Thursday, June 16, 2016

Anecdotes of Destiny by Isak Dinesen

Isak Dinesen is the pseudonym of Karen Blixen (1885-1962), a Danish writer best known for her biographical work, Out of Africa. Her writing reminds me of Flannery O'Connor because of cryptic themes and disturbing imagery, but she is not nearly as gritty as O'Connor.

Anecdotes of Destiny contains five short stories. The first, "The Diver," is about a man who achieves unusual success as a pearl diver because he makes a bargain with the fish. There are many other confusing themes and sub stories in this one.

The next story, "Babette's Feast" is the most well-known story in the book and the least enigmatic of the five. A mysterious woman appears at the cottage of two spinsters and asks them to take her in as their maid/cook. The themes and sub-themes are decidedly Christian. I've seen the movie half a dozen times and have loved its message of lavish grace. The film and the story vary in only a few small points. What is explicit in the book is implicit in the movie and it works better that way because the powerful images require less words.

"Tempests" is the third story and is about Herr Soerensen and his acting troop. Malli Ross is preparing to play the part of Ariel in Shakespeare's "The Tempest," but a real shipwreck turns her into a true life heroine. She even refers to herself as the "resurrection and the life." I was very bewildered by most of this story

I am a happily married woman who knows all about the birds and the bees, but my reading life is so chaste that I struggled through the fourth tale in which a man and a woman are paid to sleep together. "The Immortal Story" reveals no unsavory details, but it was an effort to keep reading.

Fifth, and last, is "The Ring." I actually liked this story more than most of the others because its message was more pointed. A young, radiant bride discovers that marriage is not all happiness when she loses her wedding ring under strange circumstances.

Dinesen has been on my radar for years because Elisabeth Elliot mentions her in some of her books. Although "Babette's Feast" is one of my all-time favorite stories, I have to be honest and say that I did not enjoy the rest of the book. I kept hoping some of the hinted-at themes would make themselves clear. But, alas, that was not to be.

Every serious reader should be familiar with Dinesen's "Babette's Feast," so feel free to skip the other stories and enjoy her magnum opus.

1 comment:

Carol in Oregon said...

Thanks for this review. I found it very helpful!