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Out of Africa 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 freuently 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 picturesue and flamboyant literary personalities of the century

10 thoughts on “Out of Africa

  1. says:

    ”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” Karen Blixen in 1913 Her whole life was before herWhen 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 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 uite 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” Denys Finch HattonI 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 themThey 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 Drought ”One year the long rains failedThat 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 Karen Blixen showing some of the elegance her visitors in Kenya must have enjoyedDrought 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 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 RecommendedIf you wish to see of my most recent book and movie reviews visit also have a Facebook blogger page at

  2. says:

    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 25 and 05 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 coverWhat 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 allWhat 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 eually impressive if she managed to get it printed in hardcover an expensive endeavour but feasibleHer 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 acuaintance 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

  3. says:

    45 stars I had a farm in Africa at the foot of the Ngong Hills Everything that you saw made for greatness and freedom and uneualled nobilityA 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 uite 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 myselfThe 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 uite 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 aweI’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 uiver 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?

  4. says:

    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 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

  5. says:

    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 devastatingThis 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

  6. says:

    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 uite pinpoint that just does not do it for meKaren 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 uickly 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 piued Thus is the contrast between past and modern settingsI do give Blixen credit for managing her farm alone with a delinuent 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 doubtWhile 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 suare 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 taste3 stars

  7. says:

    “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 uality 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 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

  8. says:

    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 rememberIn case you were wondering I added an extra star because I actually do like the author's writing style

  9. says:

    “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 uarters 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 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 uotes 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 knowSo sad did it seem that I remembered the saying of the hero in a book that I had read as a child I have conuered 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 homesAs 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 countryperhaps 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 turuoise 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 turuoise and the 'nègre' that uick sweet brownish black like peat and black pottery of the Native's skin that had created the life of the bracelet”

  10. says:

    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 DinesenBlixen is a master story teller I can understand why Denys Finch Hatton loved to hear her tell her storiesHighly recommend

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