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

Out of Africa / Shadows on the Grass by Isak Dinesen
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Nov 28, 2007

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bookshelves: cultural-studies-and-other, wanderlust, 1001-books-list
Read in December, 2007

Having not seen the movie or read the book, but remembering hearing about the movie that Out of Africa is one of the greatest love stories ever told I went into the reading thinking just that. I was already picturing Meryl Streep and Robert Redford because of the popularity of the movie (though my movie tie-in copy of the book probably did not help).

It took me 70 pages to realize that there is no specific story here, that the book is Isak Dinesen's (pseudonym for Baroness Karen Blixen) memoirs of the many years she lived on and ran a coffee plantation in Kenya. Once I made that realization and yelled at my brother for not telling me sooner (hah) I settled down to read the book as it was meant to be read, and stopped searching for a story to form.

In that light the book got better for me. I'm interested in people's experiences in other times and places, and I began to look at Out of Africa from a more sociological point of view. Dinesen clearly loved the land, loved the animals and loved her servants and the sqautters living on her land - as much as any one from sheltered Denmark in the early 20th-century can without coming across as too racist or uninformed. Her views on the people of the country are questionable at best in parts, but it can not be denied that she means well all of the times and her feelings for the people run deeper than she can articulately describe.

Shadows on the Grass is a much later contribution written much later in her life in which she discusses in more details her beloved servant, Farah, and their relationship. There was some repetition from bits in Out of Africa, though ultimately that will happen in memoirs surrounding the same subject matter.

I am still waiting for somoene to explain to me how Out of Africa is the "best book ever", but I did enjoy reading Dinesen's deep descriptions.
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