Out Of Africa by Karen Blixen
|Out Of Africa by Karen Blixen|
|Reviewer: Sue Magee|
|Summary: First published in 1937 but still fresh and relevant, this is the story of Karen's Blixen's life as a coffee farmer in Kenya in the first quarter of the twentieth century. Highly recommended.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 336||Date: April 2011|
|Publisher: Penguin Essentials|
|External links: Author's website|
It's more than a quarter of a century since I first saw the film Out of Africa and it's one of the few that have stayed with me over the intervening years. It wasn't just the story, but the personality of Karen Blixen and the wonderful landscape of the Ngong Hills, south of Nairobi, in Kenya's Rift Valley. I remember looking for this book at the time, but being unable to find it, so the opportunity to read it now was too good to miss.
Karen Blixen left her native Denmark and come to Kenya to manage a coffee plantation in 1914 and she stayed there until it became obvious that growing coffee at that altitude was not economically viable and left in 1925. But from the moment she saw the Ngong Hills ('Ngong' means 'knuckle', by the way, because of the arrangement of the four hills) she knew that her heart belonged to Africa. Blixen was a remarkable and unconventional woman with attitudes far ahead of her time. The book tells of her life with the natives, the relationships which she developed with them and, as a counterpoint, her life as a white settler.
She's particularly good at pointing up the differences between the native and the white way of thinking. She never categorises them as better or worse – they are simply different and natural to the people who had lived on this land for thousands of years. Now they lived as squatters on her farm, giving her their labour for a certain number of days a year in return for the right to live on the land and grow some of their own crops. She never discriminated against the natives, but amusingly tells of times when others did.
The writing is superb and all the more remarkable because English was not Karen Blixen's native language. It's sharp, precise, descriptive and without a wasted word. I'm rather glad that I had a gap between seeing the film and reading the book (although a quarter of a century is a little long and represents too many missed opportunities for rereading), as the book and the film are different animals. Relationships were more to the forefront in the film – but in the book Blixen's husband, her cousin Bror Blixen-Finecke, isn't mentioned until some two-thirds of the way through the book and even the it seemed almost accidental. There's certainly no mention of other than a platonic relationship with Denys Finch Hatton.
It's a book to savour and return to and despite being published originally in 1937 it still feels fresh and relevant. I was particularly delighted by the cover art on this Penguin Essentials edition – a watercolour by David Gentleman – and I'd like to thank the publishers for sending the book to me. I shall treasure it.
For something of Kenya at a slightly later period we can recommend The Temptress: The Scandalous Life of Alice, Countess de Janze by Paul Spicer.
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You can read more book reviews or buy Out Of Africa by Karen Blixen at Amazon.com.
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