I began Linda Donelson's biography, with its portentous subtitle, with a show-me attitude. What could she tell me about Dinesen that I didn't already know? As it turned out, a thing or two... A claim being made for Donelson's book is that it's "the first to present Karen Blixen to a broad general audience"... Donelson makes good on this claim...when Out of Isak Dinesen was first released in a small edition in 1995, it went through three printings (12,000 copies), testimony to its well-written account... Out of Isak Dinesen reads like a novel-no mean accomplishment-which requires verifying facts, incorporating data, crediting sources, and yet saving the romance... "It is said that every evening before going to bed she opened the south door of her house and looked toward Africa." [From Out of Isak Dinesen]-- Bloomsbury Review, Nov-Dec 1998
A thorough if somewhat plodding biography. Out of the heartbreak and ravaging difficulties of her life, Blixen (better known under her nom de plume, Isak Dinesen) shaped not only several lasting works of literature but also a formidable persona. Although she died of malnutrition in1962 at age 77, that persona still inspires tremendous fascination. Donelson clearly felt its pull. Indeed, she could hardly have avoided it: The Iowan biographerþs own farm in Kenya, where she lived from 1978 to 1980, overlooked what had been Blixenþs property. Perhaps inspired by the reality of that view, however, Donelson has committed herself to separating the facts of Blixenþs life from her self-created myth. The result is a book that traces the transformation of an unassuming young Danish bride into a regal if physically fragile grand dame of the veldt (Blixen went to Africa in 1914, when she was 28). In the course of her narrative, Donelson, an M.D., succeeds in debunking with alacrity and insight some of the commonly held assumptions about Blixenþs medical history. She doubts, for example, that Blixenþs 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. The discussions of Blixenþs physical state and frequent bouts of depression are concrete and convincing; itþs a pity Donelson succeeds less well with Blixen the writer. The biography lacks a vital sense of the woman as an artist, though it brings to light a wealth of detail about her African experiences, from the ill-treatment she received from her husband to thelonging she felt for aristocratic English hunter Denys Finch Hatton. Perhaps Blixen must remain strangely unfathomable: a creature wrought in her own imagination and projected onto the page.