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Out of Africa

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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."

Isak Dinesen (1885–1962) was born Karen Christence Dinesen in Rungsted, Denmark. She wrote poems, plays, and stories from an early age, including Seven Gothic Tales, Winter's Tales, Last Tales, Anecdotes of Destiny, Shadows on the Grass and Ehrengard. Out of Africa is considered her masterpiece.

401 pages, Hardcover

First published January 1, 1937

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About the author

Isak Dinesen

166 books464 followers
Pseudonym used by the Danish author Karen Blixen.

Baroness Karen von Blixen-Finecke (Danish: [kʰɑːɑn ˈb̥leɡ̊sn̩]; 17 April 1885 – 7 September 1962), born Karen Christentze Dinesen, was a Danish author, also known by the pen name Isak Dinesen, who wrote works in Danish, French and English. She also at times used the pen names Tania Blixen, Osceola, and Pierre Andrézel.
Blixen is best known for Out of Africa, an account of her life while living in Kenya, and for one of her stories, Babette's Feast, both of which have been adapted into Academy Award-winning motion pictures. She is also noted for her Seven Gothic Tales, particularly in Denmark.


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Profile Image for Jeffrey Keeten.
Author 3 books248k followers
September 27, 2019
”Up in this air you breathed easily, drawing in a vital assurance and lightness of heart. In the highlands you woke up in the morning and thought: Here I am, where I ought to be.”

 photo Karen_Blixen_1913_zpscx1ugrqm.jpg
Karen Blixen in 1913. Her whole life was before her.

When Karen Blixen married her second cousin Baron Bror Blixen-Finecke in 1914 and followed along as a devoted wife should to help him run a coffee plantation in Kenya, I’m sure she had an idea of what her life was to be, but the story of our lives generally deviates from the perceptions our youthful fancies conceive. Her marriage was in shambles. Her husband proved a poor manager of the farm, and his sexual indiscretions had left her with a parting gift of a case of syphilis. She let him live, which was touch and go, booted him off the farm, and took over the management of the Kenyan farming enterprise.

Baroness Blixen kept her title though.

Most people would have, given the nature of these events, thrown in the towel and made their way back to Denmark, battered and bruised and hoped that people had short memories of them ever being gone, but Blixen was made of sterner stuff. She decided she was going to turn this series of unfortunate events into a triumph, and for a decade and a half she did just that.

She created an oasis for her friends to visit. ”To the great wanderers amongst my friends, the farm owed its charm, I believe, to the fact that it was stationary and remained the same whenever they came to it. They had been over vast countries and had raised and broken their tents in many places, now they were pleased to round my drive that was steadfast as the orbit of a star. They liked to be met by familiar faces, and I had the same servants all the time that I was in Africa. I had been on the farm longing to get away, and they came back to it longing for books and linen sheets, and the cool atmosphere in a big shuttered room.”

I can imagine the thrill that they must have felt when they first spotted the red roof of her house and knew that they were about to step out of Africa and back into Europe for an evening of discourse, food, and wine.

 photo Karen_Blixen_Museum_05_zpsxpnjoqzd.jpg

She collected an eclectic group of friends, mostly lost Europeans who escaped to Africa from something or came in search of themselves. None made a bigger impression on her than Denys Finch Hatton (played by Robert Redford in the movie). ”He would have cut a figure in any age, for he was an athlete, a musician, a lover of art and a fine sportsman. He did cut a figure in his own age, but he did not quite fit in anywhere. His friends in England always wanted him to come back, they wrote out plans and schemes for a career for him there, but Africa was keeping him.”

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Denys Finch Hatton

I certainly understand the dilemma of being a person out of time. I believe I’ve been born into one of the most boring eras ever in the history of the world. Fortunately for me, I have the ability to time travel and escape this world at will by simply opening the pages of a book. By the way, I’ve just returned from an expedition to a coffee plantation circa 1925 in Kenya where I drank wine with Baroness Blixen, listened to the lions roar, and luxuriated in the stillness that follows on the heels of such a proclamation of dominance.

There is the moment when Blixen witnessed giraffes being loaded on a ship to be sent to Hamburg. ”They could only just have room to stand in the narrow case. The world had suddenly shrunk, changed and closed around them.

They could not know or imagine the degradation to which they were sailing. For they were proud and innocent creatures, gentle amblers of the great plains; they had not the least knowledge of captivity, cold, stench, smoke, and mange, nor of the terrible boredom in the world in which nothing is ever happening.”

Will they dream of their country? Do I wish that they can? Or do I hope they forget the freedom they once had?

I’ve been to several zoos in my lifetime, and someone will have to hold a very large gun to my head to ever have me set foot in one again. When I go to a zoo, I don’t see the majestic animals or their beautiful fur or the pretty colors of their plumage. All I see is a deadness in their eyes, an accusation of, how can you do this to me? How can you let these smelly, noisy creatures mock me, yell at me, rattle my cage, and stare at me when they should be bowing their heads in reverence?

So do you free the giraffes and watch them gallop away? Do you shoot them in their alien looking heads so they die free? Or do you do what we all generally do in such circumstances, which is to watch them be hauled away in chains? We think about the sadness of it and then move our thoughts on to something else.

Blixen experienced the typical problems that afflict farmers everywhere, which is Mother Nature not cooperating.


”One year the long rains failed.

That is a terrible, tremendous experience, and the farmer who has lived through it will never forget it. Years afterwards, away from Africa, in the wet climate of a Northern country, he will start up at night, at the sound of a sudden shower of rain, and cry, ‘At last, at last.’”

My father is a farmer, and though I’ve never seen him do a jig, there was one year, after months of drought, that a gully washer appeared over the horizon and dropped four inches of precious rain on us. His smile looked like he was capable of just about any expression of joy, even dancing, in that moment when the first drops began to fall.

 photo Karen20Blixen20Elegant_zps5uofoxyd.jpg
Karen Blixen showing some of the elegance her visitors in Kenya must have enjoyed.

Drought, grasshopper plague, and being situated too high in altitude for coffee beans to grow as well as they should, all contributed to the final demise of the Blixen Kenyan farm. In 1931, the place was sold, and she moved back to Denmark. There was probably relief for a while from the stress and strain of the daily trials and tribulations of keeping a farm in working order, but I’m sure, within a matter of months and maybe even weeks, she felt the loss of her home as astutely as those giraffes missed their home from their cage in Hamburg. The only way she could return to it was to write about it. With pen in hand, her blood could move a bit more briskly about her body, her hands could remember the labor, and her mind could sift back through those conversations she had with the people she cared the most about. Highly Recommended!

If you wish to see more of my most recent book and movie reviews, visit http://www.jeffreykeeten.com
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Profile Image for Lisa.
991 reviews3,320 followers
August 22, 2019
I once had a crush on Karen Blixen, at the shores of Rungstedlund.

Travelling my life like Odysseus the mythical Mediterranean seas, I found myself in front of a majestic house on a strip of Danish coastline, some ten years ago, and in the company of my lively bunch of toddlers, aged approximately 4, 2.5 and 0.5 years. While I walked reverently in the footsteps of Karen Blixen, studiously scrutinising every single letter and photograph on display in the exhibition, my family ran wild outside, enjoying the closeness to the sea and the summer breeze, and a café just on the waterfront. A perfect set up. When I reluctantly left the museum, I carried with me a book bought in the gift shop, the only one by Blixen I had not borrowed in my local library because I wanted to own it myself.

My copy of Out Of Africa carries a sticker with the silhouette of Karen Blixen and a label of “Karen Blixen Museet Rungstedlund”. It also tells me that I paid 140 Danish crowns for it, marked in pencil inside the cover.

What you experience intensely becomes part of who you are. It changes your perception of the world and makes you different. When I read Karen Blixen’s stories, her biography, her letters, and now - finally - after a ten year long odyssey of reading other books - her Out Of Africa, something touches me deep inside, and I feel her happiness, sadness, excitement, boredom and disappointment almost physically. I don’t know why that is really. Maybe it has something to do with the Scandinavian heritage taken on a joyride into the big, big world? Maybe it has to do with her accepting that she was different, a stranger within her own environment, but still deeply engaged in it? That she was willing to sacrifice a lot to live according to her own rules, and never stopped fighting for what she considered worthwhile, however hopeless the fight seemed against conventions and world history in general?

She knew about her own flaws and prejudices, and weighed them against others, creating lucid comparisons between different people at a time when Europeans tended to see natives in Africa as mere tools or backdrop. Her language and behaviour are aristocratic in a way that reminds me of Virginia Woolf. It is a charming vanity, as she does not hide it at all.

What about the book itself, what did it add to my idea of Karen Blixen? It gave me the shivers, and a strong feeling of respect for her honest account of life in a country that works with completely different codes of conduct, myths and traditions.

When she describes how she starts writing during a drought, filling loose papers with stories, her servant comes in and doubts the success of her ambition, comparing her drafts to the heavily bound volume of the Odyssey she has in her possession. The European mind now smiles inwardly and thinks that it of course is hard to compete with Homer, but that is not the angle of the reflection of Blixen’s servant. He is worried that her book consists of loose paper, whereas the Odyssey is bound, sturdy, impressive, heavy. The conclusion is that Blixen’s work would be equally impressive if she managed to get it printed in hardcover, an expensive endeavour, but feasible!

Her literary soul is disclosed in every day-to-day reflection she makes. An old Danish adventurer, who comes to live and die on the farm, is compared to The Ancient Mariner or The Old Man and The Sea. A lion hunt turns into a Greek tragedy with all actors dead in the last act. A discussion of The Merchant Of Venice with her Somali servant Farah gives the Shakespearean story a new twist. All the time, the capability to read reality from different angles shines through. Karen Blixen understands not only the strangeness of the Kikuyu, Masai and Somali, but also of the French and Scottish missionaries, the English District Commissioner and the Scandinavian big game hunters. Hers is a universe apart, on a farm, in the Ngong Hills.

In her beautiful descriptions of a lifestyle lost forever, a European coffee plantation reality in Kenya during the Great War and Depression era, Karen Blixen captures the idea of global citizenship by taking traditions for what they are: inherited culture. Her own culture forbids her to talk too freely of her most passionate love during those years: her relationship to Denys Finch Hatton is never explained fully, never analysed with the sharp intelligence she is capable of in all other respects. But it can be sensed in her compulsive need to start sentences with “Denys and I”, followed by a simple anecdote. “Denys and I”, repeated over and over, establishes a connection that must have made her feel joy long after she lost her one true, wild love, and her farm as well.

As I read her letters first, it made me start when I saw the casual line in the novel, describing in shortest possible manner a long correspondence and pressure on Karen to give up her life:

“My people at home, who had shares in the farm, wrote out to me and told me that I would have to sell.”

And she did, eventually. She moved back to Denmark and spent her last years, in frail health, in that beautiful environment where I eventually made her acquaintance (figuratively speaking, of course), writing and dreaming of Africa:

“They [people who dream] know that the real glory of dreams lies in their atmosphere of unlimited freedom. It is not the freedom of the dictator, who enforces his own will on the world, but the freedom of the artist, who has no will, who is free of will.”

To me, it seems that Karen Blixen was a lucky woman, to be able to live according to her dreams for a long time, to enjoy great love, and to be able to sit down and write an opening line of unforgettable beauty:

“I had a farm in Africa, at the foot of the Ngong Hills.”

And I had a crush on Karen Blixen, at the shore of Rungstedlund...
Profile Image for Orsodimondo.
2,194 reviews1,815 followers
December 10, 2022

Durante il suo ultimo grande viaggio, in USA, Karen Blixen fu fotografata da Cecil Beaton. A Nyack, villaggio venti km a Nord di Manhattan, contea di Rockland, a casa dell’amica e collega scrittrice Carson McCullers, fu ritratta in compagnia di Arthur Miller e Marilyn Monroe, che la Blixen teneva molto a conoscere.

La prima volta che l’ho letto è stato nell’età in cui si ha bisogno di nemici, in cui l’odio sembra nobile e tonificante, in cui uccidere i genitori, soprattutto il padre, e la sua dannata autorità, è gesto vitale pur se meramente simbolico.
Karen Blixen incarnò per me il paternalismo del colonialista, e il colonialista era un nemico.
E allora non conoscevo ancora l’Africa e non ne ero ancora innamorato.

Poi, leggendo Capote mi sono imbattuto in questa frase:
Non c’è una sola pagina di quel libro che non tremi di vita come una foglia su un albero scosso dalla tempesta,
e m’è venuta voglia di dargli una seconda chance.

La tomba di Karen Blixen a Rungstedlund in Danimarca.

Ho fatto bene, perché è un libro stupendo, un puro intenso incanto dalla prima all’ultima pagina, e probabilmente dal primo all’ultimo rigo.
Non solo Blixen scrive magnificamente e i suoi racconti sono meravigliosi, ma è ben lungi dai preconcetti tipici dei bianchi. Al contrario, sente viva forte e penetrante la malia dell’Africa.
Al punto che ne sostiene la superiorità, rispetto all'Europa, in quanto più pura e più vicina a quanto Dio aveva preparato per gli uomini.

Le pagine che raggiungono vette toccando corde profonde sono tante: quelle in cui Blixen parla della natura del continente, dell’erba, dei colori e degli odori – indimenticabili quelle sulla notte africana, i cieli stellati, la luna – il racconto del piccolo cuoco Kamante – l’antilope Lulu, da cucciola ad adulta e poi madre – gli africani e la scrittura – la giustizia africana …

Meryl Streep e Robert Redford nel celebre film di Sydney Pollack, 1985. Nel film, data la presenza di una star come Redford, la parte dedicata a Denys Finch Hatton è enormemente dilatata rispetto al libro. Il film ha vinto 7 Oscar: film, regia, sceneggiatura non originale, fotografia, scenografia, soundtrack, e sonoro.

Il capitolo più lungo, Dal taccuino di un emigrante, è proprio quello che il titolo rivela, appunti divisi in corti paragrafi, quasi frettolosi, più slegati delle pagine che precedono e seguono, e dimostrano che Blixen riesce a rendere musicale e incantevole anche la disarmonia.

L’ultimo capitolo, un sesto del libro, è dedicato all’addio:
Non ero io ad andarmene, io non avevo il potere di lasciare l’Africa, ma era l’Africa che lentamente, gravemente, si ritirava da me, come il mare nella bassa marea.
E questo spiega il titolo originale, ‘Out of Africa’, un distillato di nostalgia.

Denys Finch Hatton negli anni 1910-1920.

Ma per una volta il titolo italiano mi sembra più azzeccato: perché questo libro, che non è certo un vero romanzo, che è molto diverso dal film che ne è stato tratto, che non racconta la storia d’amore tra Karen e Denys, questo libro è una meditazione lirica sugli anni che la Blixen passo in Africa Orientale (Kenya, parte dell’impero inglese) dal 1913 al 1931, è un tributo a quel continente che è la madre di ogni vita, alle genti che lo abitano, e a quelle persone, amici collaboratori viaggiatori, che hanno toccato la sua vita lasciando un segno.
Blixen procede per rievocazioni, senza un filo temporale, a volte senza neppure un filo logico, come se inseguisse ombre ricordi fantasmi fascinazioni… S’immerge nella strepitosa natura africana, circondata dalla sua fauna, e dai suoi popoli, i misteriosi guerrieri Masai, ma ancora di più i Kikuyu, l’etnia di quello che sarà il primo presidente del Kenya indipendente, Yomo Kenyatta.

Karen Blixen fotografata col fratello Thomas alla fattoria africana negli anni Venti.

Curiosità #1: i souvenir che si vedono al museo Blixen ai piedi dell’altopiano del Ngong - gli stivali, la macchina da scrivere, l’orologio, il grammofono - sono copie rifatte per il film di Pollack dell’85, con Meryl Streep e Robert Redford.

Curiosità #2: in Il giovane Holden il protagonista cita Out of Africa e chiama l'autrice con lo pseudonimo Isak Dinesen. Il romanzo viene descritto come bellissimo e Holden dice di rileggere più volte alcune frasi e che Isak Dinesen è un autore di quelli che lui "chiamerebbe volentieri al telefono".

Curiosità #3: nell’ultimo grande viaggio in America che fece, la Blixen fu fotografata da Cecil Beaton. Lo scatto più famoso è una foto a casa dell’amica Carson McCullers, l’autrice di ‘Riflessi in un occhio d’oro’. Ci sono Arthur Miller e Marilyn Monroe, che la Blixen teneva molto a conoscere. Marilyn è biondissima, scollatissima, bellissima. Karen ossuta, una cuffia da folletto in testa, giri di sciarpa attorno al collo. Pare abbiano anche ballato insieme. A volte i capricci del destino, quelli che hanno dato il titolo al suo ultimo libro, accomunano le persone più diverse: Karen e Marilyn, pur con età molto diverse, sono uscite di scena nello stesso anno, il 1962.

La casa dove si presume abbia vissuto Kareb Blixen, ora adibita a museo.
Profile Image for Candi.
622 reviews4,716 followers
December 20, 2018
4.5 stars

"I had a farm in Africa, at the foot of the Ngong Hills… Everything that you saw made for greatness and freedom, and unequalled nobility."

A beautiful and evocative memoir of Baroness Karen von Blixen-Finecke, Out of Africa is a tribute to that magnificent continent from a woman who truly loved both the land and its people. One must remember while reading this memoir that it was written during a period of colonialism, but I never sensed that Blixen felt herself superior to the native Kikuyu people of Kenya, where she worked tirelessly alongside them on her coffee plantation. The Kikuyu held much respect for Blixen and she in turn respected their values and traditions. She sympathized with various points of view, while at the same time admitting that the Kikuyu perhaps had a greater understanding of her than the other way round. "I reconciled myself to the fact that while I should never quite know or understand them, they knew me through and through, and were conscious of the decisions that I was going to take, before I was certain about them myself."

The descriptions of the landscape and the wildlife of Africa are as stunning as one would expect. Everything comes to life with Blixen’s vivid and lovely prose. One can believe she really wanted to become a part of Africa herself, not just one that wanted to ‘claim’ a piece of it. I loved her story about little Lulu, a young bushbuck antelope that at one time became a member of the household in her own right. "Lulu came in from the wild world to show that we were on good terms with it, and she made my house one with the African landscape, so that nobody could tell where the one stopped and the other began." Those who are sensitive to the topic should be warned that there are a couple of hunting scenes and mentions of safaris. These were unfortunately common events of the day, but quite regrettable nevertheless. They did not affect my overall enjoyment of this book. The majesty of the lion and lioness in his and her natural environment is something that I will always recall with a sense of awe.

I’m not sure what I liked most about this book – the country or the people that Blixen got to know over the twelve or so years she spent on her plantation. Both aspects are so very captivating. Throughout this time, many visitors came and went from her home. It was a place of refuge for Europeans traveling to the continent. "They had been over vast countries and had raised and broken their tents in many places, now they were pleased to round my drive that was steadfast as the orbit of a star. They liked to be met by familiar faces, and I had the same servants all the time that I was in Africa." It was also a place of gathering for the ngomas, the Kikuyu’s great social dances. One of the most memorable visitors to the farm was Denys Finch-Hatton, a gentleman Blixen held in high regard and with whom she spent much time between his various safari outings. "Denys had watched and followed all the ways of the African Highlands, and better than any other white man, he had known their soil and seasons, the vegetation and the wild animals, the winds and smells. He had observed the changes of weather in them, their people, clouds, the stars at night." One of her greatest joys was when she had the opportunity to fly over Africa with Denys and see its riches from above.

Parting with her coffee plantation, her servants, and the Kikuyu was a time of great sadness for Blixen, but she made sure to see that all of those who had depended on her and the farm for their own livelihood were taken care of to the best of her ability. Blixen will always stand out in my mind as a woman of courage, compassion and great dignity. Highly recommended to those that enjoy memoirs, Africa, and admirable women.

"If I know a song of Africa,—I thought,—of the Giraffe, and the African new moon lying on her back, of the ploughs in the fields, and the sweaty faces of the coffee-pickers, does Africa know a song of me? Would the air over the plain quiver with a colour that I had had on, or the children invent a game in which my name was, or the full moon throw a shadow over the gravel of the drive that was like me, or would the eagles of Ngong look out for me?"
Profile Image for Luís.
1,945 reviews610 followers
July 18, 2023
There were ten years since it was on my shelves.
My eyes fell on it, as they often do, but I didn't let my gaze slide elsewhere this time.
Excellent, god took me.
Something is shocking about Karen Blixen living on her African farm with "her" people as if she was talking about "her" plates. But it's time that wants that and the colonies' time when a black was a negro, where a lion was a trophy or a magnificent skin to put on the ground in his living room.
But she has a unique look at those she calls her people. She tries to understand notes' cultural differences without judging them and by quoting them respectfully. You can feel her affection for the little world around her and her farm. Kamante, the strange child she tried to cure; Farah Somalia and his outlook on the world; the old Knudsen, alcoholic and desperate; the women and their laughter at the misfortune; the wise, more aged men.
She hunts but cannot stand caged animals.
His farm is his world, where everyone has their place, overflows a little, and seems welcome with their personality and peculiarities.
She loves Africa, its landscapes, seasons, drought, and rain.
It superbly describes the relationships between the different ethnicities, the beauty of all, and the humor of each other.
A little gem of humanity with all its paradoxes.
Profile Image for Duane.
828 reviews431 followers
August 24, 2016
"I had a farm in Africa at the foot of the Ngong Hills".

After finishing the book I turned back to read this opening line again, and in this first sentence one can sense the pride that Blixen felt for this place, and one can also feel the sadness, the disappointment in the word "had", knowing that it slipped away from her at the end. Losing her farm and also losing her beloved Denys Finch Hatton must have been devastating.

This is one of those memoirs that is as compelling as good fiction. Blixen's stories of African life, of the people, of the culture, of her life on the farm, and the extraordinary events she experienced far exceed what most of us will ever encounter.
Profile Image for Kylie D.
464 reviews516 followers
December 11, 2019
Out Of Africa is the poignant memoir of Karen Blixen, a Danish woman, who lived on a coffee farm in Kenya for many years. It is not a strict chronological biography, more a rambling series of memories. Beautifully written, it portrays a life among the native peoples, wild vistas and animals. This one will stay with you for a long while. Recommended.
Profile Image for Andrea.
84 reviews81 followers
January 4, 2008
I chose to read this book in high school as one of those free-reading things for which you later have to give a presentation. This is a book about Africa for white people who want to go on a safari and see the cool animals, which is basically what the author did. I kinda hated Karen Blixen for her condescending attitude towards the "natives" and I felt the whole book was nothing but pretentious, self-aggrandizing bullshit. If I had had any courage, I would have done two things differently for my report: 1) I would have read a book about Africa written by someone who has a real respect for the land, not someone who writes of Africa as if it were an out of control child that needed to be brought in line, and compared the two. 2) I would have admitted to not liking the book (I thought that if I said I didn't like it, I would look stupid) instead of pretending to enjoy it. My pretending totally sucked and it came off looking like I didn't read the book. I think I may have failed the presentation, but I can't remember.

In case you were wondering, I added an extra star because I actually do like the author's writing style.
Profile Image for Brina.
933 reviews4 followers
November 12, 2018
It is November and it is to the point where many of the books in my library pile are meant to check off books remaining in yearly challenges in some capacity. Out of Africa by Isak Dinesen, the pen name for Karen Blixen, is highly regarded. As such, it was chosen as a buddy read in the group Retro Chapter Chicks this month. I also happened to have the book on my bingo card in the group Catching up on Classics so I could read to check off that box as well, and now I only have one box left to complete the full card. Besides being able to check off multiple boxes at a time, I enjoy memoirs and biographies so I was looking forward to reading a memoir of the classic variety. There is something about this book that I can not quite pinpoint that just does not do it for me.

Karen Blixen managed a coffee farm in the Ngong hills of Kenya during the interwar years. In her memoir she passionately describes the time and place where she lived. One could get a feeling that this memoir focuses on Blixen's love affair with Africa as she describes her farm, the relationships she forged with both natives and Europeans, the Kenyan way of life, and the luscious scenery. Yet, I need action. I need a narrator of a memoir to move quickly from one point to the other or I find myself bored. Despite my fascination with the African way of life during the 1920s, this memoir read slow. As Blixen described the daily life on her farm, the prose had me dosing off; however, when a car went to the bustling city of Nairobi or the natives held a festive dance or people decided to go on a safari, I had my interest piqued. Thus is the contrast between past and modern settings.

I do give Blixen credit for managing her farm alone with a delinquent husband for nearly ten years during an era when women were for the most part property of their husbands. Blixen was well respected by the natives and enjoyed a working relationship with government officials in Nairobi. She treated the native Kikuyu and Masai people with dignity and they in turn asked Blixen to intercede on their behalf in most government matters. Because of Blixen's position in Kenyan and Somali society, Out of Africa has remained a well read book among feminist circles. Critics laud Blixen's spirit of adventure and spunk during this bygone era. For that reason I was willing to read to the conclusion and give the memoir the benefit of the doubt.

While I got a feel for Kenya of ninety years ago, the prose moved too slow to rank Out of Africa among my favorite classics read. The subject matter makes it a worthy read and I would still urge people to give it a try on a lazy day especially as the scenery sounds breathtaking. Out of Africa aptly check off the classic I put off reading square on my bingo card as this was a book that felt like one that I wanted to give up on throughout; yet, I managed to endure Blixen's stay on African soil. A worthy read, just not completely my taste.

3 stars
Profile Image for Lizzy.
305 reviews166 followers
May 28, 2017
“I had a farm in Africa at the foot of the Ngong Hills.”
From its first sentence Out of Africa captivated me. It was enchanting, old-fashioned, poignant, wistful and insightful. Karen Blixen’s story of her life in Africa, a series of reminiscences from 1914 to 1931, portrays her love for that country – the people, the land, the animals. It has a fairy tale quality at times. Blixen is a master story-teller; it’s easy to understand why Denys Finch Hatton loved to hear her recount her stories.

The book, however, is not without its issues. Of its time, the memoirs could disturb our modern sensibilities (such as when she talks of ‘whites’ and ‘coloured people’, or when she describes her lion hunting adventures). Remember that at the time it was written there was no banner of political correctness. I don’t read in her writings a sense of ethnic superiority, but she was unapologetically aristocratic. Nevertheless, the author's love of Africa and its people shines through. But that Africa she tells us about is no more.

With her coffee farm losing money, despite her desperate efforts to save it, her African adventure unravels at the end:
"It was not I who was going away, I did not have it in my power to leave Africa, but it was the country that was slowly and gravely withdrawing from me, like the sea in ebb-tide. The procession that was passing here,--it was in reality my strong pulpy young dancers of yesterday and the day before yesterday, who were withering before my eyes, who were passing away for ever. They were going in their own style, gently in a dance, the people were with me, and I with the people, well content.'
Highly recommended!
Profile Image for Sidharth Vardhan.
Author 23 books699 followers
March 29, 2017
“I had a farm in Africa, at the foot of the Ngong Hills.”

This very first line of Dinesen's memoir is like down Alice's rabbit hole; Platform Nine and three quarters, King's Cross or that cyclone that took Dorothy to Oz. Except this time, the world is a real one. Though not imaginary, it isn't lacking in adventures because of that and is unlike anything that modern city dwelling readers can know.

“It is a sad hardship and slavery to people who live in towns, that in their movements they know of one dimension only; they walk along the line as if they were led on a string. The transition from the line to the plane into the two dimensions, when you wander across a field or through a wood, is a splendid liberation to the slaves, like the French Revolution. But in the air you are taken into the full freedom of the three dimensions; after long ages of exile and dreams the homesick heart throws itself into the arms of space.”

What sets this book apart from other books on Africa by European travellers who always seemed to be filled with horrors, is that she probably loves it more than her homeland and is at one with it:

"Here I am, where I ought to be.”

“When you have caught the rhythm of Africa, you find out that it is the same in all her music.”

And Dinesen is filled with love for everything she found in this world. And she has a beautiful prose with which to describe this love:

"As they had become used to the idea of poetry, they begged: "Speak again. Speak like rain." Why they should feel verse to be like rain I do not know."

“People who dream when they sleep at night know of a special kind of happiness which the world of the day holds not, a placid ecstasy, and ease of heart, that are like honey on the tongue.”

And, since she is an avid reader, she is able to further beautify her prose with quotes from other books:

"Kepler writes of what he felt when, after many years' work, he at last found the laws of the movements of the planets:     "I give myself over to my rapture. The die is cast. Nothing I have ever felt before is like this. I tremble, my blood leaps. God has waited six thousand years for a looker-on to his work. His wisdom is infinite, that of which we are ignorant is contained in him, as well as the little that we know."

"So sad did it seem that I remembered the saying of the hero in a book that I had read as a child: "I have conquered them all, but I am standing amongst graves."

The two criticisms it has drawn is that it is racist and talks about hunting. As regards hunting, a lot of it is rendered neccesary by conditions though she does sometimes do for fun of it, also she manages to show a compassion for animals. Moreover I never really understand why it should be a taboo. People never really care about the number of lives they take in doing pest controls at homes.

As regards racism, I don't think she is racist. Racism, like every other prejudice, guards the ignorance which is at its roots and is unapreiciative and uncomprenhending of beauty in the prejudiced. Dinesen is the very opposite of that, she shows a great love and respect for African people and their culture as well a great willingness to understand them:

"The Masai when they were moved from their old country, North of the railway line, to the present Masai Reserve, took with them the names of their hills, plains and rivers; and gave them to the hills, plains and rivers in the new country."

"perhaps the white men of the past, indeed of any past, would have been in better understanding and sympathy with the coloured races than we, of our Industrial Age, shall ever be. When the first steam engine was constructed, the roads of the races of the world parted, and we have never found one another since."

“Up at Meru I saw a young Native girl with a bracelet on, a leather strap two inches wide, and embroidered all over with very small turquoise-coloured beads which varied a little in colour and played in green, light blue, and ultramarine. It was an extraordinarily live thing; it seemed to draw breath on her arm, so that I wanted it for myself, and made Farah buy it from her. No sooner had it come upon my own arm than it gave up the ghost. It was nothing now, a small, cheap, purchased article of finery. It had been the play of colours, the duet between the turquoise and the 'nègre' - that quick, sweet, brownish black, like peat and black pottery, of the Native's skin - that had created the life of the bracelet.”
Profile Image for Tinea.
563 reviews266 followers
May 16, 2009
I have no idea why my mom recommended this book to me. A white British colonist tells the story of her privileged life on her coffee plantation in Kenya. She writes some great imagery about the Kenyan landscape and tells funny stories about animals, except that her idea of the landscape and animals includes all the Black servants and workers and "squatters" on her plantation. She is really stupid and proudly naive. It's awful. For example, when she jokingly threatens to fire all of her servants if they don't find this cute baby antelope she saw while on an outting, she thinks it's out of love for her that they spend all night searching for it. How darling of them!

I think you're supposed to find her some sort of feminist heroine because she owns this plantation all by herself. If you believe this, please go read bell hooks.

I kept on reading hoping to find some great literary merit like one supposedly finds in Heart of Darkness, but all I found was a tired narrative of some lady and her normalized owning class life. Booooorrrrrrinnnnngggg.

This book is just thoroughly not worthwhile. I didn't finish it.
Profile Image for Dianne.
567 reviews934 followers
August 16, 2015
Really lovely - a living, breathing piece of history with writing that will make your heart sing. Of its time, certainly not "politically correct" with its colonial viewpoint, but nevertheless, the author's love of Africa and its people shines through. I felt as though I was sitting at Scheherazade's knee as she spun her 1001 tales. Dinesen/Blixen is a master story-teller - I can understand why Denys Finch Hatton loved to hear her tell her stories.

Highly recommend.
Profile Image for Beverly.
835 reviews313 followers
September 6, 2018
This woman led an extraordinary life. She tells of her struggles to make a coffee tree farm profitable in Kenya (17 years she lived there, 10 with a dissolute husband and 7 on her own after their divorce, you get the feeling she wasn't too keen about him, as she only mentions him once in the narrative) with lyrical, lovely prose. This is not a linear story, but rather a collection of short vignettes about Africa: her friends there, animals she loved and those she hunted, the beauty of the landscape, and most problematical, funny stories about her native servants. Unlike most women of that era of the early 1900s, she is alive and open to the natives and accepts their ways, without being too critical. Sometimes, she laughs at them too much and it skews toward racism, but not often. She was a truly brave soul. It killed her when she had to sell the farm and go back to Europe, her last act was getting the English government to let her farm workers (who were born on her land and thought they had a right to die there) the promise of land elsewhere that they could take all their families to and not be split up and scattered.
Profile Image for Forrest.
Author 43 books738 followers
October 31, 2012
I had a farm in Africa, at the foot of the Ngong Hills.

For better or worse, this opening sentence rekindled my love affair with literature. Granted, I never lost my love of reading, but from my late teens to my early-twenties, the relationship was rather shallow, mostly maintained through movies about books, comic books/graphic novels (still a great love for me), and role-playing game books and modules, all interspersed with one-night-stands with real books that I loved for a night, then left on the bedside. I still engage in some these dalliances, but Out of Africa, from its first sentence, grabbed me by the lapels and ripped my shirt apart. I was smitten. It was the new beginning to a lifelong love of the written word.

The book isn't without its issues, not the least of which are deeply embedded assumptions about "The Native". Thankfully, Blixen challenges and refutes some of her own assumptions about Africa and Africans while acknowledging her inevitable cultural distance from those around her. Of course, she has brushes with condescension, as any European colonial of the time would have had. But any analysis of the book that doesn't acknowledge that Blixen and her attitude are a product of the time is unashamedly disingenuous.

Blixen is careful to observe that she is also being observed. She is in Africa, but not of Africa:

If I know a song of Africa,-I thought,-of the Giraffe, and the African new moon lying on her back, of the ploughs in the fields, and the sweaty faces of the coffee-pickers, does Africa know a song of me? Would the air over the plain quiver with a colour that I had had on, or the children invent a game in which my name was, or the full moon throw a shadow over the gravel of the drive that was like me, or would the eagles of Ngong look out for me?

Throughout the book, Blixen seems to want to be a part of this place in which she finds herself. But even her separation from the spiritual ideal of full integration serves its own utilitarian purposes. For instance, when the locals ask her to judge between them in their disputes, it is precisely this distance that allows them to trust her impartiality:

It is likely that the Kikuyu of the farm saw my greatness as a judge in the fact that I knew nothing whatever of the laws according to which I judged.

But the heart of Out of Africa is not about intellectual stances or empty academic discussions about signifiers and signified. It is about the people, African and European, that Karen Blixen interacts with. On this level, I connected with the author and wanted to know more about those she interacted with. I don't think it's an accident, then, that four years after reading this book, I undertook graduate studies in African History at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. To say this book had an effect on my life would be a gross understatement. That first sentence shattered a number of possible futures and, eventually, opened up windows on vistas I might never have otherwise imagined.
Profile Image for W.
1,185 reviews4 followers
January 24, 2021
A Danish woman's memoir of her years in Kenya.It captures the rythms of Africa well,the writing is at times beautiful.However,at the same time,the pace of the book is pretty slow.That does make it a bit hard to read and I had to skim through it.

Karen Blixen (the author's real name) settled down on a huge farm in Africa after getting married.Her marriage did not turn out to be successful.

But even after leaving her husband,she stayed on in Africa.She fell in love with another European,Hatton Finch,a hunter and an aviator.However,this did not culminate in marriage.

A good deal of the book is about the Africans who lived at or near her farm and their way of life.There are quite a few European characters too.

Eventually,she could not maintain her farm as debts piled up.She had to sell it and move back to Europe after seventeen years.

The book became the basis for the Oscar winning fim,Out of Africa in 1985.However,the film deviates significantly from the book.It is mostly about the doomed love affair of the author (played very well by Meryl Streep) and Hatton Finch (Robert Redford,who does an excellent job too).

The film is visually spectacular,some of the shots of the African wilderness,lions and jungles are breathtaking.

Even though the film takes a lot of liberties with the book,it is much more entertaining than the book.The book is rather boring.

2.5 stars for the book (rounded down)
4 stars for the film.
Profile Image for Connie G.
1,738 reviews476 followers
July 13, 2016
After seeing the movie "Out of Africa" for the second time recently, I wondered if I would enjoy the book as well. Not to worry, the book is even better since the author was a keen observer and an accomplished storyteller.

Isak Dinesen is the pen name for the Baroness Karen von Blixen-Finecke who came from Denmark to British East Africa (Kenya) with her husband in 1914. Although they soon separated, Dinesen stayed to run a large coffee plantation near Nairobi. She tells stories about the customs of the native workers on the farm, the beauty of the Ngong Hills, and her British neighbors. The most important person in her life was the charismatic big game hunter Denys Finch-Hatton who tragically died in a plane crash in 1931. Unfortunately, the coffee plantation failed in the same year, and Dinesen had to leave her farm and return to Denmark. She brought back a wealth of stories with her, and published "Out of Africa" in 1937.

This book has to be read as a book written in the 1920s since it's not always politically correct by today's standards. I did cringe when Dinesen wrote about trophy hunting, although I could understand when they shot wild animals killing their lifestock. The author came across as an energetic, kind person who helped the natives with their medical problems and tried to learn about their culture. Earlier, the colonial powers had taken over land that once belonged to the native people. Dinesen made a real effort to find land for her employees to settle on after her farm was sold. This was an especially interesting memoir written by a warm, talented woman. 4.5 stars rounded up to 5 stars.
Profile Image for Beatriz.
834 reviews721 followers
April 28, 2021
A pesar de lo que pueda dar a entender su sinopsis o la premiada película que protagonizaran Meryl Streep y Robert Redford (África mía en español), este libro no es una novela. Tal como dice su título son... memorias.

Con una prosa maravillosa, la autora va saltando por diferentes experiencias, anécdotas y vivencias de su estancia en África, sin un orden cronológico entre ellas, las que va enriqueciendo con sus propias reflexiones, sobre todo acerca de las distintas culturas que se reúnen en este salvaje y hermoso continente. Todas las referencias que se dan en la sinopsis acerca de su fracasado matrimonio y del romance con Denys Finch-Hatton, no se mencionan más que tangencialmente en sus páginas. De hecho, en particular la relación con Denys, podría ser fácilmente interpretada sólo como una buena amistad.

Sin embargo, a pesar que no tenemos un nudo narrativo, la lectura atrapa, pero de forma pausada. Es de esos libros que, para disfrutarlo, tienes que sentarte con una buena limonada y descansar en sus páginas (ojalá en un jardín y en un día soleado) releyendo los muchos pasajes que invitan a envidiar la vida de esta esforzada mujer que sacó adelante una plantación de café sólo con la ayuda de los nativos, a quienes aprendió a entender, amar y respetar, al igual que esta tierra, que con toda su accidentada geografía, su fauna y su clima muchas veces inhóspito, hizo suya.

Aquí les dejo un pequeño fragmento, que transmite mejor que yo, cómo sobrecoge la lectura:

En el puerto de Mombasa estaba anclado un herrumbroso carguero alemán que volvía a casa. Sobre la cubierta había una caja grande de madera y, sobre ella, asomaban las cabezas de dos jirafas. Farah, que había estado a bordo, me dijo que procedían del África Oriental portuguesa e iban hacia Hamburgo, para un zoológico ambulante.

Las jirafas volvían sus delicadas cabezas de un lado a otro, como si estuvieran sorprendidas, lo cual debía ser verdad. Nunca habían visto antes el mar. Disponían sólo de espacio para estar de pie en la estrecha jaula. El mundo se había contraído, cambiado y cerrado en torno suyo. No podían saber o imaginar la degradación hacia la cual navegaban. Porque eran criaturas orgullosas e inocentes, delicadas ambladoras de las grandes praderas; no tenían ni el más mínimo conocimiento de la cautividad, el frío, el hedor, el humo y la sarna, ni del terrible aburrimiento de un mundo donde no ocurría nada.

Vendrían muchedumbres vestidas con apestosos vestidos oscuros, de calles llenas de vientos y de cellisca para ver a las jirafas y comprobar la superioridad del hombre sobre el mundo mudo. Les señalarían con el dedo y se reirían de los cuellos largos y esbeltos cuando las cabezas graciosas, pacientes, de ojos humosos, aparecieran sobre la baranda del zoológico; parecerían demasiado largos. Los niños se asustarían ante la visión y llorarían o se enamorarían de las jirafas, y les ofrecerían pan en la mano. Luego los padres pensarían que las jirafas son animales amables y creerían que las tratan bien.

En los largos años que les quedan, ¿soñarán alguna vez las jirafas con su país perdido? ¿Dónde están, adónde se han ido la hierba y las acacias, los ríos y los pozos y las montañas azules? El alto y dulce aire de las praderas se ha levantado y se ha ido. ¿Dónde se han ido las otras jirafas, las que iban junto a ellas y galopaban por la tierra ondulada? Las han dejado, se han ido y parece que nunca más volverán. En la noche, ¿dónde está la luna llena?

Las jirafas se agitan y se despiertan en la caravana del zoológico en una caja estrecha, que huele a paja podrida y a cerveza.

Adiós, adiós, os deseo que muráis en el viaje, las dos, de manera que ninguna de esas nobles cabecitas que ahora se levantan, sorprendidas sobre la jaula, recortándose sobre el cielo azul de Mombasa, sea llevada de un lado para otro, sola, en Hamburgo, donde nadie sabe nada de África.

En cuanto a nosotros, nos tienen que hacer un daño muy grande antes que podamos, decentemente, pedir a las jirafas que nos perdonen por el daño que les hacemos.

Reto #11 PopSugar 2018: Un libro de una autora que use un seudónimo masculino
Profile Image for Edita.
1,402 reviews424 followers
April 23, 2021
What beautiful, nostalgic, full of love memories of the bygone days, a wish to make a bargain with fate and a sad inevitable farewell to Africa!

If I know a song of Africa,—I thought,—of the Giraffe, and the African new moon lying on her back, of the ploughs in the fields, and the sweaty faces of the coffee-pickers, does Africa know a song of me? Would the air over the plain quiver with a colour that I had had on, or the children invent a game in which my name was, or the full moon throw a shadow over the gravel of the drive that was like me, or would the eagles of Ngong look out for me?
You have tremendous views as you get up above the African highlands, surprising combinations and changes of light and colouring, the rainbow on the green sunlit land, the gigantic upright clouds and big wild black storms, all swing round you in a race and a dance. The lashing hard showers of rain whiten the air askance. The language is short of words for the experiences of flying, and will have to invent new words with time. When you have flown over the Rift Valley and the volcanoes of Suswa and Longonot, you have travelled far and have been to the lands on the other side of the moon. You may at other times fly low enough to see the animals on the plains and to feel towards them as God did when he had just created them, and before he commissioned Adam to give them names.
In this way I was the last person to realize that I was going. When I look back upon my last months in Africa, it seems to me that the lifeless things were aware of my departure a long time before I was so myself. The hills, the forests, plains and rivers, the wind, all knew that we were to part. When I first began to make terms with fate, and the negotiations about the sale of the farm were taken up, the attitude of the landscape towards me changed. Till then I had been part of it, and the drought had been to me like a fever, and the flowering of the plain like a new frock. Now the country disengaged itself from me, and stood back a little, in order that I should see it clearly and as a whole.
All this, from my seat on the broken chair in the hut, looked to me as a weight too heavy to take on. I had not got it in me any longer to stand up against the authorities of the world. I did not have it in me now to brave them all, not all of them.
When the tide was out, you could walk miles away Seawards from the house, as on a tremendous, somewhat unevenly paved Piazza, picking up strange long peaked shells and starfish. The Swaheli fishermen came wandering along here, in a loin-cloth and red or blue turbans, like Sindbad the Sailor come to life, to offer for sale multi-coloured spiked fish, some of which were very good to eat. The coast below the house had a row of scooped-out deep caves and grottoes, where you sat in shade and watched the distant glittering blue water. When the tide came in, it filled up the caves to the level of the ground on which the house was built, and in the porous coral-rock the Sea sang and sighed in the strangest way, as if the ground below your feet were alive; the long waves came running up Takaunga Creek like a storming army.
The plan which I had formed in the beginning, to give in in all minor matters, so as to keep what was of vital importance to me, had turned out to be a failure. I had consented to give away my possessions one by one, as a kind of ransom for my own life, but by the time that I had nothing left, I myself was the lightest thing of all, for fate to get rid of.
Profile Image for Margarita Garova.
450 reviews177 followers
October 28, 2022
„Що се отнася до мен, аз се привързах към местното население още от първия ден на пребиваването си в Африка…Срещата ми с черното население за мен бе изживяване, подобно на откриването на Америка за Колумб, и по същия начин обогатяваше целия мой вътрешен свят.“

Карен Бликсен прекарва 17 години в Британска Източна Африка, днешна Кения, работейки като вол в кафеената си плантация, като в крайна сметка се вижда принудена да я продаде и да се върне в родната Дания. Това е грубото обобщение на една сладко-горчива любов между една невероятна жена и нейното късче от Африка.

Това не е история, в която образована аристократка си играе на фермер, нито такава за бяла колонистка, която идва да облагороди местните туземци, от позицията на относително превъзходство. Бликсен и местните са еднакво уязвими и подчинени на капризите на природата; и за двете страни лъвът, който напада кравите през нощта е вредител, който следва да бъде отстрелян като такъв по всички правила. При друга среща човек и звяр се разминават мирно, а последният заслужено отбелязва точки по величие. Между двете ситуации няма противоречие, това е Африка – в един момент надделява борбата за оцеляване, в друг – неосъзнатата поетична философия.

Модерните напоследък sensitivity readers сигурно не биха се поколебали да обвинят авторката в расизъм, заради използваните от нея определения „негър“ и „туземец“. Нищо не би могло да бъде по-далече от истината – Бликсен наистина отчита всякакъв тип различия, видимите и скритите, визуалните и характеровите, но го прави с уважение, любов и рядка проникновеност. Колонизира гледки, миризми и моменти, а не хора и слонова кост. Отнася се към местните, без да ги идеализира излишно, с рядко за европеец разб��ране.

Книгата изглежда разхвърляна на пръв поглед – отделните глави не следват някаква хронология, мярват се епизодично, но ярко всякакви образи - племената масаи и кикую, работници индийци и сомалийци и европейски заселници, предимно англичани и скандинавци. Общото между всички е, че магията и земята на Африка, нейният непрекъснато менящ се, и все пак вечен, живописен пейзаж, са отредили отдавна тяхната съдба.

Бликсен е куражлийка и философ, лирична и жестока, от тези, които притежават скъп порцелан и изцапани от труд ръце, а последната й бит��а на африканска земя завинаги я свързва с нейните хора от фермата.

Много особена, тъжна, философска книга, която се преживява като рядък литературен специалитет и която почувствах много дълбоко.

“скандинавците са изключително спокойни по време на всякакви бури, но нервната им система никога не е в покой.“
„Жената изпитва някакво особено удовлетворение, ако поднесе на един мъж, когото обича, вкусни ястия, приготвени от нея.“
„Когато на лов човек улови ритъма на Африка, той разбира, че този ритъм се повтаря във всяка форма на живот.“
Profile Image for Helle.
376 reviews376 followers
February 27, 2016
I had a farm in Africa at the foot of the Ngong Hills.

I visited Karen Blixen’s house in Rungsted last week and was immediately drawn into her magical realm of cross-cultural storytelling and awe-inspiring life. I bought this book there, the cover of which was painted by Blixen herself, and immersed myself in the incredible story of her life in Africa. (I visited the house with my mother years ago but didn’t embark upon Blixen’s oeuvre until recently. As with all of literature, timing and readiness are everything, though I suspect my younger self would have loved her as well. Back then, I saw the movie with Meryl Streep two days in a row in the cinema and loved it, though this book is so much more than the love story that the film centres on).

The memoir is a deeply fascinating, often touching, occasionally problematic (seen with modern eyes; more on this later) portrait of her love of Africa – the people, the land, the animals. It contains anecdotes, musings on history, nature and human behaviour, and often has a philosophical slant.

Baroness Blixen, or Lioness Blixen as some called her, was awesomeness incarnate. She first wrote the book in English and translated, or rather rewrote, it into Danish. She learned to speak Swahili while in Africa. She acted as a teacher, doctor, judge and leader for her people on her coffee farm. She had previously attended an art school in Paris (hence the portrait on the cover). She nonchalantly describes how she went out to hunt for zebras to feed her people, or killed a lion which was attacking the farm’s livestock. All in a day’s work.

She was a self-acclaimed storyteller of the old-fashioned kind, and indeed this memoir has an aura of magic, fairy tale quality at times. She weaves real-life stories into myths and history, and her slightly antiquated prose is sprinkled with enchanting, sometimes dream-like images. (My translation:)

The minutes dripped from my clock one by one as if life itself dripped with them (…)

In the afternoon sun the plain was blackened with clergy.

The virginal, African forest is a mystical region. You ride into an old, green tapestry, faded in some places, darkened with age in others, with an infinite wealth of green hues.

Blixen was inspired by, among other things, the Bible and Arabian Nights, which can be glimpsed in the anecdotal tone, the grandiose scope of some of the stories, the occasional ‘it happened that…’

Her colonial naïveté jarred on my modern sensibilities at times. She paints with a very wide brush when she talks about ‘whites’ and ‘coloured people’ or even ‘Negroes’ – as if we are all one within our ethnic tribe. On the other hand, she lived among all these different peoples (Kikuyus, Somalis, Indians, Masai, various ‘white’ people) for 17 years and was herself a Dane: she had ample opportunity to compare and contrast. She never preferred one over the other but was a keen observer of culture. (She was the one who sent for a doctor to save a woman on her farm who was in childbirth, and the doctor, an Englishman, told her it shouldn’t happen again as he used to practice among the Bournemouth elite!)

Likewise, I didn’t exactly applaud when she described how she and Denys Finch-Hatton went out to shoot lions. But I was reminded of Hemingway and his love of big-game hunting in Africa (and he greatly admired Karen Blixen; when he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1954, he said he wished he could have waited until Karen Blixen was awarded it. She never was.). The two authors belonged to another era, and if her hunting reminded me of Hemingway, her use of the word ‘native’ sometimes reminded me of Kipling, another colonizer from a bygone era, who loved his native land (India) despite being part of the colonial project. It is easy to get on our high horse today and wave the banner of political correctness, but in fact I believe, in Blixen’s case, it had nothing to do with a sense of ethnic superiority. She had servants in her home when she moved back to Denmark – Danish servants. So perhaps it is a question of class; she was unapologetically aristocratic, but she was so much more, too. So although it grated on my modern ears to hear her speak of ‘her people’ and ‘her Kikuyus’, Kipling too wrote wonderful stories despite his white man’s burden ethic. (I am in no way offering a partial apologia for colonialism; I wrote my thesis on British colonialism in India and called it ‘the denigration of a culture’, yet I am aware that this is viewed from the educated heights of modernity. It is not a question of defending but of understanding and seeing things in context. I can be critical and yet appreciate the art. The fact that the Greeks owned slaves should not prevent me from reading them).

Despite her aristocratic susceptibilities, she had a uniquely international mindset, which is perhaps what I appreciated the most. She was happier in a tent on the African plains than in a European drawing-room. In her world the most unlikely personages – a lowlife, Swedish wanderer and members of the aristocratic Masai tribe – were able to meet and connect. Throughout the book, it became apparent that she was as one with the land and its people.

The sense of place in the book is astounding. The portrait of Africa that she paints is a strange and beguiling mix of the exotic and the decadent, the palpable and the lost, the real and the nostalgic. I want to travel to that Africa after reading this, but the Africa she describes is no more.

Her African adventure unravels at the end. The coffee farm was losing money, and though she desperately tried to find ways to save the farm and all the people whose livelihoods were dependent on it, two years of droughts made it a lost cause. At the same time,

I fell completely under the spell of this story – a wonderful, magical testimony to the best years of Blixen’s life and her enforced move out of Africa.

Profile Image for Hugh.
1,272 reviews49 followers
April 30, 2021
Another book borrowed from my parents' shelves, this is something of a period piece, but an enjoyable read nonetheless.

This book is an episodic memoir of a period Blixen spent managing a coffee farm in the Kenyan highlands during and shortly after the Great War. Interestingly her husband, who was in joint charge of the farm for the first few years, never gets mentioned, which makes one wonder what else was omitted, but her account of the people, the landscape, the wildlife and much else is lively if rather dated to a modern eye.

Many of her farm workers were Gĩkũyũ (Kikuyu in Swahili) which made it interesting to read so soon after The Perfect Nine: The Epic of Gĩkũyũ and Mũmbi.
Profile Image for Lenoir.
387 reviews5 followers
July 31, 2017
Ok, I'll admit it. I really didn't love this book. I didn't even finish it. I am adding it as read because I read more than half of it and I should get something out of it since I won't be getting my time wasted back. I'm sure you are supposed to read this for the lovely descriptions of Africa (and it does sound quite lovely) but if I had to read another comparison of a native to an animal I thought I was going to scream. There was zero story line. It was just not something that I could appreciate.
Profile Image for Violet wells.
433 reviews3,220 followers
August 27, 2016
"If I know a song of Africa, of the giraffe and the African new moon lying on her back, of the plows in the fields and the sweaty faces of the coffee pickers, does Africa know a song of me? Will the air over the plain quiver with a color that I have had on, or the children invent a game in which my name is, or the full moon throw a shadow over the gravel of the drive that was like me, or will the eagles of the Ngong Hills look out for me?”

Profile Image for Lesle.
197 reviews67 followers
November 20, 2021
Out of Africa: Karen's writing conveys all the beauty and feelings of the country and it's people. She writes quietly, leasurely and all the love that she feels she shares with us, including the daily happenings on her 4000 acre farm in Africa from the flamingos at the lake, to Lulu, to the early morning drives it is all breathtaking and sweeps you right into the story.
She understands the people and expresses herself whole heartedly and you can tell she loves it all as I found myself doing the same. She takes her responsibilities seriously they are her purpose. Everything is different, everything is of interest and everything contains a passion.
Her fairytales and stories she would write at night. “I began in the evenings to write stories, fairy-tales and romances, that would take my mind a long way off, to other countries and times.”
Some of the other influences outside of Africa were more interfering and made life changing circumstances amongst the people.
The failure of the coffee farm meant she had to leave her beloved country and it's people. Her experiences make for a mesmerising and enjoyable read of the life of this extraordinary woman.
Essentially this memoir is a window to an Africa that was, and no longer is.
Profile Image for Laysee.
519 reviews250 followers
September 12, 2016
One of the best things about Goodreads is being led quite naturally to the next book to read. I felt drawn to re-visit “Out of Africa” when a couple of Goodreads friends recently reviewed it with such fervor and beauty.

So I found myself rapturously back at the foot of the Ngong hills, 16 km southwest of Nairobi. Published in 1937, “Out of Africa” is a memoir by Danish author Baroness Karen von Blixen-Finecke (who wrote under the pen name, Isak Dinesen) that recounted 17 years of the life she shared with the native folks in British East Africa that is modern day Kenya. The Baroness had a farm and a coffee plantation that employed the Squatters, the local Kikuyu tribesmen who worked the land in exchange for lodgings and wages. It has been many years since I read this memoir but the pleasure I derived from having spent time once again among the Natives of Africa was fresh and familiar at the same time.

Blixen wrote aesthetically about the African landscape. I caught sight of the lush green coffee plantation adorning the highlands and of the radiance of the flowering trees "like a cloud of chalk" when the rains came. "Everything that you saw made for greatness and freedom, and unequalled nobility." It must have been liberating to be situated in the highlands because "Up in this high air you breathed easily, drawing in a vital assurance and lightness of heart."

Beyond the lush rendering of the mysterious native forests was Blixen’s vivid description of the people and animals who lived on or visited her farm. The memorable characterization included but was not restricted to Kamante (her Kikuyu servant), Lulu (the princess-like gazelle), Farah (her Somali servant) and Denys Finch-Hatton (her close friend). I felt as if I knew each one of them and something of Blixen’s affection and respect for them became my own. They were rightfully a large part of the African gift that made those days in Kenya the happiest for Blixen.

I could not resist keeping notes of a few of these characters who made an impression on me.

The one part I did not like was the safaris and the episode wherein Blixen and Denys shot the lion and lioness. I thought it appalling when just a page before the lines had depicted the lion with his gorgeous mane sitting by the carcass of a giraffe with the retiring sun setting the skies aflame. It seemed a sacrilege to kill a lion in his natural home with the skies enveloping him in what would have been perfect peace. But then I had not lived in Kenya and did not have to risk my cows or calves falling prey to the lions.

"I had a farm in Africa, at the foot of the Ngong hills." This memorable opening line came back like a haunting refrain when the time came for Blixen to sell the farm. It was an unthinkable thought to Blixen and by this time in the novel, it was equally unthinkable to me. It was touching to read about the Natives' unflinching loyalty. "...they came and sat round my house from the early morning till night, not so much in order to talk with me as just to follow all my movements." How wondrous, I thought, that despite their vast cultural and social divide, Blixen and her squatters forged lasting ties: "We felt, I believe, up to the very last, a strange comfort and relief in each other's company. The understanding between us lay deeper than all reason."

The verse below from Denys Finch-Hatton to Blixen struck me as a fitting conclusion to this review:
"You must turn your mournful ditty
To a merry measure,
I will never come for pity,
I will come for pleasure."

“Out of Africa” is a recount of a personal loss. And yet, one is left not with a sense of pity but one of pleasure. What a memorable memoir.
Profile Image for Thomasin Propson.
980 reviews15 followers
June 18, 2014
Amazing. AMAZING!! I've heard of this book all my life, of course, but its premise never caught my interest. Oh, how glad I am to have run across a copy at a garage sale this summer. It's amazing. Baroness Blixen (aka Isak Dinesen) has the most lovely narrative voice. She can tell a tale, set a scene, make you part of the story. It's truly amazing. I've started telling myself I'm not allowed to mark-up my books anylonger, but I found myself turning down numerous pages of this book so I could return and savour again my favorite passages.

Not to say the story setting is itself perfect in the modern sense. The early 1900s in Kenya on a colonial coffee plantation is a less than ideal time/situation to me. The Baroness shoots a lot of lions and is dismissive or overlooks the nasty business of colonialism. But taking into consideration when it was written and acknowledging the priviledge which Blixen enjoyed, it's still an amazing story which shares a beautiful description of a woman's love for a land and her desire to understand those who lived there with her (the other European farmers/colonists and the African native people under colonial rule).

"How beautiful were the evenings of the Masai Reserve when after sunset we arrived at the river or the water-hole wehre we were to outspan, travelling in a long file. The plains with the thorntrees on them were already quite dark, but the air was filled with a clarity,--and over our heads, to the West, a single star which was to grow big and radiant in the course of the night was now just visable, like a silver point in the sky of citrine topaz. The air was cold to the lungs, the long grass dripping wet, and the herbs on it gave out their spiced astringent scent. In a little while on all sides the Cicada would begin to sing. The grass was me, and the air, the distant invisible mountains wer me, the tired oxen were me. I breathed with the slight night-wind in the thorntrees."

"Here he was now flung on to the farm by his own burning mind, like a stone out of a volcano. He was going mad, he said, in a country which expected a man to keep alive on talk of oxen and sisal, his soul was starving and he could stand it no longer. He began the moment he came into the room and went on till after midnight, holding forth on love, communism, prostitution, Hamsun, the Bible, and poisoning himself in very bad tobacco all the time..."

"All my life I have held that you can calss people according to how they may be imagine behaving to King Lear."

"The true aristocracy and the true proletariat of hte world are both in understanding with tragedy. To them it is the fundamental principle of God, and the key--the minor key,--to extistence. They differ in this way from the bourgeoisie of all classes, who deny tragedy, who will not tolerate it, and to whom the word of tragedy means in itself unpleasantness."

There are just so many lovely passages, amazing images. READ THIS BOOK. I'll be heading over to read other works by the Baroness very soon!
Profile Image for S©aP.
405 reviews74 followers
September 26, 2016
Ho dovuto aspettare trent'anni, affinché arrivasse il momento giusto. Quando il libro mi fu regalato non avevo vissuto abbastanza. Il film mi era molto piaciuto, sì, ma non conoscevo ancora il sapore forte di un grosso fallimento, o quello sopraffino di un bel ricordo. Né distinguevo il piacere soave della consapevolezza, che misura sé stessa con la vita. Non potevo apprezzare, quindi, il passo lento, meditato, con cui la buona scrittura induce a disciogliere i pensieri più fondi.
Il libro, come tutti i libri, con la sua saggezza ieratica, mi ha aspettato. Poi, con quel tempismo intuibile - ma inspiegabile - che solo i libri hanno, mi ha richiamato e regalato la sua essenza.

Ben oltre i fatti di cui si narra, al di là delle polemicuzze classiste di qualcuno, questi racconti distesi descrivono educatamente un cammino interiore. Sommesso, costante, doloroso, e vivifico. Il cammino attraverso cui arriviamo a capire che ogni morte rappresenta, all'istante, la nascita di un'identità. E che solo questo - e proprio questo - ci consente di essere lieti di avere comunque vissuto.


I had to wait thirty years for the right time to come. When this book was given to me, I had not lived long enough yet. I had loved the film very much, of course, although I still knew not the strong flavor of a huge failure, or the superfine taste of a beautiful memory. Nor I could tell the sweet pleasure of awareness, that measures itself with life. I could not appreciate, then, the slow, meditated, pace with which good writing leads you to dissolve the fundest thoughts.
The book, like all books, with its hieratic wisdom, waited for me. Then, with that particular timing only books have, that we may sense but not explain, it called me back and gave me its essence.

Far beyond the facts narrated, and way over someone's classist polemics, these calm tales politely describe an inner journey. Subdued, constant, painful, and life-giving. The way through which we come to understand that every death is, at once, the birth of an identity. And that only this - and just this - allowes us to be glad to have lived, after all.
Profile Image for Camie.
916 reviews192 followers
June 2, 2016
Out of Africa is a modern classic memoir of Isak Dinesen's ( Karen Blixen) years in Kenya.(1914-1931) Arriving from Denmark with her husband to run a 4,000 acre Coffee Plantation, after their separation she stays on to manage the farm alone. There is some beautiful writing here about the scenery, wildlife, and the natives. Her native servants and farm workers appear fond of her and most all of the stories are about the Kikuyu and Masai Tribes who live around her. I already knew many of the facts of Dinesen's life having read about her in Circling The Sun by Paula McLain. That's a good thing because in this memoir the main character is almost nonexistent ( except for her dealings ( mostly observations ) with the natives, along with descriptions about the happenings in her life or much about her emotions. We know the love of her life Denys Finch Hatton, a safari guide, was killed in a plane crash and that she finally is forced to return to Denmark when her farm fails , but I learned far more about her feelings about these people and events from McLain's book than her own. I'm not sure I've ever read another memoir where the author's personal life and feelings were so absent.
3 stars
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