out of time

To read Out of Africa is to, at first, keep images of Meryl Streep and Robert Redford in your mind.

And then, it is an uncomfortable journey through a kind of colonialist ideal few people of European origin truly want to own up to. In her descriptions of the people native to Kenya's Ngong Hills, Karen Blixen leans heavily on Christian imagery, animal imagery and a "white man's burden" brand of condescension. Like all pioneers, I suppose, Blixen tells tales of amazing and intriguing adventure while she sees herself as something of a parent to the farmers and servants who people her plot of land.

I don't want to undersell the book -- I really enjoyed it, despite a kind of unease that comes with reading a selection of non-fiction stories nearly 80 years after publication. My time is different from her time; what she would have seen as a modern treatment of everything around her, I see as patronizing and, at times, racist.

Nonetheless, this is the story of Blixen's love for Africa, her farm, and to small degree, the man she planned to be buried with. Her tales bring to mind an Africa that no longer exists; a romantic continent of mystery consistently undermined by the Europeans who took it through the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Towards the end, as Blixen watches the Kikuyu dance, she writes, "It was not I who was going away. I did not have it in my power to leave Africa, but it was the country that was slowly and gravely withdrawing from me, like the sea in ebb-tide." (p. 324)

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