5.0 out of 5 stars A British African Amazon.
Taken to Kenya at age three, in 1905, Beryl Markham was raised on a farm by her father and a much-hated governess - her mother soon re-abandoned pioneer life for England. And while other girls were groomed to be ladies of society, she learned to ride and train horses, played with the Nandi boys living on her father's land and went hunting with their fathers. Barely 19,...
Published on Nov 14 2004 by Themis-Athena
3.0 out of 5 stars Overrated and then some
This is a pleasant book and well written. It tells the story of female aviator in Africa, and the tone is cultured and somewhat reserved. The silly gushings this book has inspired sound more like the chantings of a cult than real reviews. I think this book sneaks up on folks as it was written by a woman, an aviator, not known to be a writer. Had it been written by a man,...
Published on Jun 13 2003 by M. Dog
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5.0 out of 5 stars A British African Amazon.,
This review is from: West with the Night (School & Library Binding)Taken to Kenya at age three, in 1905, Beryl Markham was raised on a farm by her father and a much-hated governess - her mother soon re-abandoned pioneer life for England. And while other girls were groomed to be ladies of society, she learned to ride and train horses, played with the Nandi boys living on her father's land and went hunting with their fathers. Barely 19, she became a professional racehorse trainer; at age 24 (1926) her mare Wise Child won the prestigious St. Leger, beating the odds and the favorite, Wrack, likewise initially trained by Beryl but taken from her weeks earlier by an owner distrusting her experience. After marrying and divorcing again wealthy Mansfield Markham, whose last name she kept, she met pioneer aviator Tom Black (later pilot to the Prince of Wales), who awakened her interest in flying and soon became her instructor. Having obtained her B license - "a flyer's Magna Carta" - Markham operated a taxi and cargo service out of Nairobi and worked as a scout for professional hunters like author Karen Blixen's (Isak Dinesen's) (ex-)husband Baron Bror Blixen. After her return to England, in 1936 she became the first pilot to successfully cross the Atlantic from east to west, against the headwinds. (She didn't reach New York, as planned - technical difficulties forced her plane into a Nova Scotia bog - but her achievement created substantial headlines regardless.) After being lured to Hollywood by a film project involving her flight, and marrying and divorcing again the man who later claimed this book's authorship, writer Raoul Schumacher, Markham ultimately returned to Kenya and to racehorse training. No less than six of her horses won Kenya's East African Derby, making her a local celebrity of considerable note. She died in 1986.
"West With the Night" is a memoir of Markham's life in Kenya until her mid-1930s departure to England. In language rivaling Blixen's in poetry and Hemingway's in power and skill, it chronicles her unconventional upbringing, early 20th century colonial society, a racehorse trainer's anxieties and ambitions, a flyer's freedom and solitude, and those people who meant most to her: her father, her Nandi friends, Tom Black, and some persons also known to readers of Blixen's memoirs: Lord and Lady Delamere, Baron Blixen, and Denys Finch-Hatton, for whose attentions she competed with Blixen (who herself isn't mentioned at all, as Markham isn't mentioned, either, in "Out of Africa").
"There are as many Africas as there are books about Africa," we are introduced to the continent she considered "home:" "Being ... all things to all authors, it follows, I suppose, that Africa must be all things to all readers. ... It is what you will, and it withstands all interpretations." And the people Markham most respected matched this environment in hardiness as much as in diversity and depth: Baron Blixen, "six feet of amiable Swede," whose "appreciation of the melodramatic [was] non-existent," and who was "never significantly silent" and "the toughest, most durable White Hunter ever ... to shoot a charging buffalo between the eyes while debating whether his sundown drink will be gin or whisky." Denys Finch-Hatton, "a great man who never achieved arrogance," whose charm was "of intellect and strength," who would've "greeted doomsday with a wink," could "tread upon inferior men with his tongue," and was "a keystone" in an arch of lives which fell at his premature death, "leaving its lesser stones heaped [and] for a while without design." And Tom Black, Beryl's messenger from Destiny, who taught her that "when you fly ... you feel that everything you see belongs to you [and you're] closer to ... something you've sensed you might be capable of, but never had the courage to imagine," but who summed up the effect of Kenya's growing attraction to amateur hunters (aided not least by his own services) with the simple words "lion, rifles - and stupidity."
Perhaps Markham's most poignant accounts are those of her interactions with the Nandi. For unlike Karen Blixen, who came to Africa as an adult and never entirely abandoned a white colonialist's attitude, Markham's upbringing enabled her to innately understand their world: "He thought war was made of spears and shields and courage, and he brought them all," we learn about young warrior Arab Maina: "But [in World War I] they gave him a gun, so he left the spear and the shield behind and took the courage, and went where they sent him. [When he was killed,] some said it was because he had forsaken his spear." And when her childhood friend Kibii returns to become her servant, now a warrior himself and renamed Arab Ruta, she realizes that what a child doesn't know "of race and colour and class, he learns soon enough as he grows to see each man flipped inexorably into some predestined groove," and while Ruta will still be her friend, "the handclasp will be shorter ... and though the path is for a while the same, he will walk behind me now, when once, in the simplicity of our nonage, we walked together."
Like most memoirs - most notably Hemingway's "Moveable Feast" and Blixen"s "Out of Africa" - "West With the Night" is a selective account; and as in those works, the omissions only enhance its power. Hemingway's much-quoted lavish praise is both deserved and all the more notable as "Papa," otherwise so thrifty in lauding contemporaries, intensely disliked Markham as a person. - Authorship of the book has been called into question by the claims of Markham's ex-husband Raoul Schumacher, and by Errol Trzebinski's biography (which relies substantially on third-party accounts and merely proves that Schumacher had time and opportunity to write the book). It's a great shame that writing as lasting and beautiful as this should be marred by such a controversy. But there is no mistaking that this is, at heart, Beryl Markham's account. And therefore, ultimately ... "What matter who's speaking?" (Michel Focault, "What is an Author?")
5.0 out of 5 stars First Aviatrix in Africa,
This review is from: West With The Night (Paperback)The rule is, I found, that females can't write. I am staying away from what my own gender writes. Beryl Markham is a wonderful exception to my rule. Ernest Hemingway felt dwarfed by the authoress.
Beryl wrote in 1936, and Africa were she grew up was obviously different than now. She describes first hand encounters with lions and elephants, very interesting observations on animal behavior. She also describes the natives, and I wished she would have even gotten more into them. I love her philosophy on life and often I got the feeling she is writing right now, not 70 years ago. A great book for people curious about Africa! Put it into your collection, because you want to read it again!
Addendum April 30, 2004: After writing the above review I have learned from the biography "The Lives of Beryl Markham" by Errol Trzebinski that Beryl did not write "West with the Night", but her third husband Raoul Schumacher, a Hollywood ghostwriter.
Addendum June 15, 2004: I read "The Splendid Outcast" and in the Introduction, Mary S. Lovell, who wrote another biography on Beryl and knew her personally, does not doubt the authorship is genuine Beryl Markham.
5.0 out of 5 stars passion shines through,
This review is from: West With The Night (Paperback)This exceptionally beautiful book is the memoir of renowned Kenyan aviatrix Beryl Markham. It has engendered much controversy over whether Markham herself wrote the book. It now appears to be pretty reliably proven that her third husband, the writer Raoul Schumacher, was the author. However, the story is still that of Beryl Markham and it is the extraordinary story of a remarkable woman.
In the first half of the book she tells about her experiences growing up on a farm in Njaro, Kenya. From the adventures of her dog Buller, who fought boars and leopards, to her own experiences hunting with Nandi tribesmen, on to encounters with mad horses & not quite domesticated lions, this section is the equal of, if not superior to, Isak Dinesen's Out of Africa. (In fact, in it's elegiac evocation of a way of life disappearing before the author's eyes, it reminded me of nothing so much as the wonderful How Green Was My Valley by Richard Llewellyn.)
Then there's a brief interlude while she trains race horses after her father's farm fails & he leaves the country. Here she relates the thrilling tale of a race between a horse, Wild Child, with bad legs and another horse that she had trained, Wrack, but that was taken away from her because of her lack of experience. The description of the race is as good as anything I've ever read.
Finally, Tom Black teaches her to fly & she befriends men like Bror Blixen & Dennis Finch-Hatton (Dinesen's husband and her lover respectively). The deft & understated comedic touch that is displayed throughout the book is evident in this passage about a Kenyan landing strip:
A high wire fence surrounds the aerodrome-a wire fence and then a deep ditch. Where is there another aerodrome fenced against wild animals? Zebra, wildebeest, giraffe, eland--at night they lurk about the tall barrier staring with curious wild eyes into that flat field, feeling cheated.
They are well out of it, for themselves and for me. It would be a hard fate to go down in the memory of one's friends as having been tripped up by a wandering zebra. 'Tried to take off and hit a zebra!' It lacks even the dignity of crashing into an anthill
After several years scouting for elephants by air & flying medical supplies around, she heads to England and a friend stakes her in a 1936 effort to be the first pilot to fly solo from England to New York non-stop. Though she crash landed in Nova Scotia & couldn't make it to New York, she was still the first person to make the solo flight from England to North America non-stop.
Each of the three sections is united by one unique thread, Markham's love : of Africa; horses; & flying. Her passion shines through regardless of who the actual author may have been.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Wow...a beautiful heck of a book!,
This review is from: West With The Night (Paperback)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.
5.0 out of 5 stars masterfully crafted,
This review is from: West With The Night (Paperback)A masterfully interwoven narrative about life in Africa told from the perspective of one raised in it and who knows it intimately as home as only a pilot can. Whether one is attracted to adventure, the art of story telling, planes, stories about women, Africa, or strong sensory images likened to Steinbeck - this book has it all! An example in purposeful craftsmanship!
5.0 out of 5 stars Companion piece to Out of Africa. Should be read together,
This review is from: West With The Night (Paperback)From the age of 4, Beryl Markham lived in East Africa and spent her childhood with native Maruni children as her only playmates. She was there during the same era as Isak Dinesen (Karen Blixen), author of Out of Africa, and reading these two books together gives a lyrical, poetic, and heart-full-of-love picture of the Africa they both knew. But it wasn't only Africa they loved; they both shared a passion for the same men: Bror Blixen (Dinesen's husband) and Denys Finch-Hatton (Dinnesen's lover), so, inevitably their paths collided at times.
Although Dinesen is more well-known and respected as a writer compared to Markham, better known as an adventurer, Markham rises to heights of poetic imagery and her writing style was praised highly by many other writers of her era, including no less than Ernest Hemingway.
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful Life, Well Told,
This review is from: West With The Night (Paperback)I read this book when it first came out in the early 80s and have never forgotten it. I love Beryl Markham's language; and the story she has to tell is better than any fiction. She was an independent spirit, living an amazing life in an immense and beautiful land.
5.0 out of 5 stars A Special Book,
By A Customer
This review is from: West With The Night (Paperback)I read this book on the recommendation of my husband, who had read it twice over the years, and various comments and adulations from others. I had not heard that there was controversy over the authorship of this magnificent work - but it would not have made any difference. It is a beautifully written book about a beautiful life. What more can one wish for? Whoever wrote this book had a style very little seen today. She writes with care and attention and humour, so that we can experience not only the mechanics of her exciting life, but also the self realisation she developed. The author makes me want to be alone so that I can share the silence of the soul and the environment that she describes so acutely. I have been enthusiastic with my recommendations of this work to my friends and I am sorry to read the rather sad "one star" reviews on this site.
5.0 out of 5 stars An elegant glimpse into a by gone era,
This review is from: West With The Night (Paperback)Shocked by the sexist comments of a previous reviewer, I had to voice my opinion. Hemmingway expressed his admiration of Markhams abilities as a writer in a letter to a friend. His were reserved expressions of compliment regardless of gender.
A wonderful grouping of short stories that give most readers a glimpse into an era and a culture we wre totally ignorant of. Markhams ability to paint a verbal picture and escort you through that painting is exceptional. I am sure it appeals to men and women alike who have tasted the thrill of life in one form of adventure or another. It encourages one to see the poetry in lifes adventure, whether it be our life or another.
The thought of this book being less enjoyable if the authors name was "Bernard" instead of "Beryl" is simply a comment steeped in jealosy and bitterness.
5.0 out of 5 stars The Great American Novel - Only Its A True Story From Africa,
This review is from: West with the Night (Audio Cassette)Life and love, hardship and adventure, romance and history - all beautifully woven into a delightful autobiography of an unlikely heroine. The daughter of a poor white farmer trying to eke out a living in untamed and uncharted Africa, Beryl Markham rose from very humble beginnings to become a successful horse trainer, bush pilot, and the first person to fly east-to-west across the Atlantic from England. Her fantastic life seems to be one adventure after another, coincidentally commingled with the lives of Isak Dinesen (the author and heroine of "Out of Africa") and Denys Finch Hatton (played by Robert Redford in the movie, OOA). On this level alone, that of an adventure-packed historical tale, this book is compelling. But the absolute poetry of the narrative makes it inescapable.
Ms. Markham's inimitable flair for description and metaphor are enchantingly powerful. One could truly open the book to any random page and find a treasure. No previous knowledge of plot or precedence would be vital to the enjoyment. That such extraordinary prose also reveals an incredible life provides a rich dividend. Savor the following corsage randomly plucked from the bouquet:
"Arab Ruta... is of the tribe that observes with equal respect the soft voice and the hardened hand, the fullness of a flower, the quick finality of death. His is the laughter of a free man happy at his work, a strong man with lust for living. He is not black. His skin holds the sheen and warmth of used copper. His eyes are dark and wide-spaced, his nose is full-boned and capable of arrogance.
"He is arrogant now, swinging the propeller, laying his lean hands on the curved wood, feeling an exultant kinship in the coiled resistance to his thrust.
"He swings hard. A splutter, a strangled cough from the engine like the premature stirring of a sleep-slugged labourer. In the cockpit I push gently on the throttle, easing it forward, rousing the motor, feeding it, soothing it."
My first encounter with this charming book was accidental but fortuitous. I found the paperback in an airport bookstore, and stayed engrossed and enchanted by the lyrical meanderings for the entirety of my three-hour flight. A few years later I discovered the audio version which springs to an even greater life in the voice of Julie Harris. Her reading of the horse race that proved to be a watershed moment for Ms. Markham, still has the capacity to choke me to tears, though I have listened to it many times.
A few reviewers here have given less than laudatory reviews. This book is absolutely among the top five I have ever read, and I must pity those unfortunate souls who are tone-deaf to the rhapsodic music playing among its pages. Never mind my glowing endorsement. Never mind that Ernest Hemmingway said that Beryl Markham "has written so well, and marvelously well, that I was completely ashamed of myself as a writer." Just find this book and open it randomly to any page. You will quickly discover that this book is an extraordinary encounter. Don't miss it!
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West With The Night by Markham (Paperback - Jan 1 1982)
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