I recently traveled to Kenya and Tanzania and took OUT OF AFRICA with me in the hopes that reading it would enhance my experiences there, particularly as I would be visiting the Karen Blixen Museum (her former home and setting for events chronicled in the book) in Karen, Kenya (yes, the town is named after her). I liken OUT OF AFRICA to an impressionist painting, an idealized and wistful recounting by Blixen of her life in colonial East Africa 1914-1931. To me, the book is very much like a time capsule, as it is told through the lens of a member of the privileged class and reflects many of the era’s attitudes/beliefs regarding race, environment, animal rights, and societal roles - the majority of which I’m happy to observe today’s world has evolved beyond. Like her contemporary, Beryl Markham and her memoir WEST WITH THE NIGHT, there is no real story thread in OUT OF AFRICA, but rather a series of disjointed, non-chronological episodes from Ms. Blixen’s life. Also like Markham, Blixen clearly demonstrates her love for the land, wildlife, and native peoples of Africa in her writing, but shares little about her own private thoughts and feelings. All this may easily be explained as the literary style of the times, but often after finishing a particularly descriptive passage, I found myself struggling to remember what I just read. Unfortunately OUT OF AFRICA didn’t quite live up to my expectations and was probably not the best choice to bring on a trip. I much preferred the "present-day real Africa” to the one depicted and romanticized within these pages.
I read most of this while sick, and loved having Dinesen's Africa to escape to. When I finished it, I went right back and reread my favorite parts. Two readings felt necessary. The writing is very dense and brilliant. I came away from the second reading with a better understanding of this fascinating woman, who ran a coffee plantation on her own with no prior experience. I also got a feel for the life of the times, and her feelings and beliefs about Kenya from just before WW I to about 1930. I didn't agree with all her opinions, but she helped me understand the colonial mind better. She's a wonderful writer. Highly recommended.
From our 2015 #80DayRead Adult Summer Reading Club traveler Taewon: I loved her description of Africa.
Extraordinary account of colonial Africa and the struggles of a remarkable (not always admirable) nascent writer, who, defeated by financial circumstances and her family's decision to stop supporting her African farm life, tears herself away from the farm, the people and the continent she loved to begin life again in her homeland. Once I'd read Out of Africa I had to read more about Isak Dinesen. Her telling of life in colonial Kenya can shock, but there is so much more to this account. And, it is important to have this account of life as it was, rather than life as we might wish it had been or as it is now.
This book is certainly a classic, which needs to be read slowly to be appreciated. Nevertheless, it is a book of its time in terms of its colonial assumptions and perspective on Africans.
"Out of Africa" is really two stories. One is the excruciatingly personal story of Isak Dinesen. The other is the story of Africa as it begins to think about itself-as itself.
This book rates 5 stars (from me) for the following reasons.
1. I first read this book over 30 years ago and remembered it.
2. As others have noted, it has one of the most evocative opening lines in literature. For me, once read, not forgotten.
3 Books with a lot of physical description (landscapes, animals, sunsets, etc.) are not particular favorites of mine but this book overcomes that prejudice.
4. The evolution of the character. Like many brides of her era, she gets married with certain expectations that are almost immediately dashed and in a big way. And like many others she accepts her husband's decisions. It is what she does after that, and who she becomes, that sets her apart from all the others.
5. It is really beautiful and really sad.
I had a farm in Africa . . . . Forget the movie. The book is a million times better. The story of a Danish writer who did in fact have a farm in Africa and loved Africa deeply.
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