Africa with Missing Plot

Out of Africa by Isak Dinesen

I think I misheard someone telling me this was a good book to read. My mother handed me a copy of this book but insisted I take care of it and return it – “don’t lose it!” She didn’t need to worry about me stealing a copy…

The book has amazing imagery to picture being out in the middle of nowhere in Africa on a farm or riding an early 1920’s car into the small village’s “downtown” for trading. You can feel as though you are exploring the landscape with wild animals and learning from the first hand journal entries about the 20th century African culture and respect for nature/animals. You can visualize seeing elephants and lions out in their natural habitat- something hard to think is realistic if you’re from the US or Europe. I will give the book that much credit.

However, there is no plot. The journal entries seem mixed up not quite in chronological order and the last section/chapter of the book seems to be a compilation of completely random little encounters/stories. Some do not even make sense to sit and read about them. The question I kept thinking was “WHY?”

Why do people read this book and think it’s amazing? Why did she not include more information on the culture? Why did she not describe with the imagery the clothes her farm workers wear or her exact relationship with workers? Why am I visualizing the animals and fields but not learning anything about the actual people she lived/worked with? Why am I not learning culture from this memoir? Why did she not explain how she really ended up coming from Europe to run a farm in Africa? Why does she not explain if she had culture shock to learn African culture/customs running the farm?

Why is there no true discussion of the racism taking place not just in the world during the early 1900s but in the village? Certainly there must be more racial encounters or protests or tensions of a single white European woman suddenly taking over the farm from her Uncle with barely any white people in the village. That would not be standard for a young European woman during that time nor for the native people to easily accept in their culture, right? Why did this get discovered and made into a movie? Why is there nothing interesting going on? Why?

I would not recommend reading it unless you need a relaxing piece with no plot or reason to read it – something to simply enjoy imagery and waste time on.

I went back to ask my mom why she like the book so much as a favorite. She explained she didn’t love the book (other than the detailed imagery) but the movie adaptation was more interesting .. I must have misinterpreted why she wanted the book copy back so badly. I was happy to hand it back!

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