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Perfect Bliss and Perfect Despair

Errol Trzebinski, 3 June 1982

Letters from Africa 1914-1931 
by Isak Dinesen, edited by Frans Lasson, translated by Anne Born.
Weidenfeld, 474 pp., £12.95, September 1981, 9780297780007
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... In 1972 I started work on a study of Denys Finch Hatton and his relationship with Karen Blixen. The biographer’s nightmare is the knowledge that an important collection of papers pertaining to his subject is being withheld from him during research. When his subject is the more elusive half of a pair of lovers, the question immediately arises as to whether there can be a biography at all ...

The Old Feudalist

D.A.N. Jones, 3 July 1986

Out of Africa and Shadows on the Grass 
by Karen Blixen.
Penguin, 351 pp., £3.95, January 1986, 0 14 008533 5
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Out of Africa 
by Karen Blixen.
Century, 288 pp., £14.95, October 1985, 0 7126 1016 2
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Isak Dinesen: The Life of Karen Blixen 
by Judith Thurman.
Penguin, 511 pp., £3.50, April 1986, 9780140096996
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... have been moved to tears by the 1985 motion picture which takes its title from the Baroness Blixen’s 1937 memoir, Out of Africa. These suckers will be taken aback if they ever come to read the old book on which they wrongly suppose it to be ‘based’. The memoir has been reissued by Penguin Books, with movie advertisements on the cover, and so have ...

Night-Flights

D.A.N. Jones, 18 September 1986

Search Sweet Country 
by B. Kojo Laing.
Heinemann, 256 pp., £10.95, August 1986, 0 434 40216 8
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The Jewel Maker 
by Tom Gallagher.
Hamish Hamilton, 180 pp., £9.95, April 1986, 0 241 11866 2
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The Pianoplayers 
by Anthony Burgess.
Hutchinson, 208 pp., £8.95, August 1986, 0 09 165190 5
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An After-Dinner’s Sleep 
by Stanley Middleton.
Hutchinson, 224 pp., £9.95, May 1986, 0 09 163620 5
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Coming Home 
by Mervyn Jones.
Piatkus, 263 pp., £9.95, April 1986, 0 86188 525 2
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... this tale is strengthened by the appearance of real-life people, not too well-known, and likewise Karen Blixen (to whom the book is dedicated) makes a personal appearance in the final story, ‘To die in Copenhagen’. The narrator of the tales is Howard Murray, a Scottish playwright, who travels to Denmark, as well as Dublin, London and New York in the ...

God’s Own

Angus Calder, 12 March 1992

Empire and English Character 
by Kathryn Tidrick.
Tauris, 338 pp., £24.95, August 1990, 1 85043 191 4
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Into Africa: The story of the East African Safari 
by Kenneth Cameron.
Constable, 229 pp., £14.95, June 1990, 0 09 469770 1
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Burton: Snow upon the Desert 
by Frank McLynn.
Murray, 428 pp., £19.95, September 1990, 0 7195 4818 7
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From the Sierras to the Pampas: Richard Burton’s Travels in the Americas, 1860-69 
by Frank McLynn.
Barrie and Jenkins, 258 pp., £16.99, July 1991, 0 7126 3789 3
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The Duke of Puddle Dock: Travels in the Footsteps of Stamford Raffles 
by Nigel Barley.
Viking, 276 pp., £16.99, March 1992, 0 670 83642 7
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... whole, thrive better in hotter, lower, wetter places.’ The still more seductive witterings of Karen Blixen get even shorter shrift. Out of Africa’s idealisation of well-pedigreed white settlers was the work of a ‘fabulist’ struggling to identify herself with aristocratic values. It was dismaying, when I revisited Nairobi after many years, to ...

Happy Valleys

Dan Jacobson, 18 November 1982

White Mischief 
by James Fox.
Cape, 293 pp., £8.95, November 1982, 0 224 01731 4
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Earth to Earth 
by John Cornwell.
Allen Lane, 174 pp., £7.95, October 1982, 0 7139 1045 3
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... Club in Nairobi, where they gathered for special occasions; Torr’s Hotel and the Norfolk; Karen, the suburb of Nairobi named after Karen Blixen, on the outskirts of which, in January 1941, Erroll was shot dead. ‘All the flagrant, forgotten scandals of the Muthaiga ...

Walking backward

Robert Taubman, 21 August 1980

Selected Works of Djuna Barnes 
Faber, 366 pp., £5.50, July 1980, 0 571 11579 9Show More
Black Venus’s Tale 
by Angela Carter.
Next Editions/Faber, 35 pp., £1.95, June 1980, 9780907147022
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The Last Peacock 
by Allan Massie.
Bodley Head, 185 pp., £5.95, April 1980, 0 370 30261 3
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The Birds of the Air 
by Alice Thomas Ellis.
Duckworth, 152 pp., £6.95, July 1980, 0 7156 1491 6
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... of fantasy and décor make her a private and anomalous figure – as completely unmodern as, say, Karen Blixen. But a feminist critique might be fruitful. ‘Nora robbed herself for everyone; incapable of giving herself warning, she was continually turning about to find herself diminished. Wandering people the world over found her profitable in that she ...

Kenya’s Dissident

Victoria Brittain, 3 June 1982

Devil on the Cross 
by Ngugi wa Thiongo.
Heinemann, 224 pp., £7.50, June 1982, 0 435 90200 8
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Detained: A Writer’s Prison Diary 
by Ngugi wa Thiongo.
Heinemann, 232 pp., £7.50, June 1981, 9780435906504
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Writers in Politics 
by Ngugi wa Thiongo.
Heinemann, 320 pp., £6.95, June 1981, 0 435 91752 8
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Ake: The Years of Childhood 
by Wole Soyinka.
Rex Collings, 230 pp., £7.50, August 1981, 0 86036 155 1
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... Politics Ngugi is scathing about the narrowness of such well-known writers as Elspeth Huxley and Karen Blixen whom he places in ‘the tradition of great racists like Hume, Trollope, Hegel and Trevor-Roper, all arch-priests of privilege, racism and class snobbery’. It is the violence of such sentiments that has caused some people to see Ngugi himself ...

Can you close your eyes without falling over?

Hugh Pennington: Symptoms of Syphilis, 11 September 2003

Pox: Genius, Madness and the Mysteries of Syphilis 
by Deborah Hayden.
Basic Books, 379 pp., £20.99, January 2003, 0 465 02881 0
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... writers: Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann, Baudelaire, Flaubert, Maupassant, Wilde, Nietzsche, Joyce, Karen Blixen, van Gogh. Hayden reminds us, too, that politicians – Hitler, Abraham Lincoln and his wife – can, like anyone else, catch sexually transmitted diseases. Her approach is profitable and her choice of sufferers sensible: many of them left ...

Sing like Parrots

Adewale Maja-Pearce: Ngugi wa Thiong’o, 15 December 2016

Birth of a Dream Weaver: A Writer’s Awakening 
by Ngugi wa Thiong’o.
Harvill Secker, 256 pp., £14.99, November 2016, 978 1 84655 989 1
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... am dead,’ a court concluded that he had brought his fate on himself. In Out of Africa, Karen Blixen seemed to agree that his last words were an invocation, not a description. To her mind, he typified ‘the fugitiveness of the wild things who are, in the hour of need, conscious of a refuge somewhere in existence, who go when they like; of whom ...

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