December Book Club

Join the book club for a discussion of Out of Africa by Karen Blixen.

Cost: Free

Join us as we discuss Out of Africa by Karen Blixen. New members are always welcome -- just read the book and show up for the discussion!


Karen Blixen's Out of Africa has been noted for its melancholy and elegiac style. Blixen biographer Judith Thurman employs an African tribal phrase to describe it: “clear darkness.” As the chapters proceed, Blixen begins to meditate more plainly on her feelings of loss and nostalgia for her days in Africa. As she describes the economic realities of her failed business closing in on her, she comments wryly on her mixture of despair and denial, until the last days are upon her and she gives in to the inevitable.

But Blixen’s wistfulness is fueled and informed by a loss greater than her own farm: the loss of Kenya itself. In the first two decades of the 20th century, many of Kenya’s European settlers saw their colonial home as a kind of timeless paradise. One frequent explorer referred to the atmosphere as a “tropical, neo-lithic slumber.”

Settlement was sparse; life followed the slow, dreamy rhythms of annual dry and rainy seasons. A few thousand European colonists, many of them well-educated Britons from the landed gentry, held dominion over vast plantation estates covering tens of thousands of acres. Their farms were home to herds of elephants and zebra, and dozens of giraffes, lions, hippos, leopards – to a culture accustomed to the traditional pleasures of European aristocrats, Kenya was a hunter’s dream. Although the colonists imposed British law and economic control upon this new domain, they saw themselves not as conquerors or oppressors, but as benign stewards of the land and its people.

By the time that Blixen was finishing the manuscript for Out of Africa at the age of 51, the Kenya protectorate of her younger years was a thing of the past. Aggressive agricultural development had spread the colony’s human footprint far out into the game country; many of the new farmers were middle-class retired Army officers recruited by a government settlement programme after World War I. The popularity of hunting safaris, especially after Roosevelt’s world-famous journey in 1909, had depleted the big herds precipitously. And as the clouds of war threatened Europe once again, the colony became as famous (or infamous) for the misbehavior of the wife-swapping, hard-partying Happy Valley set as it was for being a dreamy horizon of Empire.
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Marisa Bell-Metereau, AM'09

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Ritu Prasad, AB'14