My favorite first line is not from my favorite book — but I think the first line of Isak Dinesen’s Out of Africa is one of the best first lines I know.
“I had a farm in Africa, at the foot of the Ngong Hills.”
Isak Dinesen (Karen Blixen) wrote this novel of her life in Africa originally in English, and to me it sounds like English poetry — not quite iambic and not quite dactyl — maybe something in between and definitely lyrical and lovely.
I had a FARM in AF-ri-ca, at the FOOT of the NG-ong Hills.
The author’s presence is firmly established with the first word “I” as is the presence of the second major character of the novel, the “farm in Africa”. One knows from the outset what this story is about. It declares the entwining of these two characters. Karen Blixen was in Africa and Africa was in her.
“…at the foot of the Ngong Hills.” This single phrase for me evokes a place of mystery — as Africa is for a person who has never been there. I see the colors of Africa in this one line: green hills, red dirt, blue skies, white clouds, golden sun. I hear in the name “Ngong” the people of the land, the third set of characters in this novel. The novel is not really about Europeans coming to Africa. It is actually about the people of this land before their paradise was ruined. This one line offers the suggestion of what life was like in the Garden of Eden before the Fall: beautiful, perfect, timeless, numinous.
This first line holds a mythological motif that resonates with me. In a way, I wish I had a farm in Africa at the foot of the Ngong Hills.
ljg (c) 2012