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Deeply Engaged in Living
on October 16, 2001
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.