Aug 17, 2009

West with the Night

by Beryl Markham

This book was not at all what I expected. From the cover images (the author in flight helmet, and on the back, her plane crashed in a swamp) and synopsis I read online, I assumed it was about early aviation. The author lived in Africa at a time when planes were very new and roads scarce, so there was always work to do in her small plane flying people and medical supplies to remote areas of the country, or searching for other lost pilots. I thought the book would mostly be about these flights, but I was quite wrong. West with the Night contains memoirs of Markham's childhood on her father's horse farm, and later her own work training race horses as the first woman licensed to do so in the country. Her writing is beautiful and poetic, the words ones to savor and turn over in your mind. Besides some lovely passages about horses, there is a lot about the African countryside and its wildlife. As a small child, Markham was attacked by a semi-tame lion that lived about the horse ranch. When older (but still very young) she went on hunts for warthog, lion and elephant, accompanied by native tribesmen and her loyal dog Buller. Many times the hunted beasts turned against them, in some hair-raising situations. The wild countryside, broad and nearly untouched by man, is nearly a personality itself in her pages. As is her plane. Accounts of her flights over desolate country, through darkness and storm and across the Atlantic in a record-breaking trip, grace the beginning and end of the book. I can't say which I preferred, reading about the horses and African wildlife, or reading about her flights in a small plane- both were engrossing and captivating. And have you ever had the thrill of coming across a character in a book, who was friends with one you knew in a different book entirely? Markham knew the von Blixens, and Denys Finch-Hatton, whom I met in the pages of Out of Africa. In fact, this book reminds me a lot of Out of Africa, far more so than it does Wind Sand and Stars, or the many books I once read about Charles Lindbergh. You can read a bit more about Beryl Markham here. Her book is one that should not be forgotten, it is such a treasure to read.

Rating: 4/5 ........ 294 pages, 1942

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9 comments:

Sandy Nawrot said...

What a difference a review makes! See, if I were to see this book, I wouldn't give it a second glance. It sounds fascinating! BTW, I received your bookmark...thank you! It is beautiful! I am so impressed with your ability!

Jenny said...

I'm kicking myself right now - I used to work for these people who operated an online bookshop, and I would say ninety-seven percent of their stock was trashy romance novels. And one of the very, very few non-bodice-ripper books there was this! And I remember one evening I was house-sitting for them, and had somehow forgotten to bring a book, and I was trying to decide between West with the Night and another book, and I went with M.M. Kaye's awful and offensive Trade Winds! Grrr.

...Adding to the list!

Jeane said...

Sandy- Thank you! I thought the exact same thing when I picked this up- it looks dull, but -shrug- it's fifteen cents, so I'll take it (greatest book sale ever!) And another one I got at the same sale looked really cool, but was terrible. Sometimes you really never know until you start reading it!

Jenny- Ah, you should have picked up West with the Night! Within the first few pages I was enthralled. At least now you know if you ever spot it again, to grab it and not let anyone else pry it out of your hands.

bermudaonion said...

Wow, it sounds like she was a remarkable woman. This sounds like a memoir I would love!

Trish said...

Isn't it interesting how certain people become so infamous while others are not remembered at all? I haven't heard of Markham but it sounds like a wonderful book. I haven't read Out of Africa either but my roommate loved the movie and made me watch it multiple times with her. The new movie Amelia looks interesting--have you seen previews?

Bybee said...

I remember hearing that Hemingway was a big fan of hers.

Janet said...

This sounds really good. I don't think I'd be disappointed that it turned out to be about horses and African wildlife, and not just about the flying.

I loved Out of Africa too. Have you ever read any of Isak Dinesen's stories? I took a seminar on her in college and loved it.

Jeane said...

Bermudaonion- Quite remarkable. I read elsewhere a quote by someone who had lived in Africa at the time, and they said every incident in the book they knew of had happened just as she wrote it.

Trish- I didn't even know there was a movie about Amelia but I just watched the trailer and it looks so good! I would love to see it.

Bybee- Yes- there's a lengthy quote on the back of my copy by Hemmingway about how good the writing is; although if you read the entire quote on wiki, it appears he didn't like her as a person (don't know why).

Janet- Yes, I've read a few of her story collections. Seven Gothic Tales and Winter's Tales. I know she's written a lot more.

Eva said...

This totally reminded me of Out of Africa too. And I loved seeing the same people appear too!!!