Study Guide

Out of Africa Summary

By Isak Dinesen

Out of Africa Summary

The narrator had a farm in Africa, where she grew coffee. Besides giving her the caffeine buzz necessary to stay up all night to write, it also gave her servants and workers plenty to do.

The narrator's head honcho servant, Farah Aden, is a Somali who serves as her go-between when the Natives get difficult to understand. She has decided to write down what it was like to live on her farm in the Colony, because things are changing rapidly and it might be of historical interest (to, say, Shmoopers like you) someday.

The coffee farm in question is inhabited by lots of Kikuyu squatters, who actually lived there before it was sold to the narrator. One of them, a little boy named Kamante, becomes the cook in the narrator's house, and she is amazed that a Native, who couldn't possibly appreciate fine dining, could be such a marvelous chef. Wonders never cease when you are ruled by stereotypes, we guess.

There are some other colorful characters hanging around: an old Danish sailor named Old Knudsen shows up on the farm and hangs out for awhile, grumping and grouching, until he dies. Anybody know the Danish word for "bummer"? Lulu, a little gazelle that the narrator takes in as a pet grows up to be a little diva. Even after she runs off and hooks up with a buck she still comes around to visit some mornings.

One night the narrator hears a single shot, and it turns out that a little Kikuyu boy, Kabero, has accidentally shot two other little boys, killing Wamai and hurting Wanyangerri. This creates a long, drawn-out season of deciding what the shooter's father, Kaninu, must pay the victims or their families in livestock to make up for their loss.

Kabero goes off to live with another tribe, the nomadic Masai, and comes back years later after the chief Kinanjui has decided that Kaninu must pay a cow and calf to Wainaina, Wanyangerri's father. If only all our problems could be solved through the exchange of cattle, huh?

The most important social function on the farm are the Ngomas, big Native dances, but the narrator also gets lots of visits from foreigners, like a high priest from India who is especially taken with her dogs. Farah (the #1 servant) brings his wife, her mother, and her sister and cousin to live on the farm, and they are nice company for the Baroness. Oh, did we mention that the narrator is a baroness? Who knew?

Old Knudsen comes up with the idea of building a series of ponds and stocking them with fish, which really helps the farm during the droughts. Yeah, we know that Old Knudsen has already died in the novel, but this is not the kind of novel that follows a strict plotline. You may have noticed that this reads less like a story-story with a tight plot arc and more like a meandering inner monologue. That's part of Out Of Africa's charm, kids.

Another outlaw, a Swede named Emmanuelson, also spends a night on the farm before walking across the desert, which should have meant certain death, to escape going to jail. He survives, somehow.

Another frequent visitor is Denys Finch-Hatton, who we get the feeling is a little more than just a friend to the Baroness (bow chicka bow bow). He leads safaris or flies around in his plane when he's not chilling at the farmhouse.

Berkeley Cole is another English friend who believes the whole "mi casa es su casa" thing, and hangs out at the Baroness', but he dies at a tragically young age and leaves everyone very sad.

Denys and the Baroness love to fly above Africa and also kill any lions that are bothering the livestock of the tribes around them, which is all very exciting.

There is a curious second-to-last section called "From an Immigrant's Notebook" filled with little vignettes about life in Africa—check out the detailed summary for more on that.

Finally the narrator must sell her farm because she doesn't grow as much coffee as she needs to. Around the same time, Denys dies in a plane crash, and the Baroness leaves Africa. *Sigh*

Guess she's out of Africa for reals now.