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Out of Africa
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Group Reads Archive > Out of Africa by Karen Blixen (2013 Reading Challenge)

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Ally (goodreadscomuser_allhug) | 1653 comments Mod
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Out of Africa  by Karen Blixen Out of Africa by Karen Blixen

message 2: by Val (last edited Feb 07, 2013 01:10PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Val I couldn't find my own copy so I borrowed this one from the library: Out of Africa (see ISBN).
It is an illustrated hardback book and the photographs, paintings and other artwork, added to some lovely stories make it a beautiful one. I recommend it, if you can get hold of a copy.
(The library copy has a cover price sticker of £6.99.)

Ally (goodreadscomuser_allhug) | 1653 comments Mod
Did anyone see the film with Meryl Streep...I caught it last Saturday.

message 4: by Val (new) - rated it 4 stars

Val I saw it some years ago.
The photographs of the real Denys Finch Hatton were a bit disappointing when compared to Robert Redford.

Marieke | 23 comments Val wrote: "I saw it some years ago.
The photographs of the real Denys Finch Hatton were a bit disappointing when compared to Robert Redford."


i have an older edition of the book (that i have not yet started). i will check when i'm home to see if it has these pictures. i'm so curious!

message 6: by Jan C (new) - added it

Jan C (woeisme) | 1525 comments The only pictures I ever saw of Finch Hatton were in a biography about Beryl Markham. The Lives of Beryl Markham by Errol Trzebinski.

message 7: by Gary (last edited Feb 08, 2013 07:11PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Gary Smith (gary622) | 17 comments Just checking in unofficially to say I read this book and saw the movie again late last year... I've made it through this book twice in my life. The first time I was led by the movie to assume there would be more of a central plot or that Finch Hatton would be a more prominent character. In re-watching the movie (which I first saw as a teenager), I realized - the movie is about character and theme, rather than so much about plot, itself.

First read the book about 10-12 years ago. I would have called myself an experienced literary reader at that point, but got much more out of it this time around last year.

Her description of the state of things at the end (being vague to avoid spoilers) was extremely moving in its understated simplicity. She built up a tone of voice through the entire book, and in a sense that was the payoff, for lack of a better term.

Marieke | 23 comments i'm not saying this to be provocative, but i moderate an African literature group here on goodreads. i read this book as a teenager...about 20 years ago in fact. i loved it back then, but knew nothing about Africa. in the meantime i've heard criticism of this book regarding its racism. so i'm taking a huge risk reading this book again as an adult...i probably won't love it the way i did as a teenager, and i do expect to see the racism in it. i hope it's okay to include racism in our discussion such critiques hold water?

message 9: by Val (last edited Feb 08, 2013 10:49PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Val Marieke wrote: "i'm not saying this to be provocative, but i moderate an African literature group here on goodreads. i read this book as a teenager...about 20 years ago in fact. i loved it back then, but knew noth..."

Racism should be a discussion topic, so here are my thoughts on Karen Blixen's:
Her attitude to the natives is very patronising, but she says they are the same as the poor of Europe, so calling her racist is too simple a label. She has given them their place in the class hierarchy and does not see anything wrong with that. We do not know how she would treat a non-European aristocrat, but we read about her reception of the Indian religious leader. We also see her opinion of two different lower class Europeans, Knudsen and Emmanualson.

Marieke | 23 comments Thanks, Val. I am excited to reread it. All I can really remember is that I loved it way back when.

message 11: by Val (new) - rated it 4 stars

Val I love the way it is written, her descriptions and musings are great. Her attitudes are not as attractive, but were probably not that unusual at the time.
Apart from her view of the natives as a cross between her children and her peasants, I was amazed that there were any lions left in the area to sit on Finch Hatton's grave!

Marieke | 23 comments i finally started (re)reading this and i'm half-way through, and i have to confess i'm having trouble. i'm finding her writing rather boring. :/
i read it when i was 18 and loved it...but now i'm having a huge problem keeping engaged and having a hard time deciding whether or not i should persevere. maybe it's something i'm supposed to read in bits and pieces?

message 13: by Jan C (new) - added it

Jan C (woeisme) | 1525 comments I've been reading this book off and on for six years. It is a relief that someone else says it is boring. I keep thinking that maybe I just haven't hit the "interesting" part yet. I will keep on in that hope.

message 14: by Amy (new) - rated it 2 stars

Amy | 38 comments I am finding the book intriguing to read about the landscapes, but it really isn't a "read straight through" kind of book is it? I have had to intersperse reading it with other novels to keep the interest up.

It feels like she is just conversing with us about her time in Africa. She mentions in the book that Denys loves listening to stories, like the natives do. But white people have "been accustomed to take in their impressions by the eye". That's how I feel reading this book! I too found an old edition with little drawings and full page pictures through out and I am enjoying the artwork more than most of the chapters. But the section "From an Immigrant's Notebook" was easy to get through.

message 15: by Susan (last edited Jul 13, 2013 11:39PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Susan | 774 comments I had not read this book for many years, but I spent an entire day yesterday just loving it - so thank you for whoever suggested it. It is a charming portrait of her time running a plantation, with all the characters she meets and a real sense of place. Plus I liked her much more than the odious Idina in The Bolter! Beautiful, evocative and a really gorgeous read. Ideally read on a very hot and sunny day to add flavour :)

message 16: by Val (new) - rated it 4 stars

Val I liked her too, she tried to do her best and genuinely cared for her servants and the local native population. I think she comes across as being very patronising towards them by modern standards, but then she was a European aristocrat and would have absorbed those attitudes from the time she was in her cradle.

Susan | 774 comments Yes, you have to remember when it was written. Apparently she disliked Idina too - good judge of character.

message 18: by Linda2 (last edited Jul 28, 2013 06:26AM) (new) - added it

Linda2 I've read through this twice over the years, followed by Shadows in the Grass, her memoir of 1950's-1960, Judith Thurman's Isak Dinesen. The Life of a Storyteller, (1982) and her complete bibliography of short stories.

O of A is a memoir, not straight autobiography, with some characters merged, stories out of chronological order, some threads not tied up. Some publishers even list is an a novel. She's left out some important details, such as her 2 miscarriages, which could have shed even more light on her relationship with Denys and why she tried so hard to hold onto him.

The film had to make the story cinematic by having a beginning, middle and end, and juggled many facts around. Oddly, the seemingly fantastic tale of the monkeys listening to the records of Mozart, is true. So is the story about her fighting off the lion and being called "Lioness."

Dinesen was born into a Victorian family(1885,) yet she was far less patronizing than other immigrants in Kenya,(and much less than the character in the film,) sitting on the tribal council as an elder, and working so hard at the end to preserve the integrity of the Kikuyu and their land. Honestly, I don't remember if that part was in O of A or Shadows in the Grass. But I would recommend that book as a follow up for anyone who enjoyed this one.

Women did NOT live alone on African farms, and run them alone. She was a complex woman, who reinvented herself yet again with a literary career in 1937, a real Renaissance woman. Not bad for someone who had been brought up to look pretty and attract a good husband.

message 19: by Linda2 (new) - added it

Linda2 The title comes from ancient Rome:

"There is always something new out of Africa." --Pliny The Elder, 23-79 CE

Susan | 774 comments Rochelle, yes, I have read other books by, and about, her - although some time ago. I seem to recall, in one, that when there were uprisings in Kenya, her farm remained one of the few unscathed - when white settlers were being brutally killed. As I recall, those who lived and worked on her land, surrounded her house and protected her. Therefore, whatever we perceive with modern eyes as patronising behaviour, was obviously seen as protection and caring by those who worked and lived around her.

message 21: by Linda2 (last edited Jul 28, 2013 06:34AM) (new) - added it

Linda2 Thanks for your comments. And the reason the other settlers never accepted her was that she was too "pro-native." Their name for that, beginning with an "n," is too crude to use here.

message 22: by Val (new) - rated it 4 stars

Val They also thought she was pro-German, which she wasn't.

message 23: by Linda2 (new) - added it

Linda2 I'm wondering why Goodreads lists her books of short stories under Karen Blixen instead of Isak Dinesen, and I don't think that's done in any other book catalog. Is that done here at GR with any other authors using pseudonyms?

message 24: by Val (new) - rated it 4 stars

Val I would assume it depends on the publisher Rochelle. The catalogues I have used usually seem to give both names for her, which makes searching easier, but I have only looked in Spydus (library), Amazon and here.
What language are you reading them in?

I just had a look under a recently revealed pseudonym and Goodreads give both names for that one too, Amazon and Spydus just have the pseudonym
The Cuckoo's Calling.

Jennifer W | 1002 comments Mod
I just finished this and I have to say that her writing is beautiful, but I wish there was more plot. I already knew her husband had left to return to Europe, and that Denys was her lover. I would not have gotten that out of reading this book. Perhaps one of the books about her would satisfy my curiosity more than this did.

message 26: by Jan C (new) - added it

Jan C (woeisme) | 1525 comments Jennifer W wrote: "I just finished this and I have to say that her writing is beautiful, but I wish there was more plot. I already knew her husband had left to return to Europe, and that Denys was her lover. I would ..."

Judith Thurman has a biography that I have been reading for a while - Isak Dinesen The Life Of A Storyteller.

message 27: by Val (last edited Sep 08, 2015 02:55PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Val Wasn't it Karen who returned to Europe, when the farm failed?
(She and Bror were already separated and later divorced by then.)

Jennifer W | 1002 comments Mod
She did, but he was already gone before OoA started. From the reading, I wouldn't have even realized she'd been married.

message 29: by Val (new) - rated it 4 stars

Val She does not give much away about her personal life, but I agree that most of the events in the book must be from after her husband left the farm.
The safari might have been with him as he had a business organising them and she is reported to have said "If I could wish anything back of my life, it would be to go on safari once again with Bror...". He carried on running that business for several years afterwards, so I would guess he was still in Kenya but elsewhere than the farm.

message 30: by Ally (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ally (goodreadscomuser_allhug) | 1653 comments Mod
I've finally started reading this one...I'm enjoying several books about Africa just at the moment (...sometimes a theme just engages you).

I've tried several times with my paperback version of Out of Africa but failed...I agree with earlier comments that its a little boring to read and it doesn't really pull you back to it, however the descriptions of the landscape, the animals, the farming life, the Kikuyu and their spirituality etc. is just beautiful and very evocative.

I've downloaded the audiobook versions read by Susan Lyons and have been listening to it this morning as I've been going about my tidying, hoovering and baking. I have to say that listening to it is pulling me in rather better than reading the paperback! As if I'm listening to someone telling stories about the places and people they know and the events and happenings of their life. It's lovely, like traditional storytelling.

I've just finished listening to part 1. When describing the coffee plantation Karen Blixen tells us that "The squatters are Natives, who with their families hold a few acres on a white man's farm, and in return have to work for him a certain number of days in the year. My squatters, I think, saw the relationship in a different light, for many of them were born on the farm, and their fathers before them, and they very likely regarded me as a sort of superior squatter on their estates."

She notices differences in the character of the natives (which is a word she uses in the book that doesn't always sit well with me but I'll use here because it is the language of the narrator and the time in which she was writing). They don't answer her questions in a straightforward way, they are often silent and thoughtful, they have a dislike of sudden movements and I think at one point she talks of a 'stone in the pit of the stomach' that often stops work on the farm. She also talks of the Kikuyu's deep understanding of the workings of the land, the weather and the ways of the animals and their acceptance that things like drought just happen so there is no anxiety at all. Its interesting how Karen Blixen senses that the natives simply 'tolerate' her lack of understanding of these innate truths or that they don't quite believe that she doesn't know things that to them are just natural ways of the world or natural parts of their deep spirituality. It feels like a real and genuine interest on the part of the narrator in the lives and culture of a different sort of people and a need to understand them...and have her reader understand them too. She says that "The Negro is on friendly terms with destiny, having been in her hands all this time".

I was fascinated at the way that Karen Blixen administered 'first aid'. She says "I knew little of doctoring, just what you learn at a first-aid course. But my renown as a doctor had been spread by a few chance lucky cures, and had not been decreased by the catastrophic mistakes that I had made". It's through her 'doctoring' that we first meet Kamante, for whom the narrator has a clear fondness...and as a reader I love this character too. When she can't cure his recurring sores she takes him to the Scottish Mission, where he stays for several months and is then cured so he comes back and stays and works on the farm in several roles for many years afterwards.

The observances about religion are fascinating too. Kemante has converted to Christianity and when Karen Blixen tries to 'test' his faith he can't be drawn simply saying that she knows what she believes so she already knows what he believes without the need to ask. The idea is mooted that the rivalry between the French and the Scotch missions might undermine Christianity in the eyes of the natives. It is a little unnerving for the narrator when another native, Kitau, sees her as representative of Christianity and then wants to go and work for someone who is a representative of Islam to compare. Interesting too is the observance that the Kikuyu are not afraid of death but wont touch dead bodies but the Christian is afraid of death but doesn't bother over touching dead bodies. Kemante feels able to help Karen Blixen move old Knudsen's body as he is now a Christian but fails to prove that he's no longer afraid of snakes.

Religious differences too come up when on safari and an animal is shot the gun hands are keen to cut the animal's throat before it dies or they won't be able to eat the meat. Karen Blixen says "I happened to meet the Mohammedan Shereef up at Kijabe; I asked if he could not give my people dispensation from the law for as long as our safari lasted...'This lady is a disciple of Jesus Christ. When she fires her rifle, she will say, or at least in her heart will say: In the name of God, which will make her bullets equivalent to the knife of the orthodox Mohammedan. For the length of time of this journey, you can eat the meat of the animals that she shoots'"....hmm, well that's ok then!...Really???

Finally, in part one, I loved the section about Lulu the fawn, who was raised as a pet but then goes off on her own, and the deep understanding that Kemante had that she had not died but was now married and that was why she wasn't coming back to the house.

Can't wait to listen on...will have to find more housework to do after lunch!

message 31: by Jan C (new) - added it

Jan C (woeisme) | 1525 comments Maybe listening to it would revive my interest. I pretty much thought it dragged.

message 32: by Ivan (new)

Ivan | 561 comments Out of Africa by Isak Dinesen a friend just gave me this lovely edition.

message 33: by Ivan (last edited Nov 18, 2017 05:59AM) (new)

Ivan | 561 comments Val wrote: "I saw it some years ago.
The photographs of the real Denys Finch Hatton were a bit disappointing when compared to Robert Redford."

Val - I thought Redford was all wrong in this film - wooden. I couldn't understand for the life of me why Pollock didn't cast a Brit - like Jeremy Irons or Charles Dance. Redford didn't even attempt an accent - which really bothered me.

message 34: by Heather (new)

Heather | 16 comments Ivan wrote: "Val wrote: "I saw it some years ago.
The photographs of the real Denys Finch Hatton were a bit disappointing when compared to Robert Redford."

Val - I thought Redford was all wrong in this film - ..."

I agree completely, Ivan. I think he didn’t try an accent because he knew he couldn’t pull it off, especially next to Streep. I hadn’t thought of Charles Dance, he would have been a good choice.

message 35: by Ivan (new)

Ivan | 561 comments Heather wrote: "Ivan wrote: "Val wrote: "I saw it some years ago.
The photographs of the real Denys Finch Hatton were a bit disappointing when compared to Robert Redford."

Val - I thought Redford was all wrong in..."

I thought of irons because they had worked so well together in The French Lieutenant's Woman.

message 36: by Val (new) - rated it 4 stars

Val The film is not great, but it does look good and that is one reason to watch it (like all those David Lean ones).

message 37: by Ivan (new)

Ivan | 561 comments Val wrote: "The film is not great, but it does look good and that is one reason to watch it (like all those David Lean ones)."

I actually love the film - save for Redford (who doesn't ruin it, but should never have been cast in the first place - but Hollywood probably wanted a big star).

message 38: by John (new)

John Farebrother | 2 comments I've seen bits of the film, and never read the book. Having worked for several years in Africa, what struck me most was the relationships between the Europeans and the Africans. In some ways things have changed a lot since then, with the end of the colonial period, and blatant foreign ownership of the economy and political structure. But in other ways, the same master-man relation persists: foreign money still controls everything at regional and national level, and in most cases the locals still make up the peasant and working class on the ground. To quote The Damned Balkans: A Refugee Road Trip "commerce and Christianity (Dr Livingstone’s exhortation in 1857) is nowadays called free trade and sustainable development".

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