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A brilliant literary portrait Isak Dinesen remains the only comprehensive biography of one of the greatest storytellers of our time Her magnificent memoir Out of Africa established Isak Dinesen as a major twentieth century author who was twice nominated for the Nobel PrizeWith exceptional grace Judith Thurman's classic work explores Dinesen's life Until the appearance of this book the life and art of Isak Dinesen have been as Dinesen herself wrote of two lovers in a tale a pair of locked caskets each containing the key to the other Judith Thurman has provided the master key to them bothWinner of the National Book Award

10 thoughts on “Isak Dinesen The Life of a Storyteller

  1. says:

    This is an intense biography by a writer every bit as talented as Isak Dinesen but much sane thank God By any measure Isak Dinesen was about as complicated tempestuous and megalomaniacal as they come Midway through this giant tombstone of a book I was wishing I hadn't opted to find out so much about her I've loved her work for years without knowing much about her and had the chance this summer because I'm living in Scandinavia for a few years to visit her home north of Copenhagen a lovely evocative place It was a beautiful sunny day and the visit filled me with peace and a warm desire to understand her The depth of my naivete No one understood her and even Judith Thurman strains some muscles in trying to explain how Blixen could countenance for instance her demand of a blood pact a Faustian give me your soul deal of an impressionable young writer who was in love with her She stole his soul and his independence ruined his marriage and just about ruined him as well He wrote after her death that she would have murdered his wife without a second thought if only she'd lived in an earlier era the sort of era she writes so vibrantly about in her tales Earlier in her life she had hidden herself in a cloak of anonymity thus her pen name of Isak Dinesen and she used several others during her career She did this because she wanted the freedom to be herself on the page and on the page she's magnificent and to keep her private life private She thought the work should stand for the writer I wish I'd heeded this youthful wisdom of hers She lost it and so did I That said Thurman's penetration of Dinesen's character is brilliant and Dinesen is lucky to have had such an intellect such a generous soul as Thurman on her trail

  2. says:

    This is a very good book Much better IMHO than the book that Dinesen wrote herself Out of AfricaCoupled with another great book Circling the Sun by Paula McClain it describes an unknown and romantic world in the country of Kenya

  3. says:

    This book Wow I'm only halfway done and feel I need to capture some thoughtsI read Out of Africa although I don't remember much except feeling frustrated Now I know why It wasn't a memoir it wasn't a novel it was a hodgepodge and it confused meI put Isak Dinesen on my list because it won the National Book Award and I went through a phase of putting all NBAs on my list When I got it from Interlibrary Loan I was looking at a 450 pager with small print This can't be good I thoughtI was so wrong It's fascinating You hate her you love her you laugh and sympathize with KarenTanneIsakOsceola or whatever she wants to call herself that dayClearly Thurman was obsessed with her in the best way possible This book is amazing It's so well researched and at 445 pages save the very detailed bibliography it's not an easy lifter But the pace is uick and the details don't bog you down The literary criticism was the only thing that was slowI don't think I've ever read a biography or autobiography that so clearly dissected a person and then presented that dissection in a readable format Well done Judith Thurman

  4. says:

    When I was lucky enough to travel to Denmark was I excited by all history? By the beautiful castles? By the wonderful food? No I was over the moon because I could go to Isak Dinesen's Karen Blixen's house While there I broke one of my cardinal rules don't buy a book aboard that you can get at home unless it is used I brought this biography there among a couple other booksThurman does a very good job of portraying not only Blixen but her family and friends as well In particular when Thurman is describing Blixen's time in Africa there is a sense of peace to the prose a sense of another world and we see Africa not in the same way as in Out of Africa but in a way that allows us to get closer to Blixen I enjoyed Thurman's description of how Europeans viewed Kenya at the time In Karen Blixen's day the coast of Kenya was considered unlivable by Europeans or those who had never spent a summer in New York CityWhen dealing Blixen's marriage and love affair Thurman achieves a balance that is not seen in the movie Out of Africa and the figures of Bror Blixen as well as Denys are far interesting in real life than in the movie Take for instance Thurman's comment on Bror's opinion of Blixen's relationship with Denys if anything he was proud that his wife's lover was of such high caliber Thurman also does not whitewash Blixen and shows all aspects of her characterThurman includes many interesting family stories the most interesting one being the debate between Blixen and her father over women's secret power Blixen apparently define such secret power as that nerve it takes to sit on a powder keg and threaten to ignite it while all the time you know that it is emptyIn short this is a good entertaining biography

  5. says:

    I appreciate literary biography and I consider this particular book to be at the very apex of that genre Meticulously researched richly described not only of the culture and times of late 19th and early 20th century Europe and Africa but of the fascinating difficult freuently unlikable character of Isak Dinesen aka Karen Blixen What I found interesting was that Ms Blixen's tendency to self delusion and deception was central to her psychological survival and even her talent She elevated her relationship with Denys Finch Hatton particularly after his death to something it never was She was a true original a singular character An anorexic a victim of her husband's infidelities infected with syphilis yet she still maintained a great age even with it An iconic fashion figure a sort of magnificent grotesue in her older years Thurman does a transcendant job of capturing the spirit of t his woman who lived so large and flaunted the Victorian upper class conventions and restrictions by living in Afica and simply doing as she pleased after a certain pointBlixen was an often unsympathetic character but her story is just riveting I love stories and biographies that come out of this era the early 20th century I became fascinated with Denys Finch Hatton after reading this curious as to who the man was the obsessesed a woman like the subject of this book His biography is not nearly as well done as this one and there is just less on him to write about but it's a nice book to read after you read this one You see what a relatively minor character she was in his life as opposed to the role she cast herself in

  6. says:

    A fascinating story of the life of a StorytellerJudith Thurman began weaving the story when Isak started a life she cheerished never really wanted to leave as she says in the first line of Out of AfricaI had a farm in Africaat the foot of the Ngong HillsThe fact that she basically purchased her Title Baronessfrom Bror through marriage to himwhen she really loved his twin brothera relationship that was NOT going anywheresays she's fiestyDinesen had a privileged childhoodloved her Father to the depths of her soultolerated her Mother Aunt Bessborn of the Upper Classimmigrated to Africa to become the wife of her cousingiving her a Titlebecoming a Farmerhad undying LOVE for the Kikuyu peopleabandoned by her husband after he gave her syphillisthat would debilate her for lifefalling in love with Denys Finch HattonDinner StoryTellinglossing her BELOVED Farm in Africamoving back to Denmarkleading a depressing life she hatedunless of course she was away on holidayall while writing some of the most wonderful stories that a reader could ask forWhat A StoryTellerShe often referred to her life as the tale of two loversa pair of locked casketseach containing the key to the otherIsakKarenTaniaTanne was a complex woman

  7. says:

    I watched the movieI became obsessed with this womanI read this biographyI wanted to be this woman

  8. says:

    Karen Blixen a woman being strong before it was acceptable Syphyliss be damned Her life loves and even death lended wisdom to the page Love her

  9. says:

    This is a terrific biography but as one might expect DinesenBlixen was an exceedingly complex and at time difficult woman and this biography doesn't shy away from some of the unflattering aspects of Blixen's character Thurman plumbs her psyche in a way that isn't overly psychoanalytic but which still makes it clear what Blixen's driving forces were Perhaps it is my own prejudices but I enjoyed the first half of the book which involved Blixen's childhood and her life in Africa than I did the second half when she had moved back to Europe and become a literary personage And like all well done biographies the end is rather painful I believe Thurman won the National Book Award or perhaps a Pen Faulkner? for this biography and it was certainly well deserved

  10. says:

    How appropriate is it that this biography about the life of a storyteller is the most incredibly complete story telling of the storyteller herself By far the most interesting stories are about the eccentric Isak Dinesen's twenty years spent in Africa It was the time period early 20th century when Africa was the place in which most people have embedded their romantic images To Isak Dinesen Africa and life itself was far real and incredibly complicated