Out of Africa, by Isak Dineson

Not really a story, more a collection of scenes in the life of a woman who is looking back on her time in Africa during the 1910's(?) when she was running a farm.

Having seen the posters (although not the actual movie) for the film of the same name, I'd expected some sort of romance and it took me a while to realise this wasn't going to happen, and what I'd taken for scene-setting was actually going to carry on through the whole book. I see, after having checked Wikipedia, that while the film shares the book's title, it drew on other sources for its main storyline.

The writing had a strange feel to it - one description is "elegaic" which has the right sound, but it's not quite right. Although it's written in the first person, and in the past tense, it seemed as if there were a certain extra distance between the narrator and events. I'm not sure if I liked this or not: it made the whole thing a little dreamy to me: you were witnessing things from afar rather than being caught up in what happened.

Perhaps this was partly because she didn't seem terribly involved in things herself: you got the feeling that although she was running the farm, and dealing with the native people, and coping with lion attacks, these were things that were a distraction rather than the focus of her life. What such a focus might have been, if there was one, is not clear.

Similarly, there was very little in the way of background information: she doesn't tell you much about why she went to farm in Africa, practically nothing at all about her husband (who she refers to only a couple of times, and does not appear at all - I think perhaps he's fighting in the war), and nothing about what happened after she left. In fact I liked this: it made you feel that the story was being told to her immediate friends and family, who don't need any of this extraneous information; they just want to be told about what happened in Africa.

There weren't many scenes which really stayed with me: the only one that I did remember was when someone was teaching her Swahili. The word for "nine" in Swahili sounds rude in Danish, and so her teacher, a Dane (like the author) skipped over it, and explained that there is no word for "nine" in Swahili - the people go straight from eight to ten, and miss out nineteen, ninety, etc.. Although she later found out what he'd done, she said she still had a sort of half-belief that there was a people, somewhere, who managed without having the number nine in their counting system.

An OK read, but not the classic I'd expected.

Completed : 03-Feb-2010 (audiobook)

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