Thursday, April 10, 2008

Out of Africa

Out of Africa is Karen Blixen's memoir about her years in Africa, writing as Isak Dinesen. She recounts the world of Africa, specifically Kenya. It is, like the England of her friend Denys Finch-Hatton, "a world that no longer existed" even then and certainly as she left it. The memoir is a slow read, yet a book with prose in which you can luxuriate, or languish perhaps as it seems to mirror the mammoth African landscape. Reading like a pastoral novel, the narrator interested me with her myriad experiences. It presents people, cultures, landscape, and wildlife through her eyes, sometimes noble, sometimes paternal. The culture of the various tribes and religions with whom she had contact on her coffee farm became almost real, so that as I read certain moments became funny or sad or wistful. The reader comes to view animals differently, the fecundity of life struck me particularly. The different forces at work are both natural and foreign; the paradoxical nature of the presence of two churches (Roman Catholic and Church of Scotland); they are sometimes presented as working for good yet other times in conflict with each other. The memoir is truly literate and the importance of books and writing is evident throughout. Early in the memoir she tries to explain her writing a book to a native, while near the end of her stay as she is selling off the furniture and other estate provisions there is a poignant moment when, as she sits on her remaining books, she comments:
Books in a colony play a different part in your existence from what they do in Europe; there is a whole side of your life which they alone take charge of ... you feel more grateful to them, or more indignant with them, than you will ever do in civilized countries.
Blixen's memoir of this "uncivilised" land is both memorable and effective in sweeping the reader away into a very different world. Definitely a worthwhile read.

The image above was Dinesen's farm house in the Ngong Hills. Of it she wrote:
"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."

Out of Africa by Isak Dinesen (Karen Blixen). The Modern Library, New York. 1992 (1937)

No comments: