Thursday, March 17, 2016


Beryl Markham
North Point Press, Farrar, Straus and Giroux
1942, 1983

Ms. Hen decided to read this book because it was recommended to her on Amazon since she read DRIVING MR. ALBERT. She didn’t buy this book on Amazon, nor did she the previous one, but sometimes she likes to read reviews of books she has read on that website.

She thinks WEST WITH THE NIGHT was recommended to her because it is a unique memoir similar to DRIVING MR. ALBERT. WEST WITH THE NIGHT is about Beryl Markham and the events in her life. She grew up in colonial Kenya on her father’s farm. Her playmates were natives; she grew up without a mother. She loved dogs and horses.

She became one of Kenya’s first females to train racing horses. One of the best chapters from the book is “Royal Exile,” which is told from the point of view of a horse her family owned, a proud racehorse named Camciscan. He was dangerous and frightened of being in a new country. Beryl captures his voice. She imagines what is was like to be him and gets inside his skin, which only a horse lover can do.

She finds flying by accident. A car was broken down on the road, and she found the driver stranded. He tells her about flying, and how there is nothing like it in the world. She eventually gets her pilot’s license, and becomes one of Africa’s first female bush pilots.

She starts a business with one of her friends: she takes hunters on safaris to find elephants by flying over them in a plane. She is against hunting, but she likes the money that she makes doing this, even though it is dangerous work. She meets lots of English men hunting elephants. Elephants are intelligent creatures. Ms. Hen didn’t know that a herd would hide the tusks of the bull elephants from hunters because they realize that is what the hunters want.

Markham flies to England from Kenya with her friend Blix. They get stuck in Cairo for a few days because the Italian authorities do not want them to fly over their territories. They need to get permission and they eventually do, but they have to wait. The pair arrive in England. She says she won’t be able to go back to Africa because Africa won’t be the same again.

Beryl Markham was the first woman to fly from west to east in a plane from England to Canada. She planned on landing in New York, but she crash-landed in Newfoundland. She didn’t make the landing she wanted, but she still set a record.

Ms. Hen thought this was a beautifully written book, but there is some dispute over who wrote it. Some people say that Beryl Markham wasn’t actually the writer, but her husband at the time was the ghostwriter. Also, Ms. Hen thought it was strange that there is no mention of any romance in Ms. Markham’s life. A young woman flying around Africa and then the world, and the book doesn’t mention that any men were interested in her. But Ms. Hen found out from Beryl Markham’s Wikipedia page that she was married three times, and had many lovers.

Ms. Hen thought that Ms. Markham might have decided to omit her love affairs from her memoirs because she didn’t want people to think she was a loose woman, which would have happened since the book was first published in 1942. Ms. Markham most likely wanted her book to be about the work that she did, training horses and working as a pilot. But Ms. Hen was curious about her personal life. Which of these men was the most attractive? Did she manage to have all these lovers and not have anyone find out? Was she happy with any of these men? There is nothing about these questions in the memoir, and Ms. Hen thought it was lacking.

Other than her disappointment over the missing romance in WEST WITH THE NIGHT, Ms. Hen loved this book. It is an original memoir because only Beryl Markham lived her life. Ms. Hen has no desire to fly a plane, but she can see the appeal it would have had in that era. The sky was a new frontier, and there were people willing to take flight, like Beryl Markham, to go to new places and to move the world forward. Ms. Hen is glad people like her did what they did to make life easier for us today.

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