Thursday, September 29, 2011

Winter's Tales by Isak Dinesen

Title: Winter's Tales
Author: Isak Dinesen

Genre: Fiction (Short Stories / Danish / 19th century / Fairy Tales / Historical Figure Fictionalized)
Publisher/Publication Date: Vintage (6/1/1993)
Source: My public library

Rating: Liked.
Did I finish?: I did, over a week, about a story or two a night.
One-sentence summary: Twelve short stories on love, faith, courage, family, obligation, wonder, and death.

Do I like the cover?: I don't -- I know it matches the cover for Seven Gothic Tales, but I don't think it reflects the flavor or tone of the stories.

I'm reminded of...: A.S. Byatt, O. Henry,

First line: In the first half of the last century there lived in Sealand, in Denmark, a family of cottagers and fishermen, who were called Plejelt after their native place, and who did not seem able to do well for themselves in any way. From "The Dreaming Child"

Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Borrow or buy: there's some lovely, poetic language in these stories for those who are in love with gorgeous quotes.

Why did I get this book?: My GoodReads book group picked it and I'm always willing to read Dinesen.

Review: Like many Americans (I suspect), my introduction to Isak Dinesen was via the film version of Out of Africa. I actually never saw it until an adult, but my mother bought the film tie-in copy of Out of Africa and Shadows On the Grass which I read cover to cover two or three times in high school -- and my Dinesen obsession was born.

This collection of eleven short stories has the feel of a 19th-century fairy tale collection; while reading, I found myself musing if these stories were the ones Karen recounted to Denys while they were in Kenya. Some were pure magic while others were meditations on religion, family, or obligation. There were delightful passages in every story, wryly funny and very true, such as:

"Jensine would never have married a man whom she did not love; she held the god of love in great respect, and had already for some years sent a little daily prayer to him: "Why doest thou tarry?" But now she reflected that he had perhaps granted her prayer with vengeance, and that her books had given her but little information as to the real nature of love." (page 109, from "The Pearls")

For those who are new to Dinesen, this is an excellent introduction as she is a writer of more than just memoir; those who have read Out of Africa have gotten a taste of the dreamy, meditative way she tackles life, and these stories are an extension of that.


  1. I've never heard of this author, but I'd like to check it out at some point because I tend to enjoy poetic prose.

  2. @Anna: You might like her book The Angelic Avengers which she wrote during the German occupation of Denmark, and is a sort of fairy tale-ish allegory of the Nazis.

  3. This does sound like a lovely collection, and I am so glad you enjoyed it! I am always looking for a great set of short stories to help reinvigorate me into the genre, so reading this review was helpful and wonderful to me. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  4. I'm not familiar with this collection, but the themes sound so interesting! I'm on a bit of a short story kick lately, so I'll keep this one on my radar.

  5. Hm...yes I have read short stories, but I do not think I have read so many fiction ones in the end

  6. I really need to read her! I read about her earlier this year in NOM DE PLUME but I woudl love to get around to reading something BY her! :-)

  7. These short stories sound terrific. I forgot about this author...I read Out of Africa a long time ago and loved the way she writes! I've heard great things about Babette's Feast, too.

    It's an interesting choice for a book group...what other books has your Goodreads group read if you don't mind me asking?!

  8. @Heather: It's really lovely, literally, and it's definitely for anyone who loves language and really cerebral fiction. I hope you like it if you pick it up!

    @Carrie: I think you'd love this one -- there's some moral/ethical iffiness in each story that's lovely, painful, beautiful, moving, etc.

    @Blodeuedd: These are all fiction and quite imaginative -- but fun!

    @Marie: I would actually recommend Seven Gothic Tales to start because that's the one I really love (I think, now I'm wondering if I prefer this collection ;)).

    @Amy: I really love Babette's Feast, more so than the film based on it -- she's really a fabulous, underrated author. I highly recommend her.

    The book group is great -- such diverse, fun reads! Our next read is Marguerite Duras' The Ravishing of Lol Stein. Previous reads include Laurence Cossé's A Novel Bookstore and Patrick Leigh Fermor's A Time of Gifts. Such diverse, interesting reads -- I love it.

  9. I've never read any Dinesen, though I've heard a lot of quotes attributed to the author. I should fix this? Your review makes it feel lack a significant lack in my reading :D

  10. I'm not much for fairy tales, but this sounds interesting...thanks for the introduction to this author...And I haven't seen Out of Africa either.