Out of Africa was the book chosen for me by the Classics Club spin. It came from my 'books I can't wait to read' list, so I was thrilled to see it chosen and couldn't wait to start it. It's actually the only non-fiction title on my list, a memoir by Karen Blixen of the time she spent living on a coffee farm in Kenya in the early twentieth century. Out of Africa reads like a collection of essays, in which Blixen records her impressions of the county and the people who live there, important events in their lives and finally the loss of her farm in 1931, when she was forced to return to Denmark.
I read Out of Africa slowly over the course of a month or so, which I think is the best way to tackle it. As I mentioned above, it's really a collection of essays/impressions and for a lot of the book it lacks an over-arching tie to hold everything together. This means that it isn't the most fast-paced of reads and I think I would honestly have struggled to read it straight through over a few days.
However, my slower pace meant that I had time to fully lose myself in Blixen's writing and the Kenya she portrays. The writing itself is absolutely stunning and reading it is an immersive experience, that makes you as a reader almost able to experience Blixen's impressions alongside her. Although the book is littered with the prejudices of the time and a healthy dose of European colonial attitude, the love Blixen has for Kenya and her respect for the settlers and tribes-people that live near her farm really comes through. She describes the stillness of Africa, the stars in the sky, the noises of the night and the quality and scent of the air. Knowing that Blixen wrote her memoir after losing her farm only makes the writing more poignant;
"The cicadias sing an endless song in the long grass, smells run along the earth and falling stars run over the sky, like tears over a cheek. You are the privileged person to whom everything is taken."
Out of Africa is an unusual memoir in some ways as it tells us next to nothing about Karen Blixen herself. Her divorce isn't mentioned and her love for Denys is implied, rather than dealt with properly. We find out more about the lives of the houseboys, Masai wanderers and Kikuyu people, but that's absolutely fine as it's really a love letter to Africa. Out of Africa also works as a fascinating historical portrait of Kenya before independence. I particularly enjoyed the sections detailing how tribal elders meted out local justice.
Even so, I do think the book suffered from it's lack of organisation and overarching narrative. Although the writing is beautiful and the experience of reading the book completely immersive, there were definitely sections that didn't interest me as much as I wanted them to and times when I was sick of Blixen jumping between topics. The section entitled 'From an Immigrant's Notebook' was especially guilty of this. I am glad I picked this book up, but at times getting through it felt like a bit of an effort, and for this reason it isn't destined to be a favourite. But if you don't mind the slow pace and the rambling nature of the writing, Out of Africa rewards you with some stunning descriptions of a country that has since changed in almost every way.
Source: Personal copy
First Published: 1937
My Edition: Penguin 1986 (the year I was born!)
Score: 4 out of 5
Score: 4 out of 5
Classics Club: Book 16/72