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Isak Dinesen: The Life of a Storyteller

4.0 of 5 stars 4.00  ·  rating details  ·  609 ratings  ·  43 reviews
A brilliant literary portrait, Isak Dinesen remains the only comprehensive biography of one of the greatest storytellers of our time. Her magnificent memoir, Out of Africa, established Isak Dinesen as a major twentieth-century author, who was twice nominated for the Nobel Prize.

With exceptional grace, Judith Thurman's classic work explores Dinesen's life. Until the appeara
Paperback, 512 pages
Published October 15th 1995 by Picador (first published January 1st 1982)
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Anastasia Hobbet
This is an intense biography by a writer every bit as talented as Isak Dinesen but much more sane, thank God. By any measure, Isak Dinesen was about as complicated, tempestuous, and megalomaniacal as they come. Midway through this giant tombstone of a book, I was wishing I hadn't opted to find out so much about her. I've loved her work for years without knowing much about her, and had the chance this summer--because I'm living in Scandinavia for a few years--to visit her home north of Copenhagen ...more
I appreciate literary biography, and I consider this particular book to be at the very apex of that genre. Meticulously researched, richly described, not only of the culture and times of late 19th and early 20th century Europe and Africa, but of the fascinating, difficult, frequently unlikable character of Isak Dinesen, aka Karen Blixen.

What I found interesting was that Ms Blixen's tendency to self delusion and deception was central to her psychological survival and even her talent. She elevate
When I was lucky enough to travel to Denmark, was I excited by all history? By the beautiful castles? By the wonderful food? No. I was over the moon because I could go to Isak Dinesen's (Karen Blixen's) house. While there, I broke one of my cardinal rules, don't buy a book aboard that you can get at home, unless it is used. I brought this biography there, among a couple other books.

Thurman does a very good job of portraying, not only Blixen but her family and friends as well. In particular, when
A fascinating story of the life of a Storyteller!!Judith Thurman began weaving the story when Isak started a life she cheerished & never really wanted to leave _as she says in the first line of Out of Africa..."I had a farm in Africa,at the foot of the Ngong Hills".The fact that she basically purchased her Title "Baroness"from Bror through marriage to him_when she really loved his twin brother_a relationship that was NOT going anywhere_says she's fiesty.

Dinesen had a privileged childhood,lov
Una donna caparbia, che ha precorso i tempi. In parte egoista ed egocentrica, egualmente sensibile e sola. In un'Europa d'inizio secolo, incatenata alle convenzioni. Nella seconda parte della sua vita, dopo l'Africa di grandi emozioni e sconfitte, una scrittrice ineffabile.
I read it first when it came out. Dinesen was such an interesting woman, certainly a storyteller of extraordinary power. She was a feminist, and anorectic to draw men to her. She was independent, moving to Kenya to farm (essentially on her own, her husband was no help) and yet, so eager to please her lover that she acted a part in his presence most of the time. She hated middle class brits as bourgeoisie, and really treated "her" African servants well for the time. She was arrogant beyond belief ...more
I watched the movie.

I became obsessed with this woman.

I read this biography.

I wanted to be this woman.
This is a terrific biography, but as one might expect Dinesen/Blixen was an exceedingly complex and at time difficult woman, and this biography doesn't shy away from some of the more unflattering aspects of Blixen's character. Thurman plumbs her psyche in a way that isn't overly psychoanalytic but which still makes it clear what Blixen's driving forces were.

Perhaps it is my own prejudices, but I enjoyed the first half of the book, which involved Blixen's childhood and her life in Africa, more t
Beautifully written but I lost the desire to read about Isak Dinesen. Annoyance prevailed over interest - despite "Out of Africa" being one of my favorite books.
I picked up a dog-eared copy of this book at a booksale shortly before traveling to Kenya, thinking it would be interesting to read about Karen Blixen, though my knowledge of her was confined to the film of OUT OF AFRICA. And it was interesting, though the book required diligence on my part--its rewards are of the slow-and-steady variety. I came away more fascinated by the size, ambition, charisma, caprice and sorrow of the woman than I was inspired to read her ouevre (which I suspect may not be ...more
A wonderful biography about A wonderful writer - or storyteller as Karen blixen/isak Dinesen called herself.
a detailed and intensely interesting biography of one of the most fascinating women in literature.
Zuzana Bodíková
Enjoyed it very much!
Oct 19, 2010 Peggy is currently reading it
I am about half way through. I have 'Seven Gothic Tales' waiting for me at the library to pick up so I can read more of her writings.
She is a free spirit lady, not what I am. I have friends that are 'free spirits' that I greatly admire. But I am not one of them.

When I read in this book how much she uses her family and acquaintances to model the characters in her writings it gave me pause on the story 'Babette's Feast'. I think that one may have been modeled on her mother's family, the Westenhol
This is one of the best biographies I've ever read. It was more of a psychological biography than a physical one, explaining what eventually led Isak Dinesen to write her books, and why she wrote about what she did. But the events in her life are fascinating as well.
How appropriate is it that this biography about the "life of a storyteller" is the most incredibly complete story telling of the storyteller herself. By far, the most interesting stories are about the eccentric Isak Dinesen's twenty years spent in Africa. It was the time period (early 20th century), when Africa was the place in which most people have embedded their romantic images. To Isak Dinesen, Africa (and life itself) was far more real and incredibly more complicated.
Jan 16, 2011 Daphne added it
If you stick it out, you'll feel you've been through the ringer by the time you finish this one. Dinesen's life was hard, romantic and endlessly creative, and her various fiery relationships (friendships and romance) nearly wear the reader out--but I was thoroughly engaged in this book and fascinated by Dinesen's life and adventures. It's a detailed chronicling of her literary development and the reception at home and oversees of her books--beautifully done.
Ann A
Winner of the National Book Award in 1983. Not an easy read, but worth it if you like in-depth, literary biography, and you're very curious about Isak Dinesen. I didn't get a feel for who she really was from reading Out of Africa, and I wanted to know more. My sense is that she was a fascinating woman, if not necessarily likeable. I do want to read some more of her writings (mostly short stories), which are discussed at length in this book.
Very good biography. It has to be both rewarding and challenging to write about someone who felt that her life was one big narrative project, and this was really well done and thorough -- you got a feeling for the sense of Dinesen's life, both her own and from those around her, not just the details and dates. Which is what I really want from a biography, and this one definitely captured her whole dramatic, messy essence.
Leon Perlman
Goodreads rating 80
Kathie H
Aug 12, 2007 Kathie H rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: "Adults"
This book has more dog-eared pages than any book in my library. It is like a handbook for how to live a happy life. Books about Africa in the early 1900s greatly appeal to me, but reading about how astoundingly-gifted writer Karen Blixen stumbled & groped her way through a long, tumultuous lifetime - making many mistakes along the way (sometimes learning from them, sometimes not) - resonated deeply with me.
Alice Verberne
One of my favorite writers. This book digs into the life of an amazing woman and the history of her life. Karen Von Blixen's life was more interesting and amazing than her book reveal which makes this book even more worth reading than first imagined. Her books such as Babbette's Feast and Out of Africa are fascinating vignettes of her life and lifestyle, which this book tells about in detail.
I am so thoroughly intrigued with Africa and the idea of an adventurous woman taken to living life on her own terms... I am enjoying this but it is dense - every little details of her early life, and her parents early life, and her aunts and... Etc. This one may take me a little while to finish, especially as i have a tendency to read a multitude of things at the same time...
I actually am listening to the book on tape version narrated by Davina Porter. Isak Dinesen/Karen Blitzen is the author of Out of Africa and her life was an amazing one. She suffered most of her life from syphilis which she caught from her husband. Her life in Africa, her struggles, her triumphs, her passion, her personality--all make this a fascinating "read."
Saman Perera
One of my favs ... Such a great life.
Othón León
For some reason Karin von Blixen (Isak Dinesen) has one of the most fascinating lives I have ever heard of. Perhaps because of the intensity of her love affairs or maybe because of the willingnes to face life challenges or even due to her way of turning fatality into poetry. Best choice. No doubt. Delicious at sharing with Mozart...
I became interested in learning more about Ms. Dinesen after reading her memoir “Out Of Africa,” that I read previous to this—still haven’t come across it as I go through books I’ve had stored in the garage. She was a woman ahead of her time and led a fascinating life. This was an excellent supplement to her own story.
Laurie Mcclary
Well written book about the author behind the book "Out of Africa". Interesting to read what went on in her life to cuase motivation to write the book. She was an eccentric that was driven or held back (depending on how you look at it) by her battle with syphillis. Now to read "Out of Africa".
I love Out of Africa (though I can't abide the movie), and have different feelings about her short stories. But as a reader, i think I prefer her life itself. There is more drama and heartbreak here than anything she later got on paper. Grim and magnificent.
Marga Vr
Jan 24, 2008 Marga Vr marked it as to-read
Shelves: biography
Isak Dinesen - generally known for her OUT OF AFRICA was a fascinating person with a fascinating life. Judith Thurman seems to have written a wonderful book about her life and art - "a gothic tale worthy of the author of SEVEN GOTHIC TALES'
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Judith Thurman began contributing to The New Yorker in 1987, and became a staff writer in 2000. She writes about fashion, books, and culture. Her subjects have included André Malraux, Elsa Schiaparelli, and Cristóbal Balenciaga.

Thurman is the author of “Isak Dinesen: The Life of a Storyteller,” which won the 1983 National Book Award for Non-Fiction, and “Secrets of the Flesh: A Life of Colette,” (
More about Judith Thurman...
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