Out of Africa
August 14, 2012 § 6 Comments
I read Out of Africa twice.
Once, when I had my ‘reading spurt’, I was maybe 17 and started reading every book I could lay my hands on. I remember clearly copying out passages from the book and sending these to my then subject-of-affection (my family senior now 13 years later). I do not recall the journey of the book, the journey it took to get to me – Was it a borrowed book? Did I get it from the library or a friend? I remember it was a very meticulous translation leaving me admiring the work the translator has done.
A few years later, living in London by then, I came across a DVD for Out of Africa, the film featuring Meryl Streep and Robert Redford. And this is when the book acquired a voice in my heart. I am not sure if it’s the work in translation or my youth that left me admiring a number of passages in the book, but completely ignoring the others. Perhaps a certain level of maturity was required to fully appreciate the impact of Baroness Blixen’s ordeal in Africa. Now that I have just put it in writing, I must admit, I do not think she herself would have classed it as an ordeal. An adventure, possibly, a discovery, quite likely, and definitely a mission. A mission to survive, to rebel, to learn, to accept and to bow before the powers above.
And now I have read it for the second time, 13 years later, this time in English, with Meryl Streep’s voice ringing in my ears as I was reading the words and oh how perfect she was for this role!
“I had a farm in Africa at the foot of the Ngong Hills…”
You can just hear it, the weight, the wind, the sun driving out the shadows into the hills. I read it somewhere that Blixen wrote the book in English, translating the novel into Danish later on. I must admit, I am in awe of her grasp of the English language, not surprised however. The retelling of the years she spent in Kenya makes it clear reading was as vital to her as food. The Bible, the Qur’an, the works of Homer, Shakespeare’s/Ibsen’s plays which she was able to quote verbatim (Honestly?! Who raises these kind of people? How can I raise my daughter to be a woman so strong mentally, so powerful, and so feminine at the same time? I suppose she’d need to be born to aristrocrats ). I was always convinced reading does two things to a person (at least 2 things): it helps you to become a better person and helps you grow your understanding/mastering of whatever language you are reading in. Read Karen Blixen, everyone, what a master class in the English language it is.
Despite the language and the beauty this book packs in a mere 200 pages, it’s a piece of work that demands attention. You do not pick up Out of Africa to rejoice in the beauty of the African landscape, even though that is something vividly covered by Blixen, so much so that I am again dying to go visit Africa and live there for a few years. It’s a book that somehow, through the efforts of a brilliant writer, has come to tie together the invisible and the material in life: the magnificence of birth (human birth, birth of an idea, nature, when it awakens from this blurb of everything), the naturality of death (of said human life, love, peace), the power of the forces of nature (the destructive element of rain and sun, the redeeming quality of a geographical location), the vastness of a human heart in the rubble of nothingness (which is life as we know it), the money and it’s importance, the cars, the good wine, the cattle. It is a book that draws you in by piercing a hook through your heart and your mind, but it also grabs something deeper, fear..perhaps..whatever one is weakest at..maybe. Your vices, your secrets, it draws it all out as you read about the people Karen met on her farm, the strangers that stumbled upon her coffee plantation. For me at least, it made me realize how vain and shallow my life is and if it was not for my immediate family, I would have nothing to show for my time spent on this planet earth.
This piece of work..it opens the little black doors inside you and this is not something easy to accept; the little doors to that which we seek to leave closed, the little doors we aim to keep shut – death, the inevitability of loss, the permanence of change. A rather romantic account of something so very tragic and sad.
When reading the book, I found myself revisiting, or making an effort to revisit, the movie which oddly spends a considerable amount of time on the relationship between Baroness Blixen and Denys. Something that is not so clearly stated in the book. Neither does the book mention any of the arranged marriage ‘stuff’. I will have to watch the film again, I think. I am ready now.