Autobiography of aviatrix who grew up in colonial East Africa, telling tales of youth and culminating in a recounting of her solo westward flight across the North Atlantic, the first such flight. Remarkable book.
Having read the novel "Circling the Sun" about Markham's life, and "Out of Africa," Isak Dinesen's memoir, in which Markham appears, I was eager to read Markham's own memoir. While she's a wonderful descriptive writer about Africa, the book disappoints. The edition I read has an intro by Sara Wheeler, which points out that Markham doesn't mention any of her three husbands, or her son. A private person, indeed. Dinesen's memoir says that Denys Hatton Finch invited her along on what turned out to be his fatal flight; Markham claims it was her, and never mentions Dinesen at all. But Dinesen's ex, "Blixt" has a prominent role in the elephant hunting section. All this is confusing. Yet Beryl's description of her African childhood rings totally true: barefoot, Swahili as her first language, a pet zebra, taught to hunt by the Native boys, as does her mutual adoration for her horse-trainer father. A completely passionate person, how does she later switch completely from horses to flying? The book feels more like a string of well-written, but too often disconnected, essays than a well put together memoir.
Alas, I wish I had enjoyed WEST WITH THE NIGHT more than I did. After reading Paula McLain’s historical fiction, CIRCLING THE SUN, I was prompted to read this memoir by Beryl Markham, the real-life subject of CIRCLING THE SUN. Ms. Markham’s descriptive prose clearly demonstrates her passion for the land, wildlife, and native peoples of Africa, but oftentimes I found it too wordy to follow easily. There is not a real story thread here, but rather a series of disjointed episodes from Ms. Markham’s life: her childhood encounters with animals, her teenage/young adult experiences as a horse trainer, and her adult safari/ flying adventures. To say she led an exciting and unconventional life is an understatement, but Ms. Markham was apparently a very private person and reveals little about her feelings and relationships in this narrative. I felt I learned more about Beryl Markham, the woman, in Paula McLain’s novel. Another interesting observation and appreciation I had while reading WEST WITH THE NIGHT, first published in 1942, was how much social mores and attitudes toward gender, race, environment, and animal rights have changed (and for the better) since this book was written.
June '16 Book Club
How nice to stumble upon a significant female historical figure and learn some interesting history. With her memoir, no less. I have seen reviews which compare this to "Out of Africa", and I admit that I was unable to stick with that particular book (but appreciated the movie). This is a wonderful presentation of a childhood in Africa and the life of an aviatrix in the early 1900's. I enjoyed the book, and learned new things at the same time!! Nice!
This book, her brilliance, cured me of my fear of flying and inspired me to long to be a pilot. I loved every word.
Great true adventure of a young girl growing up in Africa and how she sets her goals and achieves them. She was either real brave or just tossed caution to the wind.
I think this was a beautifully written book, though at times the writing fringed on being distracting. Through the collection of stories, I began to feel as if I really knew Beryl, and at the end, I was nostalgic with her. I found some of the stories, particularly those about hunting, to be somewhat boring, but it is still a worthwhile read.
I picked this up by chance in a second-hand store, and was about to return it to the shelf when the review on the back caught my eye:
"Did you read Beryl Markham's book, West with the Night? I knew her fairly well in Africa and never would have suspected that she could and would put pen to paper except to write in her flyer's log book. As it is, she has written so well, and marvelously well, that I was completely ashamed of myself as a writer. I felt that I was simply a carpenter with words, picking up whatever was furnished on the job and nailing them together and sometimes making an okay pig pen. But [she] can write rings around all of us who consider ourselves writers. The only parts of it that I know about personally, on account of having been there at the time and heard the other people's stories, are absolutely true . . . I wish you would get it and read it because it is really a bloody wonderful book."--Ernest Hemingway
Needless to say, I bought it, read it, and read it again. Hemingway was many things, but in this, he was not wrong. The least interesting thing I can say about this book is that it's all true.
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