Karen Blixen’s account of her life in Kenya, Out of Africa, was published in Denmark as Den afrikanske farm on October 6 1937, in London the same year and the following year in the USA where, like Seven Gothic Tales, it was chosen by the Book-of-the-Month Club.

Den afrikanske farm was the most popular of all Karen Blixen’s books in Denmark. During her lifetime it sold over three times as many copies as each of her collections of tales, which were never what we today would call bestsellers in her homeland. It is somewhat paradoxical that Karen Blixen’s contemporary Danish readers were fascinated by accounts of exotic Africa, whereas the exotic strain in the tales was apparently harder for them to accept.

Karen Blixen’s descriptions of the indigenous peoples of Africa are rooted in her great love of and, for the era, amazing appreciation of and respect for African culture. But it is by no means a documentary account, even though many read it as such when it was first published. Karen Blixen’s talent for turning observations and experiences into good stories ran true to form.

Out of Africa is divided into five main parts – like the five acts of a tragedy. The book deals with the loss of the paradise which – despite the day-to-day problems on the farm – she had found in Africa, where she was released from all the bourgeois conventions that had constrained her in Denmark. It is also a tragedy about her relationship with the great love of her life – the British aristocrat Denys Finch Hatton – which similarly ended in grief and loss.

The 1978 publication (English-language edition 1981) of Karen Blixen’s almost weekly Letters from Africa to her family in Denmark revealed a different reality from the one we meet in Out of Africa, and emphasises the extent to which the supposed memoir is actually a work of creative literature. In “The Fish” (Winter’s Tales) Sune says to the King: “I know this, that the events attain significance from the state of mind of the men to whom they happen, and no outward event is the same to two men.” Sune’s words can be applied to the picture we are shown in Out of Africa: every event is accorded its own specific significance by the mind that experiences it: Karen Blixen’s.

In addition, the literary narrative assembles and reconstructs the episodes into a coherent whole, whereas the letters are fragmented, here-and-now reports. A single example will serve to illustrate the difference: in Letters from Africa, on January 3 1928 Karen Blixen writes about a lion-hunt she went on with Denys Finch Hatton. In the letter Denys shoots two lions, both male. In Out of Africa this episode has been changed. Denys shoots the first lion they come across – a female. Karen Blixen shoots the next – a male. A quite ordinary lion-hunt in the letters becomes, in Out of Africa, a condensed love tragedy.

Part I:Kamante and Lulu

  • The Ngong Farm
  • A Native Child
  • The Savage in the Immigrant’s House
  • A Gazelle

Part II: A Shooting Accident on the Farm

  • The Shooting Accident
  • Riding in the Reserve
  • Wamai
  • Wanyangerri
  • A Kikuyu Chief

Part III: Visitors to the Farm

  • Big Dances
  • A Visitor from Asia
  • The Somali Women
  • Old Knudsen
  • A Fugitive Rests on the Farm
  • Visits of Friends
  • The Noble Pioneer
  • Wings

Part IV: From an Immigrant’s Notebook

  • The Wild Came to the Aid of the Wild
  • The Fireflies
  • The Roads of Life
  • Esa’s Story
  • The Iguana
  • Farah and the Merchant of Venice
  • The Elite of Bournemouth
  • Of Pride
  • The Oxen
  • Of the Two Races
  • A War-Time Safari
  • The Swaheli Numeral System
  • I Will Not Let Thee Go Except Thou Bless Me
  • The Eclipse of the Moon
  • Natives and Verse
  • Of the Millennium
  • Kitosch’s Story
  • Some African Birds
  • Pania
  • Esa’s Death
  • Of Natives and History
  • The Earthquake
  • George
  • Kejiko
  • The Giraffes Go to Hamburg
  • In the Menagerie
  • Fellow-Travellers
  • The Naturalist and the Monkeys
  • Karomenya
  • Pooran Singh
  • A Strange Happening
  • The Parrot

Part V: Farewell to the Farm

  • Hard Times
  • Death of Kinanjui
  • The Grave in the Hills
  • Farah and I Sell Out
  • Farewell