Thursday, September 10, 2020

Out of Africa - Isak Dinesen


Once again, I'm not sure what brought me to this particular book - I assume that there was a recommendation in something else that I was reading, somewhere. But this particular tome is well known enough that a movie was made from it in the mid-80's, although I was not aware of it until now.

Set in the 1920's, Karen Blixen, the author's true name, owned a coffee plantation in Kenya, Africa after divorcing from her husband. As can be imagined, a woman running a large plantation - thousands of acres - was a rarity and I can only assume that in Africa it was even more scarce, although she does mention another female friend who ran another farm while her husband was in the service.

Often a bit politically incorrect, Blixen's reminiscences are not laid out in the form of a novel, rather they are simply somewhat random vignettes giving the reader bits'n'pieces of life with the natives. I think I would have been drawn into the story a bit more if there had been some sort of linear plot, but Blixen tells the tale with fine lyrical imagery. There are innumerable characters involved - a large number of "squatters" who lived and worked on the farm as well as quite a few friends and acquaintances who come'n'go and often stay in the large house that is the center of the plantation. Many adventures of all sorts ensue and it is a quite fascinating view of life in the wild at the beginning of the century, very different than it would be now, for certain.

The descriptions of the natives are generally very positive and those that worked for her were very respectful of her and continued to keep in touch for decades after she was forced to sell the farm and leave the country. In the epilogue she recounts other friends of hers visiting her old servants and writing their own tales of the countrymen and being impressed by the continued loyalty.

Although intriguing, I'm afraid that the book did not really captivate me. Still, it does capture a time and a place that few white people truly experienced.