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Out of Africa – Isak Dinesen

Out of Africa

From the Publisher:

Out of Africa is Isak Dinesen’s memoir of her years in Africa, from 1914 to 1931, on a four-thousand-acre coffee plantation in the hills near Nairobi. She had come to Kenya from Denmark with her husband, and when they separated she stayed on to manage the farm by herself, visited frequently by her lover, the big-game hunter Denys Finch-Hatton, for whom she would make up stories “like Scheherazade.” In Africa, “I learned how to tell tales,” she recalled many years later. “The natives have an ear still. I told stories constantly to them, all kinds.” her account of her African adventures, written after she had lost her beloved farm and returned to Denmark, is that of a master storyteller, a woman whom John Updike called “one of the most picturesque and flamboyant literary personalities of the century.”

My Thoughts:
I’m afraid this book was not as enjoyable as I thought it would be.  As a biography it is too disjointed and fragmented.  The book reads like a collection of essays, which don’t have any chronological sequence.  I’m also bothered by the language used when she was talking about the natives.  I’m very much aware of the fact that we are all products of our times.  Keeping that in mind, I still found her to be extremely prejudiced against the natives that she was surrounded by.  In one sentence she’s praising them, and in the next she’s pointing out how they’re just a step above animals.  She’s also very graphic in some of her descriptions, which I sort of liked.  She’s not shy about her opinions, and she’s not afraid about not fitting into any molds of femininity.  This is why I was so taken aback about her opinion of the natives-for a non-conformist, she really didn’t break away from the colonial view of Africans.  While she’s very descriptive about the landscape and the day to day life on the plantation, she totally skips over describing any of her personal relationships.  We don’t get more than a couple of sentences about her husband, and I didn’t realize until the end that one of the friends that she briefly describes was actually her lover.  What really comes through in this book is her love for Africa and her life in Africa.  I liked the fact that she doesn’t present a romantic version of Africa, but I expected a memoir, and this does not fit into the memoir category in my view.

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