Isak Dinesen said,
“All sorrows can be borne, if you put them into a story.”
I think Karen, or Isak, had a life much like mine: full of disappointments and let-downs, but also with a certain joy in just being along for the ride, and for experiences beyond the mundane and ordinary. Anyway, we are defined by our sorrows, not by our joys, because sorrows are so much more interesting than joys.
From The Writer’s Almanac for April 17, 2010… It’s the birthday of Isak Dinesen, born Karen Dinesen on a rural estate called Rungsted near Copenhagen, Denmark (1885). She came from a wealthy family of landowners and writers. As a girl, she loved listening to stories about Danish mythology. She started writing at an early age, and one of the first stories she published was about a woman who has a love affair with a ghost.
She and her husband then moved to Kenya, where they started a coffee plantation. She fell in love with Africa, and she said, “The grass was me, and the air, the distant visible mountains were me, the tired oxen were me.” But she and her husband separated in 1925. Alone and unhappy on the coffee plantation, she said, “I began in the evenings to write stories, fairy-tales and romances, that would take my mind a long way off, to other countries and times.” After a swarm of locusts and a drought, she finally had to sell the farm to a local developer.
But just as she was leaving Africa for good, Dinesen sent some of her stories to a publisher, and they were published as the collection Seven Gothic Tales (1934). The book was full of wild, magical stories about such things as a group of people telling jokes while trying to survive a flood, and a woman who exchanges her soul with an ape. Dinesen wrote, “Truth is for tailors and shoemakers. … I, on the contrary, have always held that the Lord has a penchant for masquerades.”
From The Writer’s Almanac for April 17, 2008
It’s the birthday of the woman who wrote under the name Isak Dinesen, (books by this author) born Karen Dinesen on a rural estate called Rungsted near Copenhagen, Denmark (1885). Her grandfather was a friend of Hans Christian Andersen. Her father committed suicide when she was 10 years old, and she spent the rest of her childhood in a house full of women: her mother, her grandmother, and all her aunts. As a girl, she loved listening to stories about Danish mythology, ghosts, or the magical powers of women.
As a young woman, she and her husband moved to Africa to try being colonial farmers. In order to pass the time there she wrote her first collection of short stories, Seven Gothic Tales (1934). The book was full of wild, magical tales. One story is about a group of people telling jokes while trying to survive a flood. Another is about a woman who exchanges her soul with an ape. Dinesen said, “Truth is for tailors and shoemakers. … I, on the contrary, have always held that the Lord has a penchant for masquerades.”
Dinesen had written Seven Gothic Tales in English, and the book made her famous in the United States and England. But when she translated it into Danish, the critics in Denmark attacked it as shallow fantasy. She kept copies of the negative reviews for the rest of her life.
Her American publisher wanted her to write a new book as soon as possible, to capitalize on her success, so she decided to write about her experiences in Africa. Instead of writing an ordinary memoir, she wrote about her time in Africa as though it was a half-remembered dream in her book Out of Africa (1937).
She wrote, “Looking back on a sojourn in the African high-lands, you are struck by your feeling of having lived for a time up in the air.
And, “[I watched] elephants … pacing along as if they had an appointment at the end of the world … [and I once saw a] lion … crossing the grey plain on his way home from the kill, drawing a dark wake in the silvery grass, his face still red up to the ears.”
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