West With The Night

by Beryl Markham

Paperback, 1983




North Point Press (1983), Edition: 1st, 294 pages


West with the Night is the story of Beryl Markham--aviator, racehorse trainer, beauty--and her life in the Kenya of the 1920s and '30s.


(723 ratings; 4.2)

User reviews

LibraryThing member brenzi
I finished Beryl Markham’s remarkable memoir and immediately had to know more about her. Who was this woman who was described by Ernest Hemingway in this way: “she has written so well, and marvelously well, that I was completely ashamed of myself as a writer….she can write rings around all of
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us who consider ourselves as writers.” High praise from some one who was not known to think highly of other writers. So why haven’t I ever heard of her? Surprisingly, this was her only literary effort. And what an effort it was.

Born in 1902, Markham reached back into her childhood, growing up in British East Africa, playing with native children, helping on her father’s farm as she described her early years and, in detailed narrative, the enigma that is Africa:

“Africa is mystic; it is wild; it is a sweltering inferno; it is a photographer’s paradise; a hunter’s Valhalla; an escapist’s Utopia. It is what you will, and it withstands all interpretations. It is the last vestige of a dead world or the cradle of a shiny new one. To a lot of people, as to myself, it is just ‘home.’ It is all these things but one thing---dull.”(Page 8)

We follow her life as she trains racehorses for a living, scouts the bush country for elephant, and delivers mail and passengers by airplane to the remote corners of Africa. So many times I found myself furiously marking passages because the writing was just staggeringly beautiful and eloquent.

Markham was a woman who lived her life at a hundred miles an hour and wrote this memoir at the age of thirty-six and never another word before her death at eighty-six. To say her prose is lush would be an understatement but nothing prepared me for her solo flight from England to North America, across the North Atlantic, mostly at night, west into the prevailing wind:

“The fear is gone now---not overcome nor reasoned away. It is gone because something else has taken its place; the confidence and the trust, the inherent belief in the security of land underfoot---now this faith is transferred to my plane, because the land has vanished and there is no other tangible thing to fix faith upon. Flight is but momentary escape from the eternal custody of earth.” (Page 284)

I was on the edge of my seat for the whole flight just as if I were sitting on the plane with her. The same as it was when she described the horserace where two horses she trained end up neck and neck at the wire. Oh, and when she described the savageness of the elephant hunt. Or the sorrow of the lion safari. I could go on and on but do yourself a big favor and pick this one up for a delicious read. Very highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member lauralkeet
Beryl Markham was born in England, but grew up with her father in Kenya in the early part of the 20th century. Her childhood afforded her considerable independence; on her father's farm she mingled freely with native people and even learned to hunt game. As a young woman she became an accomplished
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horse trainer, and then learned to fly aircraft. This memoir takes the reader up to her most notable aeronautic feat, being the first woman to fly the Atlantic Ocean from east to west in 1936.

Beryl's childhood and young adulthood were fascinating. Hers was far from a typical colonial upbringing, and it seemed she was almost exclusively in the company of men. She was one of very few women in the horse racing world, but proved herself to the skeptical and more experienced. Later, she flew her plane on scouting missions for safari operators -- again, probably the only woman to make a living in this way.

Reading this memoir, I was fascinated with her life experiences, although I found the elephant safari segments extremely unsettling. While she focused entirely on her role -- locating herds and reporting back to the safari leader -- and didn't glamorize it in the least, Beryl clearly contributed to the slaughter of elephants for ivory. This was acceptable practice at the time, but it's still awful when seen through 21st century eyes. West With the Night was also surprisingly devoid of women. Beryl's mother left her father, she had no female friends growing up, and her professional colleagues were all men. Was this reality, or due to the scope of this memoir?

Still, this was a fascinating portrait of a fascinating woman.
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LibraryThing member tututhefirst
An amazing memoir written by a pioneering aviatrix about her early life in British East Africa (now Kenya) as a farmer's daughter, race horse trainer, and eventually, bush pilot delivering mail, supplies, and ferrying people across the uncharted territory of eastern Africa.

Her exquisite prose makes
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the book. The story is exciting and interesting, almost unbelievable (I supposed teen aged white women could go hunting lions accompanied only by African tribesman and equipped only with a spear!) but told with such clear and image evoking words that the reader just sinks into this book. It is a book to be savored, read slowly, marked up, and read again.

I found myself breathless and stopped dumb in my reading tracks at points, having to put the book down, and then read and re-read passages. My library copy is full of little yellow stickies to mark such passages as:

(speaking of a 'pet' lion kept by her father's farmhands: "He spent his waking hours..wandering through Elkingtons' fields and pastures like an affable, if apostrophic, emperor, a-stroll in the gardens of his court."

"One day the stars will be as familiar to each man as the landmarks, the curves, and the hills on the road that leads to his door, and one day this will be an airborne life. But by then men will have forgotten how to fly; they will be passengers on machines who conductors are carefully promoted to a familiarity with labelled buttons, and in whose minds knowledge of the sky and the wind and the way of weather will be extraneous as passing fictions." (this book was written in 1942, and she was relating this as she spoke of her early flying lessons around 1925-30.

Her imagery, particularly when relating treks through African jungles and deserts is spellbinding:

"You could expect many things of God at night when the campfire burned before the tents. You could look through and beyond the veils of scarlet and see shadows of the world as God first made it and the hear the voices of the bests He put there. It was a world as old as Time....When the low stars shone over it and the moon clothed it in silver fog, it was the way the firmament must have been when the waters had gone and the night of the Fifth Day had fallen on creatures still bewildered by the wonder of their being."

Even Ernest Hemingway, who at some point crossed paths with Ms. Markham, remarks on the back cover:

"...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 as writers...I wish you would get it and read it because it is really a bloody wonderful book."

Who am I to argue with Hemingway?
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LibraryThing member Stbalbach
Lifetime memoirs by British-born Kenyan author Beryl Markham (1902-86) about her frontier life growing up in colonial Kenya. An intimate portrait of a romantic, fragile and ephemeral time in Africa. Although Markham was the first person to fly solo across the Atlantic from east to west, she is best
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known today as the author of this book because of its amazing writing. Hemingway (who knew Markham fairly well) said "she can write rings around all of us who consider ourselves writers." National Geographic Magazine rated it #8 in its "Top-100 Adventure Books". Many of the real-life characters seen in the movie "Out of Africa" are discussed here, including how the character played by Robert Redford dies, and how Markham almost died with him.

A recent "tell all" book came out in 1993 "The Lives of Beryl Markham" by Errol Trzebinski - it contends "West with the Night" was ghost written by her third husband, who was a Hollywood ghost writer. It also says Markham was sexually promiscuous and slept with many/most of the males mentioned in the book. Maybe. Maybe not. It's easy to get caught up in the drama and stories of the Kenyan colonialists. The reality is sometimes less attractive then the romantic mythology.
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LibraryThing member GoofyOcean110
She really led an amazing life, and her prose writing was fantastic. Even when writing about something that could be otherwise really dull - monotonous flying in the middle of the night where there was little that she could see to describe was somehow magically transformed into a beautifully
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elegant reverie on life in Africa in the early to mid 1900s. Her perspective was so radically different from so many other accounts for so many reasons made this book feel both exotic and travel-worn. This is very much a memoir of selected events and times, not a chronological autobiography. Beryl Markham's life was so varied - with encounters with large wild animals, horse training and breeding and racing, flying to serve as a mail courier or safari scout or daredevil - she challenged so many norms. Her successes and even failures are marvelous accounts of pushing the boundary when even contemporary modern comforts (or even survival, in the case of safaris) were not guaranteed.
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LibraryThing member scofer
Fantastic! I don't care if Beryl Markham wrote this or not (it is rumored that her third husband, a Hollywood ghostwriter, wrote the book). Beryl Markham's story is fascinating: from growing up in East Africa on her father's horse farm, to training race horses, to her time in Africa as a bush pilot
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tracking wild game from the air ... all culminating in her historic solo flight across the Atlantic from east to west. This book brings the ultimate forms of praise from me: (1) I could not put it down; and (2) I am now seeking out anything I can find out about this amazing, daring woman. No matter who wrote the book, the use of imagery is astounding. Highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member msf59
Markham landed in the record books (and a bog in Novia Scotia) for being the first person to fly non-stop from England to North America, but in her self-effacing style, it
only warrants a chapter or so in her thrilling memoir. She arrived in East Africa, at four years old and quickly adapted to this
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wild, exciting landscape. She learns to hunt and assists her father in raising racehorses. She is a scrappy youth and somehow survives a lion attack. Markham describes an amazing array of adventures, including a dangerous boar hunt, a breath-taking horse race, which involved both a mare and stallion, she helped rear, a near fatal meeting with an angry bull elephant and many more wonderful tales. She was also a bush pilot and good friends with the hunter Bror Blixen, who was married to Karen Blixen, also known as Isak Dinesen. Markham tells this all in beautiful prose, each word selected with exquisite detail. I listened to this on audio book and it was read by the respected actress Julie Harris, who did a remarkable job. Highly recommended!
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LibraryThing member KAzevedo
East Africa of the early 1900s comes alive in the writing of this memoir of the early life of an unconventional woman, Beryl Markham. The writing beautifuly evokes the wildness of colonial Africa that she experiences as a child on her father's ranch, claimed from the bush. She learns of raising and
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training race horses from her father, hunting and African culture from her native playmates and flying from an early bush pilot. She tells stories of her remarkable exploits, but it is the land, the wildlife, the horses, and the people she knows that are exalted. This passage is about the lake at Nakuru, where she trains horses:

"The shores of its lake are rich in silence, lonely with it, but the monotonous flats of sand and mud that circle the shallow water are relieved of dullness, not by only an occasional bird or a flock of birds or by a hundred birds; as long as the day lasts Nakuru is no lake at all, but a crucible of pink and crimson fire - each of its flames, its million flames, struck from the wings of a flamingo. Ten thousand birds of such exorbitant hue, caught in the scope of an eye, is a sight that loses credence in one's own mind years afterward. But ten thousand flamingos on Lake Nakuru would be a number startling in its insignificance, and a hundred thousand would barely begin the count."

Such pictures are continually created as you read. It is only when she leaves Africa that I felt her language became somewhat stilted and forced, but it is a minor quible with a wonderful and exciting book.
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LibraryThing member laytonwoman3rd
Raised in British East Africa, almost as free as the native children she grew up with, or the lions they hunted with spears, Beryl Markham lived a long and eventful life. She was a pioneering aviatrix, a bush pilot, a race horse trainer, and a woman for whom living was a full time activity. This
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memoir, written when her life was barely half over, is fairly brief. Knowing only a few bare facts about her going in, I find what she left out almost as remarkable as what she included. Although she was married three times, and had several notable affairs, neither husbands nor lovers are mentioned as such in the book at all. The reader would never know she was married even once, or that she bore a child. Nor does her friend Karen Blixen (Isak Dinesen) make an appearance, although Baron Bror Blixen features prominently in more than one chapter. There’s not a single anecdote about Ernest Hemingway, who in his own words, “knew her fairly well in Africa.” These omissions, however, detract not at all from the power and magic of this book. The prose is exquisite. Her outlook is so honest, natural and forthright that she went directly onto my fantasy dinner party list before I’d finished her first chapter. I don’t even care if some of it was exaggerated or embellished in the telling; it’s all “true” in the best sense of the word.
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LibraryThing member fourbears
Like the man who “rediscovered” this memoir and was instrumental in having it republished in 1983, I was impressed with the quotation by Hemingway on the cover to the effect that she “can write rings around all of us who consider ourselves as writers”. There’s a breathless quality to the
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writing: there are delightful and original figures of speech and there’s wisdom gained from a childhood where mentors are as much the elders of the African tribes she grows up with as that of her own father."A herd of elephant, as seen from a plane, has a quality of an hallucination. The proportions are wrong—they are like those of a child’s drawing of a field mouse in which the whole landscape, complete with barns and windmills, is dwarfed beneath the whiskers of the mighty rodent who looks both able and willing to devour everything, including the thumb-tack that holds the work against the schoolroom wall.""Safaris come and safaris go, but Makula goes on forever. I suspect at times that he is one of the wisest men I have known—so wise that, realizing the scarcity of wisdom, he has never cast a scrap of it away, though I still remember a remark he made to an overzealous newcomer to his profession: ‘White men pay for danger—we poor ones cannot afford it. Find your elephant and then vanish, so that you can live to find another.’"Markham grew up on a coffee farm in British East Africa (later Kenya) where her father also kept horses, as gradually training race horses captured his [and her:] interest full time. There was no mother (you have to read elsewhere to discover that her mother and elder sibling left Africa early on and returned to Britain). Her playmates were Africans and so were her mentors. One child she played with ended up her principal servant and companion in adult hood—and called her “Memsahib”. Her childhood influences were probably more African than British. When she was nearly 18, her father’s farm failed and he went to try his luck in Peru. She decided to stay and became a successful horse trainer herself until she met Tom Black who inspired her to learn to fly, though her eventual inspiration to take up flying seriously was the death of hunter and flyer Denys Finch Hatton in his plane. By the mid-thirties, she was flying passengers and the mail, rescuing the injured and taking them to safety. Eventually, with Baron Blixen (husband of Karen—Isak Dinesen) she joined the “big white hunters” on safaris, scouting for elephant by plane, though to her credit, even then she hated to see the elephants killed. She never mentions husbands, lovers or child. Nor does she mention Karen Blixen. Only her love for Africa and her work with horses and with planes.Once I finished the book—which I enjoyed very much—I looked up Beryl Markham on the net, primarily because I was interested in her life and in the information she left out (what happened to her mother… the men in her life…) and discovered there is at least one biographer who says she didn’t write it, but that it was written by her third husband, Raoul Schumacher. Her other biographer stoutly denies the charge. I can’t arbitrate that controversy, but I thoroughly enjoyed the book. Beryl Markham lived until 1986 in Kenya; she’s been living in obscurity and near poverty until the revival of the book brought her some notice and some money.
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LibraryThing member Neftzger
This is the second time that I've read this book, and it's been one of my favorite books since I first read it about 25 years ago. Beryl is a very modern woman living in Africa in the 1920s, embracing a spirit of adventure, and rising to challenges. She opens the book by identifying it as a memoir
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and not an autobiography, and her writing draws the reader into the tapestry of her memory so that we can relive the adventures along with her. It's no wonder that Hemingway praised this book - there's a lot to admire in the writing and the woman who wrote it.
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LibraryThing member Sandydog1
Hemmingway loved her writing style and I did too. Delightful mix of flowery Edwardian prose and homespun, lyrical Swahili storytelling. Markham's beautiful memoir covers her African girlhood (let's just say there are several very, very close encounters with lions), horse racing career, airborne
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bush rescues and scouting for elephant safaris and of course, her solo flight across the Atlantic. (She mentions none of her steamy romances, marital or otherwise.)
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LibraryThing member CindaMac
Having enjoyed Paula McLain’s Circling the Sun, her excellent fictionalization of the life of the fascinating Beryl Markham. I went back with a renewed appreciation of the woman and re-read Markhams’ 1936 memoir, “West with the Night,” which chronicles her solo flight across the Atlantic
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and her extraordinary life in Kenya. I was struck by the excellence of her writing despite being motherless, neglected and give a minimal education. Her elementary school years were spent as the sole white child in a poor African school; she dropped out of high school in Nairobi after only a year, but, she must have been a reader. Markham deserves to be immortalized in prose.
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LibraryThing member Smiler69
Finished this new all-time favourite last night. Each page, each paragraph, and (not to overdo it), each sentence is a real pleasure to read. I have no idea whether Markham herself wrote it, or whether her husband did (somehow I'm leaning toward the second conjecture; it just doesn't seem to have
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been written by a woman somehow, though I couldn't say what leads me to that impression), but ultimately it hardly matters. It's a book one must simply read for the love of reading. You won't learn much by the way of Markham's personal life; she certainly doesn't delve at all into her love life, marriage and affairs (you'll have to read Paula McLean's Circling the Sun to get the romance angle, though I wasn't able to finish what read like a bodice ripper to me). In fact, she only mentions those men who are known to have been her lovers when they were work connections, but the story she does tell, about her love for horses and then her infatuation with flying at a time when such an activity was extremely dangerous, all the more so in a place like Africa in the 20s and 30s, when most of the land was plunged in darkness as soon as the night dropped down without warning, and where there were hardly any real landing strips to speak of. She learned from the best and apparently came to be considered one of the best flyers herself, which is why she took on flying solo from East to West to cross the Atlantic from Great Britain to North America in 1936, a route which is much more difficult than going the other way because the of the wind currents. This made her the first woman to have accomplished that feat, though the flight almost ended in disaster and she was unhappy with the fact she hadn't managed to reach New York, as had been originally planned. One doesn't learn much about the woman's inner workings, although it is written as a first person account; she recounts her experiences in a rather detached manner, but always with a touch of what I'd call British humour. I cringed a bit at the description of the hunting parties she took part in, scouting bull elephants from the air to help wealthy foreign hunters kill the largest animals to get their hands on the biggest tusks that could be found, but here again, the quality of the writing was such that I couldn't keep from turning the pages and taking in every single word and turn of phrase. Simply sublime and highly recommended. I'll definitely reread this one some time in future.
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LibraryThing member ArtfulAnnie
One of my favorite books.
LibraryThing member TizzzieLish
“Based in Kenya, she flew all over Africa, was mauled by a lion, she was the first woman pilot given permission to fly from Africa to Europe. She writes in a delightful poetic style. An easy and enjoyable read.
It is #8 on the National Geographic Adventure list of “The 100 greatest adventure
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books of all time”
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LibraryThing member ShanLizLuv
Beryl Markham was an extraordinary woman. Raised by her widower father in Africa, she moved easily through the world of the white Europeans into which she was born, but was the most comfortable with her African friends and their families. She became one of the first female: bush pilots, ranch
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owners, hunting guides, horse trainers...The list continues. She glosses over some less savory episodes in her life, a la James Frey, but her story is so compelling and so beautifully written that it is easy to forgive those lapses.
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LibraryThing member RoseCityReader
Beryl Markham's compelling memoir of growing up in British East Africa. She is best known for flying solo from England to North America and she ends her book with this story. But the rest is about running wild on her father's farm as a child, learning to hunt and having lion-centered adventures;
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becoming a professional horse trainer at 17; and her life as a bush pilot in Africa between the wars.

The audio version was particularly enjoyable.
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LibraryThing member gbower
It is hard to decide whether the best part of this book is the writing or the story. On the first page Markham claims to be no weaver but I disagree. She is a marvelous weaver of words creating pictures of Africa and the time in which she lived. I have read and reread several of the chapters and am
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hungry for more of her writing and her adventures.
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LibraryThing member readingrat
A beautifully written combination of autobiography and whimsy.
LibraryThing member lamour
Markham was the first person to fly the Atlantic from England to North America alone. That amazing accomplishment takes up one chapter in this remarkable book. Born in England but raised in East Africa by her father on a farm, she becomes an accomplished horse trainer by her teen years. Her
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description of a horse race in Nairobi is gripping and reads like fiction. When she discovers aeroplanes, she learns to fly and then buys a plane and transports people & cargo around East Africa at a time when there were few airfields and no technical aids. Many of her customers were big game hunters and her descriptions of hunting lions, elephants other big game takes us back to an era when shooting animals for trophies was an accepted adventure for the rich & famous. Markham presents a clear picture of life ofr the white pioneer in Africa from 1900 to the Second World War.
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LibraryThing member bluesviola
truly one of the best books I've ever read. Adventure, travel, Africa and career transformation.
LibraryThing member isabelx
Night flying over charted country by aid of instruments and radio guidance can still be a lonely business, but to fly in unbroken darkness without even the cold companionship of a pair of ear-phones or the knowledge that somewhere ahead are lights and life and a well-marked airport is more than
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lonely. It is at times unreal to the point where the existence of other people seems not even a reasonable probability. The hills, the forests, the rocks, and the plains are one with the darkness, and the darkness is infinite. The earth is no more your planet than a distant star - if a star is shining; the plane is your planet and you are its sole inhabitant.

I like the fact that it is a memoir rather than a chronological autobiography. One story leads into another, with digressions thrown in as they occur to her, such as the time a leopard abducted her dog from the bottom of her bed. I also rather like the fact that Beryl Markham uses Swahili (presumably) words without explanation, and writes some passages in the present tense, as it seems to make it more immediate.

She never mentions her mother (who went back to England shortly after the family moved to Kenya) once, and she does seem rather unlucky when it comes to being being attacked by animals!
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LibraryThing member Liciasings
The author is an excellent writer. Her descriptions and use of language are truly beautiful. But the book was very hard work for me to get through. I often found it hard to relate to the authors world view, especially towards people of other races, and towards animals. Hers is an affluent white
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viewpoint, in Africa in the 1930s. Hers is a world of adventure, friendship, firmly fixed social boundaries and higherarchies, horse racing, elephant hunting, and the early golden age of aviation. I found it at once both fascinating and upsetting; slightly uncomfortable, terribly annoying and enchanting, all at once. After this, I feel like reading something much easier on my brain and much easier for me to relate to. I am glad I got through it ,but I won't ever read this book again.
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LibraryThing member Kasthu
Beryl Markham led a fascinating life. . Born in Britain in 1902, she spent much of her life in Kenya, working as the only female airplane pilot in Africa. She was also a racehorse trainer, and her memoir details her childhood and adulthood in Kenya. Markham had a wide range of friends and
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acquaintances, among them Karen Blixen and her lover, Denys Finch-Hatton.

All of this should equal a well-written, interesting memoir, right? Well-written this book is, but Markham’s writing isn’t all that engaging and so I was very bored in many places as I was reading this book. I became interested in West With the Night after reading The Virago Book of Women Travellers, which contains an excerpt from it, but other than that excerpt, there’s not much all that interesting about the way that Markham tells her story. Part of the problem with the memoir lies in the fact that the author jumps around a lot in time, telling one anecdote from childhood and then jumping back to the present. This method of writing was confusing and broke up the narrative of the book. I also thought that the book lacked emotional warmth. It’s a pity that I just couldn’t get into this book, since I was looking forward to reading about Markham’s experiences in Kenya; but the way she wrote about them didn’t do much for me.
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Original language


Original publication date


Physical description

294 p.; 5.5 inches


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