Misty's Reviews > Out of Africa / Shadows on the Grass

Out of Africa / Shadows on the Grass by Isak Dinesen
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's review
Nov 15, 2010

liked it
bookshelves: bookclub, broccoli
Read from November 15 to 27, 2010

I read Out of Africa as part of a bookclub, and I have to admit that I was't looking forward to it. By the time I started reading it, I had a week until the bookclub meeting, and I doubted that the book would grab me enough to finish it in time.

So I was surprised when I went to the book store to pick it up how readable it was from Page 1. Motivated by the desire to finish it before the meeting, I got through it pretty quickly. But when that motivation went away (the meeting was canceled) I had a hard time getting through the book. Even though it's very well written, it reads like a bunch of journal entries, quirky events, and observations. The book picks up with little context (Who is she? How did she get there?) and little narrative push, which means that it was hard to get engrossed in the story.

The last section of the book is different, because it does tell more of a story -- and as a result it is the most interesting part of the book. The last section talks about leaving Africa as well as the death of her friend Dennys Finch Hatton. She never says explicitly that they were lovers, but it is clear that they were very close. If she had been more specific about their relationship, the story would've been even more interesting, and that reveals the faults of this book. Only in this last section does it feel like there is more life and feeling in her writing.

There were several passages in the book that I highlighted, because she wrote so beautifully and perceptively. For example, she seems to nail female passive aggressiveness here: "She had to the highest degree, the feminine trait of appearing to be exclusively on the defensive, concentrated on guarding the integrity of her being, when she was really, with every force in her, bent upon the offensive." Or here she on competitiveness in men: "Men, I think, cannot easily or harmoniously envy or triumph over one another."

Overall, while I enjoyed the book, most of all, I thought that it's probably famous because of Karen Blixen's own story as a woman living alone in Africa. I read about her life a little, and it is even more interesting than that -- She was in love with her brother, she married her second cousin only to get divorced while in Africa, and she died of anorexia. This books feels more like the source material for a really fascinating biography.

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