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Friday, July 29, 2011

I Dreamed of Africa, Kuki Gallmann

Kuki Gallmann was born in Italy, but as a child dreamed of living in Africa one day. She made the dream come true when she and her second husband bought a large ranch in Kenya. After several years, her husband died in a car crash. Three years later her teen-aged son died, bitten by a snake whose venom he was trying to milk. Rather than turn from Africa to Italy, as her family and Italian friends tried to persuade her to do, Mrs. Gallmann stayed in Kenya and founded the Gallmann Memorial Foundation, with an environmental/conservation focus.

Mrs. Gallmann wrote her prose poetically. My favorite parts of the book were her lovely descriptions of the wildlife and natural beauty of Kenya. Her ability to write extensive and nuanced pictures of the personalities she met impressed me. The story of her grief over the two tragedies in her life did move me.

I did not, however, find the book compelling as a whole. I disliked the mysticism she displayed when writing about death, especially the death of her husband, when she suggests that the daughter she was carrying when her husband died was the reincarnation of her husband. Her husband and son seemed a bit larger-than-life, and I found myself wondering if they could possibly have been quite as wonderful as she describes. She defends one of the affairs she had (with a married man, lest I be misunderstood) after her husband died as 'pure.' She condemns the influence foreigners have had over Africa and Africans, yet she herself both exercises and seeks influence over the land and the people. I concluded the book thinking that Mrs. Gallmann probably thinks too highly of herself.

I do not regret reading the book, but I do not intend to keep the copy I own, having no desire to read it again, or loan it out, or encourage my children to read it. As capacious as my bookshelves are, I must draw the line somewhere.

I have not seen the movie based on the book.


  1. It does seem that whenever a person loses their spouse that the deceased was always the perfect partner in every way. I guess it comes under not speaking ill of the dead. I just read a neat biography (The Ditchdigger's Daughters) about the author's parents and one of the things that made the story compelling is that she described them warts and all. Her parents were remarkable, but imperfect as are we all.

  2. She certainly sounds like an interesting person, but I'd have a hard time with the hagiography of her spouse - and the mysticism you describe - and the affair.

    Have you ever read "Out of Africa"? Such a wonderful, wonderful book - and not at all like the movie.

    Thanks for your review.

  3. Two more books to add to my TBR list!

  4. I just went on Amazon to add these titles to my 'wish list,' only to discover two different books by the name of 'Out of Africa.' Would you be talking about the one by Isak Dinesen, or the one by Karen Blixen? And should I address you as debd, or Deb?

  5. Either Deb or DebD is fine.... Isak Dinesen is Karen Blixen's pen name.

    Here's one that should work:

    She also wrote "Babette's Feast" which is another lovely book - but very different. Your library probably has both of these, as they are classics.

    And I'm with you - I'm going to add "Ditchdigger's Daughter" to my TBR pile.

  6. Having experienced Africa for the 1st time at age 69, and having experienced losses of my own, I felt the book to be a true description of a woman's experience. In my own family, the term"fey" was often used to explain our experiences. I am in awe of her courage in staying, understand the need for comfort and love, and hope that my life includes more direct experiences of Africa. Bravo.