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

Out of Africa / Shadows on the Grass by Isak Dinesen
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bookshelves: audible, kenya, bio, classics, 2015-read, flora, fauna

Out of Africa was first published in 1937, after the author's return to Denmark. Shadows on the Grass consists of four more essays. The first three were written in the 1950s and the last, titled 'Echoes from the Hills', was written in the 60s. They just add a few more details about events and characters mentioned in the original book.

The movie Out of Africa, starring Robert Redford and Meryl Streep, was produced and directed by Sydney Pollack. It was based not only on Blixen's Out of Africa, but also Judith Thurman's Isak Dinesen: The Life of a Storyteller, Errol Trzebinski's Silence Will Speak and Blixen's Letters from Africa, 1914-1931. The movie and Out of Africa / Shadows on the Grass are quite different. The movie is best classified as a couple's love story! The book, if it is to be classified as a love story, is of a love between a woman and a land, Africa, more specifically the Kenyan highlands and the Ngong Hills, southwest of Nairobi where she had her coffee farm. She moved here in 1914 after marriage to her Swedish second-cousin, Baron Bror von Blixen-Finecke. She remained almost eighteen years, running the farm alone after she and her husband were divorced in 1925. Much of her writing is under the pen name of Isak Dinesen, her father being the Dane Wilhelm Dinesen.

This book is not an autobiography of her life. She writes of the land and the people on her farm. She says very little about family or her personal relationships, except those with her workers. In fact not one word is mentioned of her husband, and very little about her lover, the English big game hunter Denys Finch Hatton. What you are told is of his airplane crash in 1931 and of his burial on her land. In fact you do learn who she was by following her thoughts and what she does. The book is more a set of essays on events that occurred on the farm and her relationship with Kikuyus, Somalis and the nomadic Maasai. It is not complete and it is not told in chronological order. One whole section is devoted to short, short tales about animals, about African folklore and about customs. These read as fables, each with a message. She loved the Africans for their stories! She is a lovely storyteller herself. She writes about the way the Africans honor that which is written, by relating amusing stories. You learn about traditions, the dances and festivals, clothing and food. This is a book about the African world she lived in, and it is beautifully, lyrically described - particularly the landscapes, the air, the views. She is also adept at “seeing” animals. They are not merely furred beasts. They have souls. They have personalities. Her stories about animals are funny and moving, and will appeal to all animal lovers.

I was brought to tears, not when Denys died, but when she had to leave Kenya. The farm failed; it was a hopeless endeavor.

I cannot give this more than three stars. Some sections are hard to follow. Some sections are overly philosophical, but the real problem I had is of how she speaks of “the natives” in a paternalistic, if not racist tone. I do understand that this was the era of colonialism. She respects the "natives", some of them at least, and she acknowledges the wisdom and abilities they have and which Whites often lack, but she doesn't see them as equals. She looks down on them. She sees them with condescension. This disturbed me; I am of a different era! In the beginning sections I wasn’t sure if I was simply misinterpreting her words, but her outlook became blatantly evident in her first essay of Shadows on the Grass, the one entitled Farah.

The narration of the audiobook by Susan Lyons was excellent. The author writes of her African life having returned to Denmark. Sections are nostalgic in tone and Lyons reading reflects this. Clear and easy to understand. After a humorous line she pauses. You have a chance to think and then smile.
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Reading Progress

August 9, 2015 – Shelved
August 9, 2015 – Shelved as: wishlist-b
August 9, 2015 – Shelved as: audible
August 9, 2015 – Shelved as: kenya
August 9, 2015 – Shelved as: bio
August 9, 2015 – Shelved as: classics
August 22, 2015 – Shelved as: own-unlistened
August 22, 2015 – Shelved as: 2015-read
August 25, 2015 – Started Reading
August 28, 2015 – Shelved as: flora
August 28, 2015 – Shelved as: fauna
August 28, 2015 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-6 of 6 (6 new)

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message 1: by Charbel (new)

Charbel She sounds like an interesting personality Chrissie! Great review by the way.

message 2: by Diane S ☔ (new) - added it

Diane S ☔ Very good review, Chrissie. I think I want to read this it sounds very interesting even if you don't agree with all her views.

Chrissie Diane, it should be read for how beautifully she describes the highlands. But, no one today would look on "natives", as she did then. First I was wondering if I misunderstood, but the essay "Farah" made her view perfectly clear. On the other hand she did acknowledge their abilities. She was friends with them and relied on them. It was also how she separated people into groups/classes and then spoke of them in general terms that bothered me.

Chrissie Thanks for liking my review.

message 5: by Sandra (last edited Sep 28, 2015 12:42PM) (new)

Sandra This is exactly how I felt after reading Out of Africa. Different times I guess. Though what made me begrudgingly give the book 3 stars was how evident was her love for Africa, how it became home. She was a very strong, self reliant woman and I came to feel a lot of respect for her regardless of what I felt was her superior attitude to both and the native Africans and their claims to the land.

message 6: by Chrissie (last edited Sep 28, 2015 01:27PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Chrissie Sandra, her attitude to the natives made me uncomfortable, but she certainly loved the land. It WAS a different time then; so maybe that explains this. So few people mention this in their review though! Nice you felt similarly.

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