Shadows on the Grass is the last book Dinesen wrote, and it is the briefest and most factual, filled with dates, names, and references to other books and writers. She was dead within a year of its publication.
Shadows on the Grass serves as a coda or giant footnote to Out of Africa, filling the reader in on what happened to Dinesen’s servants and friends. The primary focus is on Farah, the Somali-born servant who acted as her chief of staff. He is depicted as fiercely arrogant and utterly loyal, and his death is one of the most moving and tragic moments in all of Dinesen’s writing. In fact, the film characterization of Farah depends more on this short text than on the book Out of Africa. Other characters who figure prominently include Kamante, who goes blind, old Juma, who dies, and Abdullahi, Farah’s son, who ultimately prospers. What strikes the informed reader of Dinesen’s work in reading these portraits is how similar they seem to the imaginary ones in Seven Gothic Tales and Winter’s Tales. Clearly, Dinesen idealized all who touched her deeply, transforming them in her imagination into the same kind of romantic, contradictory, and willful types that one encounters in her great tales.
Dinesen is unusually reflective and self-analytical in Shadows on the Grass, freely admitting that the African experiences changed her life and made her writing career possible. She also shows a new consciousness of how the Masai and Kikuyu experienced a painful culture shock after the introduction of Western technology and culture, all of which made them listless and turned their old lives into boredom. Her frustrations with these people, especially when they would not heed her medical advice, and her unconditional affection for them come through on nearly every page. In Shadows on the Grass there is less of an emphasis on the exotic landscape and its aesthetic delights and more of a premium placed on human values and spiritual appreciation. One senses that Dinesen anticipated her own death and that she wanted to acknowledge her huge debt of gratitude to all her deceased friends.