- Paperback: 336 pages
- Publisher: Penguin Classics (September 27, 2001)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 9780141183336
- ISBN-13: 978-0141183336
- ASIN: 0141183330
- Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.6 x 7.8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 240 g
- Average Customer Review: Be the first to review this item
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2.254 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Out of Africa Paperback – 27 September 2001
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Compelling...a story of passion...and a movingly poetic tribute to a lost land -- The Times
About the Author
ISAK DINESEN was the pen-name of Karen Blixen, who was born in Rungsted, Denmark in 1885. After studying art at Copenhagen, Paris and Rome, she married her cousin, Baron Bror Blixen-Finecke, in 1914. Together they went to Kenya to manage a coffee plantation. After their divorce in 1921, she continued to run the plantation until a collapse in the coffee market forced her back to Denmark in 1931. Although she had written occasional contributions to Danish periodicals since 1905 (under the nom de plume of Osceola), her real debut took place in 1934 with the publication of Seven Gothic Tales, written in English under her pen-name. Out of Africa (1937) is an autobiographical account of the years she spent in Kenya. Most of her subsequent books were published in English and Danish simultaneously, including Winter's Tales (1942) and The Angelic Avengers (1946), under the name of Pierre Andrezol. Among her other collections of stories are Last Tales (1957), Anecdotes of Destiny (1958), Shadows on the Grass (1960) and Ehrengard (1963). All of these books are published by Penguin. Baroness Blixen died in Rungsted in 1962.
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In 1914, shortly before the outbreak of World War I, the Danish Baroness Karen Blixen arrived in Kenya, East Africa, with Baron Bror Blixen, her Swedish husband, to run a coffee farm. She was instantly drawn to the land, and the Continent; spent her happiest years there until the plantation, which was located at too high an altitude for coffee growing, failed. Blixen was forced to return to Denmark in 1931; it was there that she wrote this classic account of her experiences under her Dinesen pen name. A poignant farewell to her beloved farm, OUT OF AFRICA describes her strong friendships with the people of her area, her affection for the landscape and animals, her great love for the adventurer Denys Finch-Hatton.
In this book, the author of SEVEN GOTHIC TALES and the short story BABETTE’S FEAST, which was also made into an Oscar-winning film, gives a true account of life on her plantation in Kenya. She tells, with forthright simplicity of the ways of the country and its natives: of the beauty of the Ngong Hills and coffee trees in blossom; of her guests, from the Prince of Wales to Knudsen, the old charcoal burner, who visited her; of local native festivals. Of big game that were her near neighbors--lions, rhinos, elephants, zebras, buffaloes--and Lulu, the little gazelle who came to live with her, who was charmingly ladylike and beautiful.
There is no question but that Dinesen’s first chapter, in which she introduces herself to Africa and Africa to the world, is extremely powerful, as is her last, in which she describes her burial of her lover Finch-Hatton, and her forced departure from the land she loved. In between, however, things can get a bit poky. There is also no question but that this book, written so long ago, reflects realities of the time which some of us hope are no longer so. I have recently visited the Blixen house, and it is full of animal skins, including items which I particularly hate, those rugs with the animals’ heads still on. The writer mentions killing an animal for its pretty coat: I, and many others, I hope, believe that an animal needs her pretty coat more than any person does. The author also describes a paternalistic, maternalistic outlook on the natives; yet a native servant is beaten to death for the sin of having ridden, rather than walked, a horse home. This kind of behavior undoubtedly helped cause the bloodthirsty largely Kikuyu-dominated 1952-1960 Mau Mau insurrection in Kenya, which was aimed at white settlers and farmers, ended only with the designation of Kenya as a member of the British Commonwealth, not as a colony. But, of course, the past is past, and cannot be changed.
Ah, and the writer also says, “On the Western wall of my house there was a stone seat and in front of it a table made out of a mill-stone. This stone had a tragic history: it was the upper millstone of the mill of the two murdered Indians. After the murder nobody dared to take over the mill, it was empty and silent for a long time, and I had the stone brought up to my house to form a table top, to remind me of Denmark. The Indian millers had told me that their mill-stone had come over the Sea from Bombay, as the stones of Africa are not hard enough for the work of grinding. On the top side a pattern was carved, and it had a few large brown spots on it, which my houseboys held to be the blood of the Indians, that would never come off. The millstone table in a way constituted the centre of the farm, for I used to sit behind it in all my dealings with the Natives. From the stone seat behind the mill-stone, I and Denys Finch- Hatton had one New Year seen the new moon and the planets of Venus and Jupiter all close together, in a group on the sky; it was such a radiant sight that you could hardly believe it to be real….”
On my recent trip to Kenya, I got to sit on the stone seat behind the millstone table: see the attached picture. A very proud moment for me. This is not a perfect book, but it’s a must read.
Blixen’s writing is realistic because it’s autobiographical, and a realist writer in Africa naturally invites comparison with her contemporary, Ernest Hemingway. She is not a professional, though, with Hemingway’s carefully pared paragraphs. Her descriptions are beautiful, as well as precise. If you’re looking at the book on Amazon, you can see what I mean from the first few pages.
Out of Africa is a heartfelt memoir, a collection of vignettes. So, not great art but still worth a read just for the author’s style and sensibility.
There’s a strong sense of loss towards the latter end of the book, as there were great losses in Isak Dinesen and Jacqueline Onassis’s lives. After decades of struggle, Dinesen lost her farm “at the foot of the Ngong Hills” in Kenya and left for Denmark, broke. She also left behind the still-fresh grave of her lover of ten years, Denys Finch-Hatton, who died in his 40s when his plane crashed. She bravely started from scratch, writing to support herself until her death. She was able to carry on, while fiercely never letting go of her memories of Finch-Hatton. She was also never able to return to Africa even for just a visit, despite several attempts, due to lack of funds and later, ill-health.
Jacqueline Kennedy, as everyone knows, lost her husband violently. President Kennedy, also in his 40s, died in her arms, and she cradled his broken body all the way to the hospital. The horrific experience led to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and an inability to look at any pictures of him her whole life. Suddenly, she had to pack up in a hurry and leave the house where she had her happiest years of her life with him and their two young children, not even having the space to grieve quietly and slowly. While not impoverished like Dinesen, she was hounded her whole life by paparazzi, as were her two children, while Dinesen’s privacy remained intact. Unlike Dinesen, she did not have to struggle financially; her husband’s family saw to that. She also enjoyed good health most of her life before cancer took her swiftly in her early 60s, while Dinesen was never free of pain and surgeries. (Dinesen, however, lived to be 72). Unlike Dinesen, she had to cope with murders twice, as the brother-in-law who was her bedrock and that of her children also fell to an assassin’s bullet.
I do not know who had greater things to surmount. And in the end, it doesn’t matter. What matters is how alike they were. Jackie was cultured and poetic, as was Dinesen. Both made beautiful homes. Both wrote beautifully. Each had tremendous self-discipline, dignity and a strong moral code. Both were highly private. Never in Out of Africa and elsewhere does Dinesen ever refer to Finch-Hatton as other than a good friend. Never would Jackie ever talk about JFK after participating in the oral history of the Kennedy years for his presidential library.
These admirable qualities can be clearly discerned in Out Of Africa. Dinesen was a source of wisdom, and succor for the Africans in her orbit. She was an environmentalist. She was a gifted painter. She was a great cook. All these are revealed in her vignettes of her life, written leisurely around seven years after she departed forever from Africa. Remarkably, it is written in English, which was not her native language. By that criteria alone, it is a work of genius for its eloquence and fluency. Her short stories, also written in English, reinforce that impression.
It’s a quiet and subtle book, and a powerful one. It’s tremendously moving. There’s a stately tone to it, and when she talks about the inevitable changes in landscape, her tone is elegiac but overall, matter of fact.
I cannot recommend this memoir highly enough.