"West With the Night" by Beryl Markham

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The 1942 publication of West With the Night witnessed the arresting arrival of a skilled, wise, worldly storyteller into the public consciousness. Beryl Markham certainly had an interesting story to tell. The British-born girl was moved to British East Africa (later Kenya) in 1906, at the age of four. Living on her father’s farm - something Americans would tend to call a “spread” - she became familiar with horses, agricultural production, and local native tribes. More remarkable, she became active in native hunts, where various tribesmen would bring the teen-ager along to witness the predators and game of East Africa.

And of course on top of all this, she was the first aviator to fly west across the Atlantic, from England to Nova Scotia, where she survived landing under duress in a crippled airplane.

But: West With the Night is so much more than a simple re-telling of a memorable life by an indomitable woman. It’s irrefutable evidence that the gift of telling a story dwells in certain individuals, and cannot be denied. Markham shows a grace, a natural flow, and an undeniable logic in her memoir. She also sprinkles short speculative nuggets throughout, in which she tackles philosophical subjects: life, family, morals, character,  history, politics. And I want to affirm the two essential features of these études: they come just at the moment where they belong for the flow of her narrative, and they  display the deep wisdom, sophistication, and wit of their author. 

The Africa of primal and primeval forces comes alive under her treatment. The safaris, the deadly hazards, natural and human, the paternalism of subjugators, the intimidating fauna, from elephants to insects - all these form the backdrop of Markham’s life. Her willing spirit takes them all on; she suffers a lion’s mauling and a stallion’s pummeling hoof, among much more, and goes on to achieve local and global celebrity as a pioneering aviator. Africa at this transitional time cannot have a clearer guide than this eyewitness.

This memoir is a distinct pleasure, from beginning to end. Read it, and you will take a flight of your own. Its joys are manifold, unflagging and rewarding. Come for a re-telling of a remarkable life; stay for the pure reading pleasure.