Saturday, June 06, 2009

The last 50 pages. How hard can this be?

What exactly is the problem with Out of Africa by Karen Blixen ?

I just can't seem to finish it. And this time it's not a question of me not wanting to finish.

Out of Africa is a great and interesting autobiographical novel. However, and dare I even say this or will Denmark close its borders to me permanently (thus keeping me from blog camp), it is also a little boring. Especially for someone who is trying to read it underneath 'the African sky' of which, and the specific colors of which there are quite a few rather lengthy descriptions. Okay, I realize I'm currently in Finland, underneath a wholly different sky, but the last time I cracked open the book was on the plane towards Europe - in the African sky.

I had wanted to read this book for a long time. It is one of my mother's favorites, and she has good taste in literature (disregarding all of the detective novels she plows through, some of which thoroughly stink, regardless of what she says). I also loved the movie, and when I first saw it I immediately wanted a farm in Africa, if not for other reasons than to be all delightfully independent and get Robert Redford to kiss me (and such other related things). As I got older, I however realized that Redford was actually really old, and boy, how long did those films used to take to arrive to the Finnish movie theaters (years, must have been), and that his skin was not so nice when you really got up close, and perhaps (based on some other film he was in) I think his breath must smell. Still, he was dreamy in Out of Africa and I would have liked for him to have kissed me in the hills of Ngong.

I have later realized that perhaps I could have held out for Robert had I really wanted to, and I should perhaps not have been so easily discouraged. I used to think that Tom Cruise was out of my league too, on account of him being so OLD (Yup. Don't question this. This really was the only obstacle in my way.), and then he went and married a girl who is a measly 48 hours older than me. I could be performing on Broadway as we speak.

Because that's how it works out in my head.

But back from TomKat to Denys and Karen.

The old Kikuyu man on the cover of my edition of the novel stares at me every night (really morning) I go to bed, and don't pick him up, because I just don't feel like reading about how Karen's dogs won't go near muslims because they know that "muslims don't like dogs", or how the natives are resigned to life and only care about their cattle, and settle any dispute, death, marriage, and such by transactions of cattle, or how a farmer needs rain (taking us back to the sky. Again.). Even if I was able to look past the racism inherent in this book (and at some point one does need to get passed that aspect in order to enjoy the stories), I still think that this novel, regardless of portraying places in Kenya I would have liked to have visited before they were overrun with tourists, is just a little bit boring. I have come to realize that reading about riding (clearly not writing because that I would [and did] enjoy) is not for everyone me. 

Also, sadly, I have come to the conclusion that by traveling so much I have ruined the fascination of this book for myself. The nature descriptions, although I can verify that not that much has changed in the nature since Blixen's day, simply wear me out. And I can't help but feel that when the book was published it was so loved in Denmark and all over the world, because it provided a way for many to see Kenya, to see Ngong and Nairobi, the Maasai, the Kikuyu, a lion, or a zebra as if they had visited Kenya and the farm themselves (it's all in the details, many unimportant details). For me, unfortunately, what remains of interest in the novel are Blixen's relationships to the locals and to her farm. I wish that was enough to carry the book for me. But, it's not.

I will wade through the last 50 pages and I will enjoy the book to an extent. I will also love the fact that I read the novel in Danish and mostly understood, and that the words I didn't know, like søko, my Danish husband or friend didn't know either. Since the word literally translates to sea cow, we know that it is an animal of some sort, but in the end are not interested enough to google research it further.

Is there anyone out there who has read this novel? What did you think?


iasa said...

i've always wanted to read it, but i have never tried, i can't even be bothered to watch the film.

Cyndy said...

I warned you!

The movie did indeed spin a beautiful story with the most amazing cinematography. I loved the characters, but I was just as intrigued by their costumes, the events they attended, the details, yes, the details. And the music, oh the music...

The book never even came close. I had thought for years that it must been because I read the English version and that much was lost in the translation. It is one of the very few books that I can put on my list of never finished. And probably the only book where I think the movie was better.

I am still looking for that Dinesen/Blixen book that I promised to find for you (it is stored away and buried, but I will find it. When I have googled titles, none seem to ring a bell, so I must find it). It will restore your faith in your mother's choices and perhaps give a glimpse to what Sydney Pollack saw when he was able to create a masterpiece.

So go finish it, just so you can say you did, and then tackle Joyce!

Pattern and Perspective said...

Filmmakers have a great way of making a book more than it was, sometimes, not always. I skimmed the book, because I can usually tell in an instant whether it will bore me or not. For example, To Kill a Mockingbird - one of my all time faves. I love the book just as much as the movie - they truly are comparable. I suppose, depending on who the cinematographer is and the director and the screen adaptors, you can have a movie better than a book, a book better than a movie, or an equally comparable set.

You'll get through it. As Cydny suggests, you can then turn to reading the writings of the person who carries my first name last.

Extranjera said...

iasa - I still think the film was really good. Although, it has been about 8 years since I last saw it...

Cyndy - I remember you did. And I must say you were painfully right. There are parts where I'm sorta enjoying the book and then she picks up with the sky, or the landscape, or the riding again...

I will read more of her though, so let me know when you find that title!

P & P/Joyce - I normally always feel that movies suck as opposed to the books they're based on, but with this one I'm totally making an exception. What really gets to me though is that i really like Karen Blixen as a Dane the world knows and recognizes. She was so cool.

Vancouver's Enviro Girl said...

Be like the little engine that could, I KNOW you can do it, do it, do it, do it...oh shoot, now my mind is off in the gutter.

The Fragrant Muse said...

Am I the only one that didn't like the film? Bored to tears. If the book was worse I'd only consider reding it in prison with nothing else available.

kristine said...

I havent read it. I watched a Blixen documentary the other day though. Wow she really had those upper class long danish vowels going, didnt she?? "Penge er ikke noget man taaaler om, det er noget man haaar".

Seaside Girl said...

I read it about 20 years ago. I got it off the bookshelf recently to re-read and I just could not get past the first few chapters. It just drained me, like wading through mud. It has been reconsigned to the bookshelf.

Polly said...

I loved the film and the book is on my list of books I want to read soon but now I'm starting to think I'm glad I got this book for free because it may not be as good as I expected it to be... but as I've never seen African sky I may actually give it a go one day. In a distant future.

rxBambi said...

I have never read it nor seen the movie and I do not feel that it has impacted my life at all.

Isn't a sea cow a manatee??

Extranjera said...

VEG - What do you mean by "out of the gutter"? Is there such a thing?

Muse - I hope the one that I'll be going to will have a better selection.

kristine - I love her. She kind of reminds me of Queen Margarethe. Relaxed in a 'scepter up her ass' kind of way. In her last years, because of the stomach surgeries she had, she could/would only eat oysters and drink champagne, and managed to arrange for those for her flight to the states too. That really is the kind of clout I would like to have, especially on airplanes.

Seaside girl - Thanks! I'm glad I'm not alone. So whatcha reckon, how does the sky look today...?

Polly - If you like different words for blue and sky, the novel is a must-read. If you like a coherent story (or even just a story), leave it alone. ;o)

rxBambi - Manatee. Could be. Like I said, my research was very scholastic by which I mean thoroughly non-existent.

Anonymous said...

I studied Isak Dinesen(the name under which Karen published), and other 20th C. women and their writings for my PhD. I love her book (not a novel, but actually nonfiction - autobiography) Out of Africa. The movie is 'too Hollywood,' and does not reflect Dinesen's real life. She was unusually courageous - a rebel. I loved reading her letters and also her fantastical stories, such as in her collection, Winter's Tales. Had these stories been published today in the U.S., they may have been even more popular than when she first published them, as they are full of mystical and magical people and happenings - themes that seem popular at this time.(I will look for the review I wrote of WT & post to my blog, "doggone everything." Out of Africa is, imho, literature-elegantly written--and the descriptions are a large part of its beauty. Although some critics may say (simply because Dinesen is "Western") that she is somehow condescending to the native culture(s), I would disagree. She appeared to be a model of assimilation - trying to fit in and be a part of the culture. (btw..I happened upon your Blog & became curious b/c I saw you were in Johannesburg-I have relatives in S.Africa.)