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March 2018: Autobiography > Out of Africa - Karen Blixen

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message 1: by Kristel (new)

Kristel (kristelh) | 696 comments Out of Africa and Shadows on the Grass combined, is more a meditation or anthropology of Africa than an autobiography. It is a memoir of Danish author Karen Blixen. Karen Blixen ran a coffee farm in Kenya for 17 years in what was British East Africa. Blixen brings to life the people important in her life. She married her second cousin the Swedish Baron Bror von Blixen-Finecke, who is barely mentioned in the book. Nor is her divorce mentioned. After the divorce, Karen continued on the farm. The farm was never very good, it wasn't in the best place to be a successful coffee farm. Karen tried other things to make the farm successful but nothing was successful. She made it through WWI and returned to Denmark after and bedore the next war. I loved Karen Blixen's independence and willingness to work hard and her respect for the people and animals of Africa. Out of Africa is divided into five sections and is not necessarily linear. The first two focus primarily on Africans who lived or had business on the farm, and include close observations of native ideas about justice and punishment in the wake of a gruesome accidental shooting. The third section, called “Visitors to the Farm,” describes some of the local characters who considered Blixen’s farm to be a safe haven. The fourth, “From an Immigrant’s Notebook,” is a collection of short sub-chapters in which Blixen reflects on the life of a white African colonist. The he fifth and final section, “Farewell to the Farm,” the book begins to take on a more linear shape, as Blixen details the farm’s financial failure, and the untimely deaths of several of her closest friends in Kenya. The book ends with the farm sold, and with Blixen on the Uganda Railway, heading toward the steamer on the coast, looking back and watching her beloved Ngong Hills disappear behind her. The first part is fun and such a wonderful look at Africa (the anthropological section). I learned a lot about Somali African and I appreciated that having quite a few Somali in my home area. The final parts are reflections of the author's losses and love of Africa. This was the time of colonialism and many could fault the author for being a colonist but her love of Africa and friendship with the people and land tells me she was not a typical colonist. In her writing, the reader can picture the natural beauty and animal life being destroyed by the modernization that Europeans brought with them and Karen grieved this loss as well as her own loss. Themes include the difference between Africa and European justice and there are two trials that she details in the book. But Blixen does understand – and thoughtfully delineates – the differences between the culture of the Kikuyu who work her farm and who raise and trade their own sheep and cattle, and that of the Maasai, a volatile warrior culture of nomadic cattle-drovers who live on a designated tribal reservation south of the farm’s property. Blixen also describes in some detail the lives of the Somali Muslims who emigrated south from Somaliland to work in Kenya, and a few members of the substantial Indian merchant minority which played a large role in the colony’s early development. I felt her writing was free of prejudice and judgement. She was admired and loved by many Africans who continued contact with her even after she left the farm.

As far as autobiographical, it is interesting how much the author left out of her life. She barely mentions her husband and only by the term "my husband". She divorced during this time and ran the farm herself but she doesn't talk about the divorce of why she divorced. She is known to have had a lover but only mentions him as a close friend. We only get to know the author as the person who worked hard, understood the peoples and loved Africa and who was a great shot but slowly loved the animals more that she enjoyed killing them but she was quite capable of killing.

Karen Blixen according to the book, 1001 Books You Must Read, only narrowly missed the Nobel Prize for Literature. It calls this a novel about the death of imperialism in Africa and hailed as the greatest pastoral elegy of modernism. It is a book about Africa and the language is beautiful.


message 2: by Hilde (new)

Hilde (hilded) | 388 comments Great review, I loved this book:)


message 3: by [deleted user] (new)

It sounds like you enjoyed this book, Kristel. Did you give it a "star" rating on Goodreads?

I didn't really care for Out of Africa. Even though it read like diary entries and the subjects were obviously of great personal importance to Blixen, the writing was too disjointed for me.


message 4: by Kristel (new)

Kristel (kristelh) | 696 comments Yes, 3.83 stars or round up to 4


message 5: by Jason (new)

Jason Oliver | 2063 comments Great review!


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