Sunday, February 5, 2017

Book Review: Out of Africa by Isak Dinesen - A Memoir

Out of Africa is a memoir of Baroness Karen von Blixen-Finecke written under the pen name Isak Dinesen. The author reflects on the seventeen years of her life in Kenya beginning in 1913 which was then known as British East Africa and later became a colony of Great Britain. It is a commentary from a European perspective of that era.

Dinesen describes the day-to-day living on a coffee plantation that she owns and operates. Her vivid accounts of interacting with the Kikuyu, Masai and Somali are almost startling in her depiction of the natives as being almost animal like. They understand the wild animals and know how to act in their presence and accordingly live in harmony with these wild animals. She engages in shooting these animals if they interfere with her lifestyle on the plantation and that of her squatters who live on plots of land on the periphery of this plantation. They are all her employees. There are various stories of some specific employees who have the greatest impact on her lifestyle. In each of these stories Dinesen distinguishes these employees by character and personality and in so doing favours one group over the other.

She has African trails in her courtyard; decisions are made about a variety of disagreements, arguments and even payment methods for loss of life that occur as a result of accidents. Through her portrayal of these events, the reader is put in a juxtaposition of being in praise of Karen Blixen while at the same time observing the power structure of the white settler over the local African people.

There are no descriptions of her marriage partner, her first husband, Swedish Baron Bror van Blixen-Finecke. But Dinesen does sketch her second partner, a British nobleman, Denys Finch-Htton who appears to be mostly on safaris within the country and does drop by for short stays with her at the plantation. Her fond descriptions of his demise in Kenya are notable. It is evident her life in Kenya was one of isolation with occasional visits from other white settlers and her few necessary trips into Nairobi.

Throughout the reading of this memoir, it is clearly evident that it is written during the time of the white colonial era by a white settler. It aptly captures the frame of mind of these white inhabitants of Kenya. There is no mention that the land was confiscated by the white settlers and accordingly apportioned to the Europeans; in return these Europeans employed the Africans to work on the land that belonged to them and not to the colonists.

No comments: