's passion for Africa, to re- see through his eyes a place that had fascinated him since his boyhood, a place of which he said, in Esquire in 1934, "Nothing that I have ever read has given any idea of the beauty of the country..."
The preserved leopard carcass that Hemingway describes in the prologue to his finest short story, "The Snows of Kilimanjaro", is no fiction. There are black-and-white photographs of the leopard on a pile of rocks and of a bearer holding the carcass above his head. It was found by Donald Latham during his 1926 climb to the peak of the mountain. In his description of the ascent, Latham proudly mentions that: "A remarkable discovery was the remains of a leopard, sun-dried and frozen, right at the crater rim. The beast must have wandered there and died of exposure. I built a small beacon and described my dwelling therein."
But Hemingway's leopard carries far more symbolic weight than the preserved body found at "Leopard Point". Latham suggests that the leopard was hunting and lost its way in a blizzard. Hemingway offers no such explanation. Rather, he sets his prologue up as a riddle that the reader must answer through the tale that follows. The story presents us with Harry, a writer dying in the shadow of the mountain. Waiting for the plane that is his only hope of rescue, he reflects on the stories he has never written and the mistakes he has made, perhaps symbolised by the unexplained, frozen carcass that lies unreachable above.
Although the story is brief, it is perfect. It encompasses the key themes of Hemingway's opus: how can a man remain heroic in a world in which death is a constant companion? How can a person remain true to his vision when everything conspires to cloud it? What is the relation between a writer's life and his work?
Hemingway invites the reader to provide his own explanations "for what the leopard was seeking at that …
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Publication information: Article title: Big Name Hunter ; Ernest Hemingway Was Passionate about East Africa and the Thrill of the Safari. CHRISTOPHER ONDAATJE (Right) Uses Hemingway's Stories to Retrace His Steps on the Trail of the Most Elusive of the Big Cats - the Leopard. Contributors: Ondaatje, Christopher - Author. Newspaper title: The Independent (London, England). Publication date: September 24, 2003. Page number: 2,. © 2009 The Independent - London. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.
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