on August 8, 2002
Isak Dinesen (Karen Blixen) has been elevated to star status by the feminists for her independent stance and courage, but don't read this book because of that. Don't look for the tragic story of her misguided marriage and the heartbreak and barrenness it brought her, or for descriptions of her love affair with adventurer Denys Finch-Hatton. None of that appears here.
Instead, "Out of Africa" is a storytelling book woven in the imaginative Danish style. Dinesen's finely tuned sensitivity is revealed here, as well as her (again typically Danish) well-developed gift for friendship with many kinds of people. In her case this gift extends to African animals as well, like Lulu, the beautiful gazelle who graced her plantation for years.
Her descriptions of the Kenya of her day are exquisitely written, factual and magical at the same time. Africa is the star of the book, not Dinesen herself, not the tribespeople or the colonials, not her struggles with raising coffee in land "a little too high", nor her political dealings with the government officials. Her writing evokes the Africa she knew well and loved deeply.
on December 31, 2001
After reading this book, Hemingway said in an interview that Dinesen is more deserving of the Nobel prize. It should be remembered that this remark did not come from a modest man, but from someone who was fond of talking about beating Tolstoy in the ring, having defeated Stendhal. Nor, for that matter, was Hemingway known for respecting women.
But being a learned and disciplined writer,Hemingway was after all able to appreciate good stuff when he saw it. Literary excellence is rare indeed, and here, in this book, you have it in the unadulterated form. Dinesen undoubtedly had something to say, but more importantly the means--or should I say the genius--to say it. Out of Africa would do very well as a textbook of English prose. Now in some of the other reviews I found words like "colonial," "racist," "conservationist," and so on. Of course, the reader should not be distracted by these words, but read the book first and form her independent opinion. Meanwhile, my opinion, clearly personal and subjective and limited by my time and place and social class and sex (oops,i mean gender) and whatever you'd like, is that these reviewers don't know what they are talking about. So buy this book and forget about them. Or if you don't want to take the risk, borrow it from the library first. Then you'll want to buy it.
on May 8, 2003
Isak Dinesen's novel Out of Africa is a recollection of her time spent in Africa while struggling to cope with the immensely different cultures and struggling to run a coffee farm at too high of an altitude. This book is a collection of her stories most of them about her adventures shared with lover Denys Finch-Hatton. Many of the stories are very dangerous, like when they go lion hunting. These stories show the wild side that Dinesen posses. These stories are in no chronological order and at times make the book hard to follow. The best part of the book is the astounding imagery used. The imagery describes the breathtaking views from the on top the Ngong hills and allows you to feel the lack of oxygen, smell the coffee plants and feel the strong African sun beating down upon your skin. The down side to this book is, even after experiencing many adventurers with Dinesen you will probably feel that you do not know much about her personality. This is due to lack of character development since she is telling the story and never describes herself. You do however learn about the struggle she faces being a European woman living in a minority, in a place with very different and diverse cultures. She has to adapt to these cultures and even though she finds her European traditions very different from those of the Africans, she realizes that there is some common ground between the two. Even though this book can be at times hard to follow I highly recommend reading it. The magnificent imagery makes up for the down sides to the book and causes you to realize why Dinesen fell in love with Africa. You will probably find yourself falling in live with Africa and its people just as Dinesen did. A truly remarkable book.
Baroness Karen Blixen's famous memoir of her years on the coffee plantation high above Nairobi is significant for her description of what today's Kenya was like in the early part of the 20th century, for the book's influence for attracting and shaping the reactions of many who followed her to Kenya like Dr. Jane Goodall, and her engaging personality for taking on the challenges, trials, and problems of others while grasping their perspective on her. Although a progressive thinker for her day, sex, and class, nevertheless Ms. Blixen's views on the native Africans will not sit well with most modern readers (from referring to men who worked for her as "boys" to her inclination toward seeing native Africans as perpetually apart from the machine-inventing and using Europeans). Conservationists will be appalled by the casual shooting of lions who might have been chasing domesticated cattle.
The book is also notable for its lack of organization, often scanty details, and rapidly shifting focus. There are several places about 70 percent of the way through the book where you will wonder why she included the material at all, and even more why there in that particular spot.
The book's ultimate appeal is to the concept of being a young woman on her own in a beautiful part of African with the freedom and resources to explore herself and Africa.
I should like to have known her. A woman with such warmth and empathy for others must surely have made a wonderful friend. There's an element of Don Quixote in her as she pursues her impossible dream of a coffee plantation in the wrong place that's also appealing.
After you finish reading the book, I suggest that you think about where you could go today and have such a close connection to your new neighbors. Would you like to do that? What would you be willing to give up for this emotional resonance?
See yourself as others probably see you! Let humility be your guide.
on August 12, 2001
Writing under the pen name of Isak Dinessen, "Out of Africa", published in 1937, was written by Karen Blixen who lived in Kenya from 1914 to 1931. She was from Denmark and had come to Kenya to marry her Swedish cousin, but even though the marriage didn't work out, she stayed on their 4,000 acre coffee farm. In loving detail she describes her way of life, including some extensive descriptions of incidents involving her native servants. Through it all her love for the people and for Africa shines though. The reader lives her adventures with her and shares her regrets when the farm fails and she has return to Europe. "Shadows on the Grass", published in 1960 is a much shorter work and describes her relationships with some of her African friends in the years after she had to leave. Together these two books form the story of her world and stand today as both a literary and historical document to the times.
Ms. Dinessen used her words well. I particularly loved her characterizations of the native people who touched her life. . She had no medical training with the exception of a first-aid course and yet she doctored to the many people who worked for her. She was also a fine huntswoman, good with a gun. There were seasons of drought on the farm as well as attacks by grasshoppers and she wrote about all of this. Often her European friends stayed at her home, bringing food delicacies and wine. One of the men died horribly in a plane crash and her description of his funeral and his burial was most moving.
Perhaps some of her views on the differences between Europeans and the natives as well as the way she casually killed animals might not be considered politically correct today. And it was never clear to me if the man who died was her lover or not. She also makes not one reference to her failed marriage; I learned about that in the preface written by others. The central theme of this memoir is one of love, of a deep love for a people and a place and a way of life. I understand that the farm she lived on has become a shopping mall today. But we are all indeed fortunate to have her beautiful writings that bring us back to a time and place that is no more. Her words live on. And I thank her for them. Highly recommended.
on August 1, 2001
Out of Africa is an literary accomplishment that will remain in history as portraying Africa as it really was in that era. Karen Blixen was so in touch with the native tribes of Kenya. Her deep respect for their customs and lives is obvious in this book, which wasn't common then among the new European settlers. The way that her fascinating stories unfold is remarkable, making long hours of the night spent trying to put the book down without success.
I saw Out of Africa as a child, and read the book in college, which inspired me to go to Kenya when I graduated. I visited the land that Karen Blixen donated upon her departure from Kenya, which was turned into a town named "Karen", and her home and everything in it have been preserved, down to the lantern she would leave on for Finch-Hatton. Still today the town's people speak of Karen Blixen in great admiration, perhaps giving back what she unconditionally gave to them.
I would recommend this book to anyone who knows how to read!
on November 10, 2000
A quintessential, lyrical love poem to East Africa. Karen Blixen's years of joy, discovery and struggle unfold beautifully in "Out of Africa"...which she wrote years later (under the pseudonym Isak Denesen) after returning to her native Denmark. What is absent from the book which one finds in the Oscar-winning film are the relationship struggles with her long-time companion Dennys Finch Hatton. Here she keeps her focus on the many friends, employees and characters she met along the way in the operation of her coffee plantation during the early 1900s...and avoids writing romantically about Finch Hatton. Her love affair with Africa though is beautifully and eloquently expressed throughout "Out Of Africa." Those readers who may be interested in reading more about her and Finch Hatton might be interested in reading her "Letters From Africa."
"Out Of Africa" is essential reading for those contemplating a journey to Kenya or Tanzania. It reads like a very colorful and sometimes haunting work of fiction, and is all the more fascinating because this remarkable woman and writer actually experienced it all.
on October 21, 2000
I had a farm in Africa, at the foot of the Ngong Hills. The equator runs across these highlands, a hundred miles to the North, and the farm lay at an altitude of over six thousand feet. In the day-time you felt that you had got high up, near to the sun, but the early mornings and evenings were limpid and restful, and the nights were cold. -Isak Dinesen, Out of Africa
Why is it do you suppose, that these should be among the most moving and recognizable opening lines in all of literature? I used to think that they lingered in memory just because of the creepy way that Meryl Streep recites them in the movie. But even contemporaneous reviews often mentioned their haunting quality. I think that ultimately it must be because the book is so specifically about a unique time and place and that this introduction serves to place us there so completely. That after all is what makes the book special, the way that it captures, in minute detail, the brief moment of Colonial splendor in Kenya and turns it into something out of a fairy tale.
Of course, we now know that Isak Dinesen's version of this colony is in fact more mythical than factual--that she was actually Karen Blixen, that in reality the husband who is virtually nonexistent in these pages gave her venereal disease, that Hatton-Finch was not just a buddy but a lover and that the natives, for all her seeming love and respect for them, probably would not appreciate the way she continually compares them to animals. And it is because we know all these things that a book which when it was written seemed merely elegiac now seems truly deluded. But despite all that we've learned in the intervening years, it remains, on it's own terms, a beautiful and heartrending book. I actually prefer Beryl Markham's similar but superior African memoir West With the Night (1941) (read Orrin's review, Grade: A+), but this one's well worth reading too.
on March 15, 1999
Out of my suitcase and into my hands, out of my hands and into my suitcase, out of my suitcase and into my hands--packing and unpacking the book I never see, its pages dark with with neglect, as, suitcase in hand--right hand, left hand, left hand, right hand--I travel to other places--this place, that place, that place, this place--reading other books--right page, left page, left page, right page--along trails of neglect marked out for longing native to my sense of proper tourist-etiquette. Then one day--long, long from now, far, far from here--responding to the rasp of a hasp, I look down and see my beard helplessly locked between the jaws of my suitcase. The beard is long and growing longer, deep and deeper into the suitcase's unknown (and therefore, perhaps, vast) interior. I unlock the suitcase--spreading its jaws apart (top jaw, bottom jaw, bottom jaw, top jaw)--reach in, rescue my bead and salvage the book, which latter, like the former, is covered with --slime? ooze? mud? No, shaving cream! Clutching the book with one hand (my right), removing my beard with the other (my left), I kick the suitcase (it moans--a sigh of regret? of longing?) and begin to read. The book's first words cut like a razor through hair proud to be cut: "I had a farm, in Africa, at the foot of the Ngong Hills." I stop traveling, I return home--long, long from now, far, far from here.
on December 19, 1996
Baroness Karen Blixen --a.k.a. Isaac Dinesen-- had a farm in Africa, and on that farm the wide-eyed Danish émigrée lived her best years, the years of vivid memory, out of which she was to live and breathe and write for the rest of her life. In Africa she married, ran a coffee plantation, met "the dark races," got syphilis, and fell in love. These events shaped the fiction she was to write later, when she returned home to Denmark after the coffee farm foundered, a casualty of faulty administration and just plain bad luck.
An exile in her own country, the reluctant repatriate poured her heart into "Out of Africa." The book is unsurpassed for an atmosphere of heart-wrenching bereavement, yet serene resignation. Here is Eve after the Fall --the taste of apple lingering in her mouth-- groping to restore with words her Paradise lost. Here the storyteller weaves a tapestry of lean, vast landscapes simmering under the equatorial sun; of races worlds apart living in precarious peace; of friends --black and white--; of love; of heartbreak, and of loss.
"Out of Africa" is Isaac Dinesen's superb act of creation by recollection, a Paradise Restored you will often want to come back to.