By Isak Dinesen
I discovered Isak Dinesen when I was at Harvard, and her work transformed my idea of fiction. Nowadays she is mainly known for Out of Africa, her exquisite memoir of life in colonial Kenya, but I prefer these wonderful stories. They are like folktales reconfigured by a fiercely original mind, and they are brought to life with colorful description that borders on poetry. Stories like "Sorrow-Acre" are dramas about the nature of love and destiny and death whose scenes remain in the mind like baroque miniatures. "The Sailor-Boy's Tale" is a compressed epic, and "Alkmene," reminiscent of Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale, shows the sad waste that ensues when a romantic hero and heroine refuse love.