Books about Karen Blixen/Isak Dinesen - biographies, literary criticism, etc.
Karen Blixen, or Baroness Karen von Blixen-Finecke, or Isak Dinesen, has mesmerized her readers with her tales from Africa. She was a storyteller extraordinaire. But her life was not quite an ordinary life, either. It is in some ways as fascinating as her writings, and the relations between the two has attracted the attention of a number of biographers.
Isak Dinesen: The Life of a Storyteller, by Judith Thurman
In this extremely well researched biography Judith Thurman tells as much as is possible of the strange and excotic personal history of Karen Blixen/Isak Dinesen. Dinesen wrote exceedingly well and was one of the most gifted story tellers ever. The story of her life is complex and eventful.
However, she lived with syphilis and other problems that influenced her life. As a person, she manipulated, bored, dominated, and demanded. While young, she wanted to be the thinnest in the room. She suffered the humilation of syphilis and aging. She died of anorexia, unable and unwilling to eat, and addicted to amphetamine.
Thurman took seven years to write this biography. She even learned Danish in the process. She writes compassionately about her subject. Dinesen comes fully alive in this book, a rare accomplishment for biographers.
"This, like the best biographies, is a book in which the reader can live."--Margaret Drabble, The New York Times Book Review
"Splendid, inestimably valuable . . . I cannot imagine that it will be supplanted. Right now it is the essential book on Isak Dinesen."--Chicago Tribune Book World
"Absorbing biography . . . This is a gothic tale worthy of the author of Seven Gothic Tales."--Victoria Glendinning, The Washington Post Book
Out of Isak Dinesen in Africa: Karen Blixen's Untold Story, by Linda Donelson
Donelson has committed herself to separating the facts of Blixen's life from her self-created myth. The result is a book that traces the transformation of an unassuming young grand dame. Donelson, an M.D., succeeds in debunking with alacrity and insight some of the commonly held assumptions about Blixen's medical history. She doubts, for example, that Blixen's later physical ailments were the result of syphilis (contracted from her husband during their first year of marriage). More likely, they were caused by the arsenic she took for years as a tonic. This biography brings to light a wealth of detail about her African experiences
Donelson's writing is wonderful, and transports the reader magically to another time and place. At the same time it makes Dinesen seem very real, very frail, and very human. It is highly recommended.
"Donelson's diligently researched and thoughtfully written account brings a complex personality to life." -- Kenya Rough Guide, Sixth Edition
"Donelson, a physician, concludes that the illness that crippled and ultimately killed her was not syphilis but arsenic poisoning..." -- Library Journal, March, 1995
"Out of Isak Dinesen"...an impressive and intimate biography that has both broken new ground and corrected previous errors concerning the life and work of a major literary figure -- Midwest Book Review, August 1998
"well-researched...absorbing...a sympathetic yet candid portrait of Blixen and her complex relationships with her husband and lover..." -- Publishers Weekly, April 10, 1995
The Aristocratic Universe of Karen Blixen: Destiny and the Denial of Fate, by Frantz Leander Hansen and Gaye Kynoch
Karen Blixen's works are explored in the light of a passionate insistence on living out a double nature of the divine and the demonic. The 'aristocratic' is examined as her depiction of a conduct of life that is faithful to destiny: the aristocratic viewpoint is in tune with eternity, and places no obstructive morality between self and life. Vitality has its source in direct access to the ocean of inexhaustible opportunities with which life presents us. The 'world' of Africa, for example, plays a key role as the consummate illustration of an aristocratic culture. The aesthetic guidelines for literary form (as well as art) as advocated by Karen Blixen are discussed, and her view of art is similarly defined and explained as 'aristocratic'.
Her private correspondence (including the recently published Karen Blixen in Denmark: Letters, 1931-62) is drawn upon to shed new light on her life and work.
Frantz Leander Hansen is a Master of Arts in Literature and employed at The Karen Blixen Museum, Denmark. He teaches and gives lectures at various academic establishments in Denmark.
Letters from Africa, 1914-1931, by Isak Dinesen
A very powerfull book, which gives insight into the mind and soul of Karen Blixen. She writes about her every day life on the farm, happy things as well as sad things in the form of letters to her loved ones. Very different from the intrepetation of the same facts in her book "Out of Africa".
She describes the people in her life, especially the Kenyans who worked on her farm, so well that you feel you know them almost as well as you know her. Her description of the Europeans who lived in Kenya for economic or political reasons has enough of compliment and criticism to seem much more fair than many books from the colonial era.
"Here is a rich new biographical perspective on the brilliant storyteller whose sophisticated romantic fiction . . . made her an international success and perpetual candidate for the Nobel Prize for Literature. . . . [These letters] contain the raw material that was later transformed into her classic memoir Out of Africa (1937). They also reveal her as a highly intelligent and sensitive analyst of a strange new world." —Bruce Allen, Christian Science Monitor
"Letters from Africa is literary gold, 24 karat." —Alden Whitman, Boston Globe
See also our review of Out of Africa and Babette's Feast (DVD)