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Out of Africa

Out of Africa Summary


Here you will find a Out of Africa summary (Isak Dinesen's book).
We begin with a summary of the entire book, and then you can read each individual chapter's summary by visiting the links on the "Chapters" section.

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Last Updated: Monday 1 Jan, 2024

Out of Africa Summary Overview

The narrative unfolds on a farm in Africa, nestled at the foot of the Ngong hills outside Nairobi, now known as Kenya. This high-altitude terrain, spanning six thousand acres, is partly used for coffee cultivation, while the rest encompasses forests and living spaces for the local people. The farm is inhabited primarily by the Kikuyu tribe, who earn their stay through their labour on the land. Other African tribes, including the Swahilis, the Masai, and the Somalis, occupy the neighbouring areas. Farah, a Somali, is the chief servant who assists the Danish narrator, subtly referred to as "Baroness Blixen" and "Tania," manage the farm. The narrator is deeply engaged with the locals in her farm, providing education and medical care. She operates an evening school and offers medical assistance, including treating a young boy named Kamante, who later becomes the farm's chef. Various incidents occur on the farm, such as an accidental shooting by a native boy, resulting in compensation with livestock after intense discussions with the Kikuyu Chief, Kinanjui. The farm also welcomes numerous visitors, ranging from Europeans in Nairobi, natives attending traditional dances or Ngomas, and an Indian high priest. Her close friends, Berkeley Cole and Denys Finch-Hatton, frequent the farm, sharing hunts and possibly a romantic relationship, although it's not explicitly stated. Despite painting her African farm life as an ideal, the narrator's story concludes with a tragic note. Her coffee farm goes bankrupt due to the challenges of high-altitude cultivation. Unable to settle her debts, she sells the farm to a foreign firm intending to convert the land into a residential area. Following this, her friend, Denys Finch-Hatton, dies in an airplane crash and is buried on the Ngong Hills, his grave later adorned with an obelisk narrating the "Rime of the Ancient Mariner." As she prepares to leave Africa, the narrator arranges for the relocation of the natives from her farm to a portion of the Kikuyu Reserve, and bids farewell to her friends after disposing of her possessions.

book 1

The Narrator's Farm The narrator owns a farm in Africa at the base of the Ngong Hills. The African terrain is dry, giving it a distinct pottery-like color. The morning skyline is impressive, with trees reaching upwards and a seemingly endless sky, under which clouds can be visible from miles away. Waking up here makes the narrator feel exactly where she needs to be. The farm deals in coffee production. Only a fraction of the six-thousand-acre farm is utilized for agriculture, with the remaining land housing forests and residential areas for the local inhabitants or "squatters". They work a fixed number of days annually in exchange for living there. Women, children, or "Totos" help in coffee harvesting. The harvested coffee is then processed and packed at the farm before being shipped off to England. The farm is twelve miles away from Nairobi, the nearest town. When the narrator first moved here, there were no cars, with ox carts being the only mode of transport. Nairobi is a vibrant city with clubs, eateries, shops, government offices, and various ethnic communities. The nomadic Masai tribe resides just south of the farm on a government-allocated reserve. The narrator has had encounters with wild animals around her farm and has learned to be cautious. Her interactions with the animals and the local people have given her a profound understanding of Africa. The narrator feels a strong connection with the locals, despite their different behaviors and responses to the challenges of life in Africa. Despite this connection, she often feels a sense of isolation. The Farm's Native Child The farm squatters mostly belong to the Kikuyu tribe. The narrator takes interest in Kamante, a young Kikuyu boy who comes to her for treatment for leg sores. Despite her limited medical knowledge, the narrator offers healthcare to her farm's squatters. The Drought and Its Aftermath One year, the usual heavy rains don't arrive, leading to an oppressive heat. The drought has a lingering effect on the narrator, making her appreciate rain more than ever, even during her later years in Europe. The locals bear the drought with fortitude, despite it affecting their farming and cattle rearing. To stay occupied, the narrator begins writing stories which sparks the interest of the local boys, including Kamante. He curiously asks whether she believes she can write a book. This leads to a moment of amusement for the narrator when Kamante is later caught explaining to the boys how books are written and published. Kamante's Christian Conversion Kamante is now a Christian, which he believes brings him closer to the narrator. This change of faith has led to noticeable differences in him, such as his readiness to handle deceased individuals and his newfound fearlessness towards snakes. The narrator is aware of Kamante's transformation when he assists her in moving Old Knudsen, a story-loving Danish seafarer who dies on the farm. Kamante is also responsible for caring for Lulu. The Gazelle Named Lulu Lulu is a young bushbuck antelope adopted by the narrator when she discovers local children have captured it. Kamante initially bottle-feeds Lulu, but she eventually graduates to grain. Lulu freely roams the house, stirring respect even in the hounds who usually hunt deer. She even competes with the hounds for food, displaying a surprising level of confidence.

book 2

An unexpected gunshot startles the narrator under the starry December sky. She soon learns from Belknap, her farm's American mill-manager, that a tragic accident has occurred. Kabero, his young house boy, was playing with Belknap's loaded shotgun during a kitchen party, resulting in two boys getting shot. Immediately, the narrator rushes to Belknap's home, filled with gunpowder smoke and the agonizing screams of Wamai and Wanyangerri, the injured boys. After attending to the boys, they are quickly transported to the hospital in Nairobi, but Wamai doesn't survive the journey. The incident is reported to a disinterested police officer at the station. The following day, the narrator wakes up to a crowd of Kikuyu elders outside her house, seeking to hold a Kyama, a traditional gathering to resolve disputes. However, she isn't ready for the discussion and escapes on horseback to the adjoining Masai Reserve, pondering the shooting and the upcoming Kyama. During her ride, she reminisces about previous incidents of native justice on her farm, including a case where Farah's family had to compensate another family with fifty camels because Farah's little brother broke a boy's tooth. When the Kyama finally takes place, they focus on Wamai's death first. Despite the narrator's argument that the shooting was an accident, they hold Kaninu, Kabero's father, responsible and order him to compensate Jogona, Wamai's impoverished father, with forty sheep. Controversy arises when other Kikuyus claim they're Wamai's real relatives. Jogona presents a note typed by the narrator documenting his adoption of Wamai and Wamai's mother, which successfully verifies his claim. In the aftermath, Wanyangerri recovers in the hospital, Kaninu falls ill, and Kabero, now a Masai warrior, returns to the farm after being adopted by a rich, childless Masai. The compensation for Wanyangerri's injuries is eventually settled, with Kaninu giving ten sheep, a cow, and a calf to Wanyangerri's father.

book 3

Large Gatherings The farm often hosts grand tribal dances, known as Ngomas, attracting up to fifteen hundred guests. Young Kikuyu men and women, in traditional outfits, perform customary dances circled by drummers. These celebrations occur both day and night, with the moonlit ones enchanting the narrator more as they extend for several hours. During one such dance, a band of young Masai men drop in, causing tension since the Kikuyu and the Masai aren't generally friendly. The colonial government has even banned their collective dances due to prior issues. Despite initial calm, a conflict erupts, resulting in three Kikuyus and one Masai getting injured. The wounded are treated and the Masai man is sheltered on the farm till his recovery. An Asian Visitor A request from some local Muslims, including an Indian merchant and Farah, impels the narrator to entertain an incoming Muslim High Priest. The community raises a hundred rupees, which the narrator is to gift the High Priest. Even though they don't speak the same language, the narrator enjoys his company, symbolically gifting him a lion's pelt. He reciprocates with a pearl ring. Months later, a prince from India, having heard about her large gray dogs from the High Priest, proposes to buy one. The Somali Women Farah lives with a few women - his wife and her female relatives. As Somalis and Muslims, they adhere to a more conservative lifestyle than other African women. They preserve their chastity until marriage, cover up in dresses, and have their marriages arranged based on class with a negotiated bride price. Their world is slightly detached due to their gender. Runaway Swede A Swedish man named Emmanuelson, known to the narrator from past dealings in Nairobi, lands up at the farm one evening seeking to flee from something undisclosed. Despite the perils of lions, water shortage, and potentially hostile Masai, Emmanuelson intends to walk through the Masai Reserve to Tanganyika. He shares a meal and a bottle of fine burgundy with the narrator, reminiscing over his days as an actor in Paris. Stocked with food and wine by the narrator, he departs the next morning. He later sends a letter informing her of his successful journey, his new job, and repays a previous loan, amusing the narrator with his silent acting skills to win over the Masai. Friends’ Visits The farm is revitalized by the frequent visits from friends, a fact known and appreciated by everyone. The natives help the narrator prepare for Denys Finch-Hatton's arrival and catch special game for his meals. Denys and another friend, Berkeley Cole, often stay at the farm during her absence, referring to it as their "sylvan retreat." Other visitors include Scandinavian farmers and British aristocrats from Nairobi. The Noble Friends Berkeley Cole and Denys Finch-Hatton, the narrator's closest friends, treat the farm as their own, stocking it with wine, books, and records. Berkeley even enjoys his morning champagne in the forest from fine glasses, despite the narrator's worry about them breaking. Both are British lords' sons who have lived in Africa for many years with no plans to leave. Berkeley is the jester with a good heart, while Denys is the perfect aristocrat, excelling in sports and music. Their congeniality with the natives leads the narrator to attribute this to their dignified nature, dismissing any cultural differences.

book 4

A stubborn ox on the farm, part wild buffalo, resists taming. The Farm Manager attempts to break its spirit by tying it up overnight, only for a lion to attack and mutilate the ox, leading to its mercy killing. After heavy rains, the nighttime woods glow with hundreds of fireflies, evoking an image of invisible fairies holding candles. The narrator recalls a childhood story in which a man's nocturnal wanderings, prompted by a strange noise, form the outline of a stork in the morning. This makes her question whether her own life's trajectory has a discernible pattern or is merely arbitrary. Esa, the farm's cook, is forced to work for a government official's wife during World War I. Overworked and exhausted, Esa returns to the farm once the war ends, bringing a small sketch of the Q'uran. He stays until his death. The narrator embarks on a difficult three-month journey through the Masai reserve to deliver supplies to her husband at the German border during the war. This dangerous journey, filled with stunning views and lion encounters, becomes a cherished memory. A misunderstanding in learning the Swahili counting system leads the narrator to erroneously think that African math is based on nines, not tens, captivating her. The phrase, "I will not let thee go except thou bless me," becomes a mantra for the narrator, symbolizing her gratitude for the rain and her resolve to live life to the fullest. A local Stationmaster, fearing a weeklong solar blackout before a lunar eclipse, seeks advice on cattle care. The narrator attempts to teach the native children to rhyme in Swahili, likening it to "speaking like rain," but they do not grasp the concept. The narrator observes that Africans and Europeans exist in distinct historical phases due to Africa's lack of modernization, and wonders how this discrepancy will be resolved. A Christmas earthquake shakes the farm, leading the servant, Juma, to incorrectly prophesy the death of the English King. The narrator meets a young boy, George, on her ship to Africa, who asks her to join him for tea despite her joking claim to be a Hottentot. The farm's mule, Molly, is nicknamed Kejiko or "the spoon," a moniker that makes sense to the narrator when viewed from above. Seeing giraffes being shipped to a European menagerie, the narrator empathizes with their potential suffering and hopes they die en route to avoid a miserable existence. The narrator's struggles to make the farm profitable amid frosty climate and the coffee price crash result in the farm's sale. She's allowed to stay until the coffee harvest, taking comfort in the silent solidarity of the squatters. Chief Kinanjui, leader of the Kikuyus, dies from a wound inflicted by a cow. He wishes to die on the farm instead of the Christian Mission, but his wish is unfulfilled. As the narrator prepares to leave the farm, she sells almost all her furniture and gives away her pets. She ensures the farm's blacksmith has a parting gift and strives to find a new home for the squatters, who are given six months to vacate by the new owners. Eventually, they are allowed to move to the Dagoretti Forest Reserve. With her responsibilities fulfilled and the harvest completed, she considers leaving Africa.

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