The Thumbnail Book Reviews

by John Q McDonald --- 18 February 2003

Shadows on the Grass

by Isak Dinesen

With Out of Africa, Isak Dinesen (aka Karen Blixen), cemented her place in the literature of colonial Africa at the turn of the 20th century. I haven't read that book yet, and so cannot comment on that volume. This small book, it seems, could serve as an addendum to that view of her life on a coffee plantation in British East Africa. In Shadows on the Grass, Dinesen describes aspects of her life in Kenya that, perhaps, she wanted to expand upon, or to just return to later in her life (the book was published in 1960, and is often now paired with Out of Africa). She tells us of the native peoples and Somalis who served as her household staff during her sixteen years there, spanning World War 1 and ending in 1931. Farah is a noble Somali gentleman, who takes care of Dinesen's concerns as if they were his own. It is an intense connection and relationship. Yet, it can be a little difficult to read the book within its colonial context. After all, Blixen looks upon these peoples with a certain paternalistic attitude, and compares the "quality" of each race. Yet, within that context, she is also somewhat progressive and compassionate to the people around her. She goes on to describe relations with the natives, including ministering to their health and welfare. It is clear that Dinesen had much love for Africa. This book, more a straight non-fiction narrative, is perhaps less lyrical than Out of Africa, but her love for the place certainly shines through the quick text.

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See also: [West With the Night, by Beryl Markham]

[Other Women Authors]