With classic simplicity and a painter's feeling for atmosphere and detail, Isak Dinesen tells of the years she spent from 1914 to 1931 managing a coffee plantation in Kenya.
Out of Africa
is Karin Blixen's love letter to the country she called home for nearly 20 years. Arriving in British East Africa (now Kenya) from Denmark in 1914, Blixen--Isak Dinesen was her pen name--was immediately seduced by the landscape of the Ngong hill country, not to mention the animals and people who inhabited it. Her descriptions bring this wonderland alive for readers: out on safari, she recalls the movements of a group of giraffes, "in their queer, inimitable, vegetative gracefulness, as if it were not a herd of animals but a family of rare, long-stemmed, speckled gigantic flowers slowly advancing." Blixen laces into her reverie the account of her coffee plantation--which ultimately succumbed to high altitude, droughts, and tumbling international coffee prices--and tales of her friendships with other colonials in Nairobi. But one should read her memoir for the stories she tells of cooking with her Kikuyu chef (who almost never ate any of the European delicacies he so expertly created), adopting an abandoned infant antelope, flying over the countryside in her lover's plane--"the greatest, most transporting pleasure of my life on the farm"--and watching the children of her tenant farmers collect at her house each day at noon for the spectacle of her cuckoo clock.
Though some of her references to native Africans will likely make today's readers uncomfortable, Blixen can also be perceptive, particularly in her articulation of the differences between European and African culture and her excitement over what she learns from "her" Africans. It is not long before she is attuned to the rhythms of nature: she can foresee when the rains will come, can spot the new moon before anyone else on the farm, and knows exactly what the silence of night should sound like. Though her sorrow is almost unbearably palpable when at last--after the collapse of the farm, the loss of her lover, and the war looming--Blixen leaves Africa, the reader will close the book richer for her sojourn. --Jordana Moskowitz