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West With the Night
Stock image - cover art may vary
Format: Hardcover
ISBN: 0865473048
ISBN-13: 9780865473041
Publisher: North Point Pr
Release Date: October, 1987
Length: N/A
Weight: 1.3 pounds
Dimensions: 9.2 X 6.2 X 1.2 inches
Language: English
   
   

West With the Night

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One of the most beautifully crafted books I have ever read, with some of the most poetic prose passages I could imagine, such as the following, resonating with a stately and timeless quality so absent in our modern life: There are all kinds of silences and each of them means a different thing. There is the silence that comes wit...
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55

Customer Reviews

  Excellent book of a life in Eastern Africa

Whoever wrote it, "West With the Night" is a lyrically beautiful story of an amazing life: Beryl Markham arrived in Africa in 1905 at the age of three, she spent her childhood on her father's farm, learning all about African people and wildlife; she became a horse-trainer (racing was surprisingly popular in colonial Kenya); she was the first woman in Africa to have a pilot's license, working as a freelance pilot in Kenya; she was the first person to fly solo non-stop across the Atlantic East-to-West (hence the book's title). This book is an interesting and very readable documentation of Kenya in the era of Isak Dinesen, Bror Blixen, Denys Finch Hatton, et al (all of whom she knew). Hemingway praised this book lavishly, saying:

"Did you read Beryl Markham's book, "West with the Night"? I knew her fairly well in Africa and never would have suspected that she could and would put pen to paper except to write in her flyer's log book. As it is, she has written so well, and marvelously well, that I was completely ashamed of myself as a writer. .... But this girl who is, to my knowledge, very unpleasant,... can write rings around all of us who consider ourselves as writers. The only parts of it that I know about personally, on account of having been there at the time and heard the other people's stories, are absolutely true. So, you have to take as truth the early stuff about when she was a child which is absolutely superb. She omits some very fantastic stuff which I know about which would destroy much of the character of the heroine; but what is that anyhow in writing?"

As Hemingway may have suspected, Markham may not be the real author, and "West With the Night" does leave out major portions of her life; it would be a good idea to read it along with the biography of her life, "Straight On Till Morning: The Biography of Beryl Markham" by Mary Lovell (Lovell also wrote "A Rage to Live: A Biography of Richard and Isabel Burton").

 
  Wow...a beautiful heck of a book!

Mere moments have passed since I closed the back cover on "West with the Night", and already I am missing its world and its voice. It is one of those rare books that can, with the simple fluidity of its narrative, pull you in and engulf you entirely.

I am not a big fan of the memoir, but Markham's (or whoever wrote it) voice is neither bombastic nor humble; she feels less a narrator or subject than a fellow traveller, along with you for the ride. Although the life she lived was extraordinary and compelling, she refreshingly views it in clipped, casual, careful terms, as unimpressed with herself as if she'd been a midwestern housewife, not a pilot and horse trainer in Colonial Africa.

Many readers will approach "West with the Night" out of a pre-existing interest in and knowledge of its era and characters, and will no doubt experience it entirely differently than I did. While a few names rang vague bells, for the most it was an engaging introduction. But I read it as literature, not as history, and enjoyed it immensely as such. I found her small personal anecdotes far more interesting than the accounts of her grand feats. The Atlantic flight that made her famous rounds out the end of the book, but is rather dry and dull compared to her African tales. Stories such as her father's pompous parrot had me in spasms of public giggles.

It is little wonder that Hemmingway praised this book, as the sparse directness of its utilitarian prose makes even the Old Man of the Sea seem a flowery romantic. Its structure can be rather meandering, but in that regard it resembles the contours of memory, which makes me believe Markham did indeed write her own book.

 
  Absolutly spellbinding--it is a plane ride to another world

I visited Kenya last year and saw this book all over the shelves, and I picked it up. Little did I know, I was picking up one of the best written and most evocative books of all time. I was swept away immediatly by her involving narrative and descriptions. And let me tell you, the descriptions capture the Kenyan landscape and people remarkably well. It is just as wonderful and mysterious as Markham writes. This book transported me to the dazzling age of the 1920's and 30's in Kenya--which is full of fascinating trailblazers. I read a lot of the novel outloud, and her thoughts seemed to become my thoughts. Her anecdotes and experiences are so poignant that they seem to shoot me right through the heart. I want to reread this novel again and again, it is wonderous. Hemingway was right when he said " it is a bloody wonderful book." If you like Markham, you should read Isak Dineson's classic Out of Africa. However, Markham does more soul-searching and delving into herself than Dineson does. You'll recognize some familiar charactars as well. Both are true stories!
 
  The Divided Heart

No less a writer than Ernest Hemingway said about West with the Night, "As it is 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 pigpen. But she can write rings around all of us who consider ourselves as writers." Coming from an author who was renowned for his ego and lack of respect for other writers, this is high praise indeed, and West with the Night deserves it.

The story opens with the author being called in the middle of the night to deliver a tank of oxygen to a dying man. The reason she has been called is because her business is flying a small bi-plane through the wilds of Africa on delivery errands such as these. The flight and subsequent visit with the dying man and his doctor are used to introduce us to Africa - the rich black nights, the stories of her native peoples, the harsh reminder with the appearance of a jackal that "...in Africa there is never any waste."

In this first section we also begin to know and wonder about the author, a native of Britain who was transplanted to African soil at the age of 2 and raised by her father on his farm at Njoro. There her primary playmates were the children of the Nandi Murani tribe and her principle schoolroom the African landscape itself. As Markham puts it, "Africa was the breath and life of my childhood. It is still the host of all my darkest fears, the cradle of mysteries always intriguing, but never wholly solved. It is the remembrance of sunlight and green hills, cool water and the yellow warmth of bright mornings. It is as ruthless as any sea, more uncompromising than its own deserts. It is without temperance in its harshness or in its favors. It yields nothing, offering much to men of all races."

It is Markham's misfortune, but also her gift, that she could never be fully assimilated by the native people and the landscape. Her father insisted on sending her to school, relatives and friends did their best to expose her to European culture, and in the end Africa itself conspired to force her out of the fold and into the larger world. The end result is a woman who walks a fine and complex line within herself between two radically different perceptions of the world.

Although Markham's story is remarkable based on facts alone - taking us from her childhood haunts to her historic flight across the Atlantic Ocean - it is the elegance and depth of the writing that sets this book apart. When she talks about the horses she and her father bred and raised, for example, it's as if she is stepping into the animals' skins. When she discusses her hunt for a fellow pilot, lost in the bush, it is with total absorption in the moment. This is the kind of book that can make you forget you are reading a book, drawing you into the subtleties of life as Markham knew it - engaging all the senses and ultimately your heart as well.

 
  Beautiful prose

I picked this up in a garage sale, purely on the strength of the cover picture - it seemed like that face had seen and done a lot - which turns out to be absolutely true! More like poetry than prose, some of her descriptive passages have to be read more than once, just to let the feelings soak into your system. Ms Markham's early life is told in a matter-of-fact way, which takes it for granted that, when at 17, your father decides to leave Africa for Peru, you jump on your horse and head North, with no food, one change of underwear, little education, but a deep knowledge of horses and expect to land on your feet. Which is exactly what she does, co-incidentally meeting many yet-to-be-famous people on the way. Hunter; horse-trainer; aeronaut; most people would be happy to excel in any one of these professions, but Beryl does it all with surpassing ease. Her style is self-effacing and matter-of-fact; you would imagine that being 'moderately eaten' by a lion would warrant more than a couple of paragraphs, but it only gets included here, I suspect, on the strength of Bishon Singh's wonderful rhetoric in describing the event. She also has a knack of striking up instant and longlasting relationships with people from every race, creed and social status - I don't believe she even saw those differences; be he a Murani warrior or a colonial Governor, they both get treated to the same open-minded friendship. A book to read & read again.