Thursday, April 23, 2009

39. West with the Night by Beryl Markham

I became interested in this book when it was described as being about the first woman who flew across the Atlantic traveling eat to west against the Atlantic winds. If I had known how much it involved Africa, I might not have read it, never feeling a lot of interest in that continent. What serendipity!! This is one of the best memoirs I've ever read and I found Markham's descriptions of Africa to be poetical and breathtaking. I read on Wikipedia that there are questions as to whether she is the actual author. Whoever wrote it did a fantastic job. I suspect another writer would probably have included more of her racy life. The book is full enough with Markham's adventures as a horse trainer and a pilot in the late 20's and early 30's. The flight across the Atlantic was hair raising. And the whole book is quite the ode to Kenya. Here are some passages that I marked to illustrate the exquisite writing.

"Competitors in conquest have overlooked the vital soul of Africa hereself, from which emanates the true resistance to conquest. The soul is not dead, but silent, the wisdom not lacking, but of such simplicity as to be counted non-existent in the tinker's mind of modern civilization."

"How can I compare a race like this to music? Or how can I not? Will some perfectionist snug in the arms of his chair under the marble eyes of Beethoven shudder at the thought? I suppose so, but if there's a fledging juggler of notes and cadences, less loyal to the stolid past, who seeks a new theme for at least a rhapsody, he may buy a ticket at any gate and see how they run. He will do what I cannot. He will transpose and change and re-create the sound of hooves that pelt like rain, or come like a rolling storm, or taper like the rataplan of fading tympani."

"You could expect many things of God at night when the campfire burned before the tents. You could look through and beyond the veils and see shadows of the world as God first made it and hear the voices of the beasts He put there. It was a world as old as Time, but as new as Creation's hour had left it. In a sense it was formless. 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."

I think I'm going to find a biography about Beryl Markham and learn more about her. Rating: 5


  1. There is a book called Straight On Till Morning by Mary Lovell who the book credits her with writing West with the Night. It's a biography of Beryl Markham and Melanie loved it.

  2. Nicola, It was so interesting.

    Cassie, Thanks,I have that book coming from Bookmooch if my mooch is accepted.

  3. I love that book! I first read it about 20 years ago before I had daughters, but it stuck in my mind so firmly that a few years ago I bought a copy for my daughters to read. It's THAT kind of book for me.

    Thanks for the review!

  4. Sounds like this book was a serendipitous choice for you! I still need to see if it's on my wish list. I'll go do that right now.

  5. Hmmm... this does sound good. I wish it didn't because I have too many books piled up right now. How do I get so out of control?

  6. I read this for a f2f book club several years ago and I don't think I enjoyed it nearly as well as you. However, I was intrigued enough to buy a copy of The Splendid Outcast: Beryl Markham's African Stories compiled by Mary S. Lovell upon finishing. It's been on a bookcase for at least a dozen years. Might have to give it a go pretty soon! ;)