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The opposite of travel-writing,
This review is from: Out of Africa (Essential Penguin) (Paperback)
Through "Out of Africa" Karen Blixen tells Europe of her long stay on a coffee farm outside Nairobi. It is a work of pure romanticism, of an educated and refined young woman who wants to see Africa as her beloved romantic authors of the nineteenth century might have done. I mean romanticism in the proper sense of the word - the conviction that man and nature should be one, that the greatest human fulfilment is in merging with the land, plants and animals around us and becoming one with them.
The book concentrates on the Kenyan landscape and the Africans who people it. She draws romantic and spiritual lessons from the oneness of the Africans with their land. Perhaps some of her commentary on the Kikuyu seems patronising nowadays, but how else could she have written ?
Blixen's style is readable, fluent and anecdotal, making "Out of Africa" an easy read. (Though there are times when her landscape descriptions are a little too purple and her verse, the little of it that she shares, is frankly embarrassing.)
In fact,"Out of Africa" is a rare item - a book about long-term expatriation rather than a "travel book" about a short trip to a glamorous place. So, it's not Blixen's game to be taking colourful incidents out of context and making a song-and-dance about how exotic they are, which is the irritating stock-in-trade of the travel writer. She describes what happens to a person when the exotic becomes commonplace, which is as different from travel-writing as roast beef is from candyfloss.
But Blixen hides herself away too. Many of her preoccupations are merely hinted at : her love for Finch-Hatton, her husband, her strained relationships with other whites and the day-to-day business of the farm. She made the conscious decision that "Out of Africa" should be about the landscape and the Africans that people it, not about Karen Blixen. She moves through the book like a ghost, a shadowy figure in a trench-coat. In this, the book is completely different from the film of "Out of Africa", which is firmly about the life and loves of Karen Blixen, relegating Kenya and its people to the role of background scenery.