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Out of Africa (Penguin Modern Classics) (English Edition) Kindle-editie
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In 1914, shortly before the outbreak of World War I, the Danish Baroness Karen Blixen arrived in Kenya, East Africa, with Baron Bror Blixen, her Swedish husband, to run a coffee farm. She was instantly drawn to the land, and the Continent; spent her happiest years there until the plantation, which was located at too high an altitude for coffee growing, failed. Blixen was forced to return to Denmark in 1931; it was there that she wrote this classic account of her experiences under her Dinesen pen name. A poignant farewell to her beloved farm, OUT OF AFRICA describes her strong friendships with the people of her area, her affection for the landscape and animals, her great love for the adventurer Denys Finch-Hatton.
In this book, the author of SEVEN GOTHIC TALES and the short story BABETTE’S FEAST, which was also made into an Oscar-winning film, gives a true account of life on her plantation in Kenya. She tells, with forthright simplicity of the ways of the country and its natives: of the beauty of the Ngong Hills and coffee trees in blossom; of her guests, from the Prince of Wales to Knudsen, the old charcoal burner, who visited her; of local native festivals. Of big game that were her near neighbors--lions, rhinos, elephants, zebras, buffaloes--and Lulu, the little gazelle who came to live with her, who was charmingly ladylike and beautiful.
There is no question but that Dinesen’s first chapter, in which she introduces herself to Africa and Africa to the world, is extremely powerful, as is her last, in which she describes her burial of her lover Finch-Hatton, and her forced departure from the land she loved. In between, however, things can get a bit poky. There is also no question but that this book, written so long ago, reflects realities of the time which some of us hope are no longer so. I have recently visited the Blixen house, and it is full of animal skins, including items which I particularly hate, those rugs with the animals’ heads still on. The writer mentions killing an animal for its pretty coat: I, and many others, I hope, believe that an animal needs her pretty coat more than any person does. The author also describes a paternalistic, maternalistic outlook on the natives; yet a native servant is beaten to death for the sin of having ridden, rather than walked, a horse home. This kind of behavior undoubtedly helped cause the bloodthirsty largely Kikuyu-dominated 1952-1960 Mau Mau insurrection in Kenya, which was aimed at white settlers and farmers, ended only with the designation of Kenya as a member of the British Commonwealth, not as a colony. But, of course, the past is past, and cannot be changed.
Ah, and the writer also says, “On the Western wall of my house there was a stone seat and in front of it a table made out of a mill-stone. This stone had a tragic history: it was the upper millstone of the mill of the two murdered Indians. After the murder nobody dared to take over the mill, it was empty and silent for a long time, and I had the stone brought up to my house to form a table top, to remind me of Denmark. The Indian millers had told me that their mill-stone had come over the Sea from Bombay, as the stones of Africa are not hard enough for the work of grinding. On the top side a pattern was carved, and it had a few large brown spots on it, which my houseboys held to be the blood of the Indians, that would never come off. The millstone table in a way constituted the centre of the farm, for I used to sit behind it in all my dealings with the Natives. From the stone seat behind the mill-stone, I and Denys Finch- Hatton had one New Year seen the new moon and the planets of Venus and Jupiter all close together, in a group on the sky; it was such a radiant sight that you could hardly believe it to be real….”
On my recent trip to Kenya, I got to sit on the stone seat behind the millstone table: see the attached picture. A very proud moment for me. This is not a perfect book, but it’s a must read.
Blixen’s writing is realistic because it’s autobiographical, and a realist writer in Africa naturally invites comparison with her contemporary, Ernest Hemingway. She is not a professional, though, with Hemingway’s carefully pared paragraphs. Her descriptions are beautiful, as well as precise. If you’re looking at the book on Amazon, you can see what I mean from the first few pages.
Out of Africa is a heartfelt memoir, a collection of vignettes. So, not great art but still worth a read just for the author’s style and sensibility.