Wednesday 4 January 2017

The giver and the receiver

Four stories by Karen Blixen/Isak Dinesen

Re-reading after some years: Shadows on the Grass, published in the 60s (Penguin).  The cover illustration is an oil painting by Blixen, of a Somali child  who was one of her servants in Kenya. She came to realise that he was a mathematical genius. When he begged to be to sent to school, she 'scraped the money together', She also bought him a typewriter when he asked for it. Many years later, he wrote to thank her and explained that  the typewriter gave him a significant advantage when he applied for jobs. He became a judge.

She wrote in English, a foreign language for her. Are writers for whom English is not the mother tongue more free to write in unusual ways ? (Thinking of the Pakistani/British writer Nadeem Aslam, for instance.)

Here are the two sentences I most loved:

The first for the way the structure represents Berkeley Cole's leisurely, round-about journey:

"On a day in the beginning of the long rains Berkeley Cole came round the farm from up-country, on his way to Nairobi." (p. 69, The Great Gesture)

Also, for being thought-provoking:'
"A gift may be named after both the giver and the receiver, and in this way my inspiration is my own, more even than anything else I possess, and is still the gift of God." (p. 96, Echoes from the Hills).

All along this book, I heard in my mind the deep longing in Meryl Streep's voice at the start of the film  Out of Africa: "I had a farm in Africa." Great acting.

I have just read Penelope Lively's How it all started, about the unexpected ways in which a person's action can affect others. Clumsy and uncharming in comparison, though Blixen does set the bar rather high.

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