A thorough if somewhat plodding biography. Out of the heartbreak and ravaging difficulties of her life, Blixen (better known under her nom de plume, Isak Dinesen) shaped not only several lasting works of literature but also a formidable persona. Although she died of malnutrition in 1962 at age 77, that persona still inspires tremendous fascination. Donelson clearly felt its pull. Indeed, she could hardly have avoided it: The Iowan biographer's own farm in Kenya, where she lived from 1978 to 1980, overlooked what had been Blixen's property. Perhaps inspired by the reality of that view, however, Donelson has committed herself to separating the facts of Blixen's life from her self-created myth. The result is a book that traces the transformation of an unassuming young Danish bride into a regal if physically fragile grand dame of the veldt (Blixen went to Africa in 1914, when she was 28). In the course of her narrative, Donelson, an M.D., succeeds in debunking with alacrity and insight some of the commonly held assumptions about Blixen's medical history. She doubts, for example, that Blixen's later physical ailments were the result of syphilis (contracted from her husband during their first year of marriage). More likely, they were caused by the arsenic she took for years as a tonic. The discussions of Blixen's physical state and frequent bouts of depression are concrete and convincing; it's a pity Donelson succeeds less well with Blixen the writer. The biography lacks a vital sense of the woman as an artist, though it brings to light a wealth of detail about her African experiences, from the ill-treatment she received from her husband to the longing she felt for aristocratic English hunter Denys Finch Hatton. Perhaps Blixen must remain strangely unfathomable: a creature wrought in her own imagination and projected onto the page.