Thursday, June 22, 2017

Recently Read: West With the Night

Author: Beryl Markham
Genre: Nonfiction- Memoir
Page Count: 294
Publication Date: 1942
Rating: 4/5

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Circling the Sun by Paula McLain 

Beryl Markham was the first person (man or woman) to fly nonstop from Europe to America. She was born in Britain in 1902 and moved to Kenya with her family shortly thereafter. She was a renowned race horse trainer and adventurer. West with the Night is her memoir of her life in Africa.

Last year, I read Circling the Sun by Paula McLain because she is an auto-read author for me. I had no idea who Beryl Markham was, but by the end of McLain's fictionalized story about her, I knew I needed to learn more about her. 

Markham was tall, blonde, and fearless. She inhabited many male dominated spheres without second thoughts or doubts. This memoir covers a few events from her life, but Markham leaves quite a bit out. She leaves out all three of her marriages, and her various love affairs, as well as the birth of her son and her turbulent relationship with her mother. But she talks of her childhood in Africa, training horses, and learning to fly. I was taken back by Markham's writing skills and ability to create an image. 

There is a blurb on the cover from Ernest Hemingway who writes:
"Written so well, and marvelously well, that I was completely ashamed of myself as a writer... Markham can write rings around all of us who consider ourselves as writers... It is really a bloody wonderful book."
Now if you know anything about Hemingway, and his reluctance to compliment any woman he wasn't trying to sleep with, that's high praise. The book's introduction speaks of claim's made by Markham's ex-husband after their divorce that he actually wrote the book instead of Markham, but I, along with most of those who read this book, have a hard time believing that claim.

I love the pictures that Markham creates of Africa in the early to mid 1900s and the way she speaks about the country she loved. It really has sparked an interest in me to learn more about British colonized Africa. While Markham doesn't write a linear biography of her life, she writes about events that were particularly special to her, which makes this novel, in turn, special.

I highly recommend checking this out the next time you are in the mood for adventure and a far-away setting. I'll leave you with a taste of Markham's writing. This is from one passage about the solitude of flying an airplane that stuck out to me.
"You can live a lifetime, and at the end of it, know more about other people than you know about yourself.... The abhorrence of loneliness is as natural as wanting to live at all. If it were otherwise, men would have never bothered to make an alphabet, nor to have fashioned words out of what were only animal sounds, nor to have crossed continents - each man to see what the other looked like."  

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