Out of Africa is Karen Blixen’s memoir (under a pseudonym) about her years in Africa. I’ve wanted to read this for a long time, and finally checked it out a month or so ago. In the last couple months, I’ve been very fascinated with non-western cultures. I know it’s not possible to fully experience any culture or country without actually being there, and even then, a visit is far less than a longterm stay for experience. Because I’m probably not going to Africa any time soon, I thought maybe I could see the world through Baroness Blixen’s eyes for a moment.
I didn’t expect it to take me several weeks to read. It’s a lot drier than many novels, which would normally turn me off right away (and nearly did with this one, but I persisted long enough to get caught up), but it really did pull me into the experiences she had. I began to see people, cultures, landscape, and wildlife through her eyes. The culture of the various tribes and religions she had contact with on her coffee farm began to make sense to me, so that halfway through, things that wouldn’t have phased me before suddenly became funny or sad or wistful.** I tried a couple times to describe moments to Jason that were hilarious to me, and he stared at me blankly when I did. They just aren’t funny outside the eyes of this world. I see animals differently now as well (never had any idea before how vicious zebras are). While nothing can substitute for actual experience, this book did a great job of taking me into the world it’s about. It was definitely worth the weeks of reading.
**Note: I didn’t mention this in my original review, but one of the things that struck me about the book was the bit about women and shaved heads. The culture she lived in thought it was vulgar for women to have hair, which is very different from what I’m used to. About halfway through the book, however, I had a weird experience where I read about a woman with long hair, and it automatically repulsed me for an instant. I was drawn so far into the culture of the book that for a moment, I viewed things differently, and that made the book extremely powerful.