April 13, 2010

Out of Africa - Karen Blixen

I picked this book out of my TBR pile a few weeks ago, and it has served me well during this busy time as a book that I could pick up at bedtime and read a chapter at a time.

It is a book that I have planned to read for many a year (though I have never seen the movie); especially since moving back to Canada from Africa. I am in mixed feelings about this book, as I had expected to be.

What I didn't like: the colonial attitude, the racism (though the author seemed to pride herself on her lack of racism and relationship with the "natives"), the use of multiple random languages without a translation. I managed OK with the French and Swahili, but the German was beyond me! I was also frustrated by the lack of personal details - it was only by doing my own research after finishing the book that I learned about the authors marriage, separation, divorce, and affair with Denys Finch-Hatton; which were all going on during the period that this book takes place.

What I did like: the beautiful descriptions of the countryside so that I could imagine myself there. I am currently trying to write out some of my experiences in Tanzania, but after reading this book, I have to ask myself why bother - it has already been written and far better than I could write it. A sample: "One year the long rains failed. That is a terrible, tremendous experience, and the farmer who has lived through it will never forget it. Years afterwards, away from Africa, in the wet climate of a northern country, he will start up at night, at the sound of a sudden shower of rain, and cry, 'At last, at last.'"

About the language, I am quite fluent in Swahili, and it was nice seeing it used in a book, but I found some of the spellings and usages to be strange. I don't know if it is archaic usages because of the almost-90-year gap between when Karen Blixen learned the language and when I learned the language, or a difference between Kenyan and Tanzanian Swahili (though they are both lumped together as East African Swahili as compared with Congolese Swahili).

But overall a good read, and I'm glad that I read it!

No comments: