04 July 2012

Out of Africa and Shadows on the Grass, by Isak Dinesen

I LOVE Isak Dinesen's books, and have been gradually working my way through them all, but this was not one of my favorites. I suppose a major barrier is the repeated mention of the "dark races," the mysterious child-like minds of the primitive, etc. Although Dinesen repeatedly says that she loves the Natives, it's still a bit hard to stomach the worldview. In her defense, I do understand how being a foreigner in a different culture does somewhat incline you towards making sweeping generalizations as you try to make sense of this new world. This is what leads to the strange paradox of people who have spent some time in a place may have even more racist and backwards views of it than someone who has never been there. But some descriptions of cultural differences are also genuinely genuinely perceptive and interesting. It's hard to draw a line.

So yes, some of the book is intriguing. The prose is lovely as always, and Dinesen's life has indeed been interesting in many ways. Her gaze is directed outwards rather than inwards - its not an especially intimate book. You don't actually hear about her marriage or divorce, for instance, though the back cover introduces her with them. Rather, you hear about some of the things she did while in Africa, what some of her frustrations were, some amusing anecdotes, etc. In general, I'd say the book is really for die-hard fans only.

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