For many years I never understood why the first ‘adult’ novel my parents gave me when I was six was not by Dickens or Thackeray, the sort of authors that one might expect a British expatriate child to read, but rather The Old Man and the Sea by an American, Ernest Hemingway. The book meant little to me at the time; only some years later did I come to appreciate the craft that won its author the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1954. By then I had discovered something else I didn’t originally know – that I owed that slim volume to my parents meeting the author himself in late 1953. At the time, Hemingway was staying with his son Patrick, who farmed down the road from us in the Southern Highlands of Tanganyika (present-day Tanzania). Not so long ago, I visited Patrick (now ninety and living in Montana) and we spent a memorable day talking about Papa and Africa. He disarmingly claimed to recall me playing cricket.
Hemingway’s visit to Africa in 1953–4, and his two dramatic plane crashes in Kenya (one of which gave rise to worldwide headlines mistakenly announcing his death), provide a brief coda to this absorbing account of a few years in his life when, true to form, aged around fifty and married