Isak Dinesen (Karen Blixen) - Notes to Stalking Iguanas

Isak Dinesen:  New York, 1959.  Photograph by Cecil Beaton.Stories by Isak Dinesen
Seven Gothic Tales
Winter's Tales
Last Tales
Anecdotes of Destiny
Carnival. Entertainments and Posthumous Tales

Autobiographical works
Out of Africa
Shadows in the Grass

Daguerreotypes and Other Essays

Letters from Africa, 1914-1931

Biography (in English)
Judith Thurman - Isak Dinesen: The Life of a Storyteller
Thorkild Bjørnvig - The Pact:My friendship with Isak Dinesen
Anders Westenholz - The Power of Aries:Myth and Reality in Karen Blixen's Life
Linda Donelson - Out of Isak Dinesen in Africa
Peter Beard - Longing for Darkness:Kamante's Tales from Out of Africa

Films of interest
Out of Africa
Babette's Feast

ngong_hills.JPG (23176 bytes)"I had a farm in Africa, at the foot of the Ngong Hills...." 

So begins Out of Africa, the second published book of the storyteller Isak Dinesen, née Karen Dinesen, and after her marriage in 1914, the Baroness Karen von Finecke-Blixen. As a child, Karen was affectionately called Tanne, and this (or Tania) remained the name by which she was known to family and friends.

She had died before I knew her. Just. I remember the first meeting, in the library of the Nairobi Club, Marjorie Freeberne sitting on the table to read aloud for me passages from "The Dreamers" in Seven Gothic Tales -- as she had sat reading on the teacher's desk through four of my years in primary school at Muthaiga. A rite of passage. I was sixteen, and about to leave Africa.

Now her words are part of my blood knowing, her Africa entwined with my own of a generation later -- as my words here are woven with her telling of "The Iguana."

Map of NairobiThe farm of Karen Blixen was a coffee farm, 100 miles south of the Equator, and at an altitude of over six thousand feet. This proved too high an altitude for coffee to thrive, and the farm failed. Much of this story is told in Out of Africa, and in even more detail in her collected Letters from Africa, 1914 - 1931. The district of Kiambu, just under a mile high, is better coffee growing country.

"... if, in planting a coffee tree, you bend the taproot, that tree will start, after a little time, to put out a multitude of small delicate roots near the surface. That tree will never thrive, nor bear fruit, but it will flower more richly than the others.

Those fine roots are the dreams of the tree. As it puts them out, it need no longer think of its bent taproot. It keeps alive by them -- a little, not very long. Or you can say that it dies by them, if you like. For really, dreaming is the well-mannered people's way of committing suicide."

Isak Dinesen
"The Dreamers", Seven Gothic Tales

kiambu.jpg (42412 bytes)

The Ngong Hills from Kiambu

"It is very difficult,--when one has learned no more than I have,--to go on painting on one's own and without any advice, and I should be enormously grateful for criticsm .... from any connoisseur of art you could get to look at them. I don't know whether there might be a possibility of getting them into some exhibition or other; that would be interesting, naturally, because then I would get more criticism on them."

Karen Blixen
Ngong 1/4/1924


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