"I had a farm in Africa, at the foot of the Ngong Hills." Isak Denisen
This first line in Out of Africa drew me into the story before I could take a breath. I’m not sure why that line struck a chord with me. I’d never heard of the Danish author Karen Blixen, who wrote under the pseudonym Isak Dinesen. But I knew I was about to read a story that would take me to someplace I’d never been, a place I might even want to stay forever.
I grew up with two family farms at my disposal. Never did I believe that one day they would belong to someone else. I spent Sunday afternoons fishing, building forts in the woods, playing in my grandfather's blacksmith shop, and gathering eggs under the bellies of ornery chickens. After school, before the days grew too short to spend much time outside, my family would pack up a basket and head to out to my father’s family’s farm. Dad would fire up the grill and my sisters and I would run wild among the cows and cattails. Eventually the farms were sold, the gravel roads leading to them were bulldozed, and the houses that stood there were either moved or torn down.
So when I began reading Out of Africa, my heart soared with childhood memories and left me with a longing for adventure; with a daring that eventually took me to Kenya one summer. By that time, the movie had been out several years, and the Blixen home had been turned into a museum. While standing on the lawn behind the house, I realized that Africa is more than a farm at the foot of the Ngong Hills—I write this confident Ms. Blixen would agree hold heartedly—for Africa is a feeling that crawls under you skin and takes up residence in your soul.
Karen Blixen she was nominated for the Noble Prize in Literature, in 1957 and again in 1959 when she was up against Graham Greene, John Steinbeck and several others. Blixen was expected to win, when the committee at the last minute chose to award the prize to Italian writer Salvatore Quasimodo. Their reasoning was that too many Danish writers had recently won and it was necessary to be diplomatic.
I’m all for diplomacy, but great writing should be judged on merit alone. True, I’d never read any thing Quasimodo wrote. Reading Blixen’s memories, it is clear that this coveted literary award was to be a consolation prize to losing her farm in Africa. I hate to think that this deserving writer died of a broken heart.
"If I know a song of Africa, of the giraffe and the African new moon lying on her back, of the plows in the fields and the sweaty faces of the coffee pickers, does Africa know a song of me? Will the air over the plain quiver with a color that I have had on, or the children invent a game in which my name is, or the full moon throw a shadow over the gravel of the drive that was like me, or will the eagles of the Ngong Hills look out for me?" Karen Blixen
Next on the list is Rdyer Islington: http://ryderislington.wordpress.com/2011/09/19/favorite-first-lines/