Sparrow's Reviews > West with the Night

West with the Night by Beryl Markham
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Aug 02, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: memoir-biography, motherless-daughters, girls-rule, reviewed, history-of-women, want-a-hardcover-of-my-very-own
Recommended for: Fans of Jeannette Walls
Read from August 02 to 31, 2011

Beryl Markham is someone who you would want to meet and study, I think. This story is nuts, but at the same time, it lacks the pull of human relationships that generally carry me through a story. People obviously read for different reasons, but for me it is relationships that pull me through a story – not necessarily romantic relationships, you understand, but the way people interact. Will they be friends? Will they fall in love? Will they betray each other? There is none of that in this book, so it is not an obvious fit for me as a reader in that way. It is, however, about a badass woman, who was the first person to fly solo across the Atlantic from east to west.

For the most part, people have such interesting lives. I mean, even a person who lives the most normal, or the most domestic, life ever has some kind of story, something to say about life, something about betrayal or compassion or just what it means to be a human. And then there are people like Beryl Markham, who are like, Oh hai, did I ever tell you about the time I almost got eaten by a lion? !!! ???? Whaaa? That is very exotic to me. And then there was that time where she went hunting boar with her buddies, who were Maasai warriors. Oh, and that other time where she saved everybody from floods and killer ants and killer elephants using just her wits and tiny airplanes. So, despite the general absence of human relationships in this book, it’s just an inherently interesting story.

Hemingway was a fan of this book, and it is always interesting to me to read the writers he admired. With Hemingway, I always get this feeling that every sentence is seething with emotion just underneath the surface of what it says, and he’s stuffed that emotion down and tried to nail the sentence shut, but the emotion seeps through the cracks. But, the authors he loves always seem to actually be apathetic. Maybe I’m generalizing too much, but that’s how it seems to me from A Moveable Feast. I think this book is a good example of that. I hadn’t thought about it before, but it seems like it is entirely different to write a memoir where you treat your own story objectively and have compassion for your enemies, and another thing to be generally apathetic. And you don’t get the sense that a woman who flew across the Atlantic, before it was really the thing to do, would have been very apathetic. But, that is what I feel from the writing. Ambition, yes; competitive spirit, yes; but, passion? Not really. It is interesting because I am inclined to assume that Beryl Markham was one of the most passionate people in the twentieth century.

There was another funny thing about this book. I don’t have it in front of me now or I would quote to you. She really back-loads her sentences. I think this might have been something that created the sense of apathy for me. I’m going to give an example of the kind of sentence I’m talking about, even though I don’t have the book, so I can’t give you a quote. It’s something like, “In the heat of the summer, when the warm breezes blew and people sat on their porches drinking lemonade, and before we had heard of airplanes, but after my father had started his flour processing plant, a stampede of elephants flattened our entire village.” It’s like, WHAT? WHOA. That sentence is not about the heat of summer. It is not easy for a stampede of elephants to sneak around, but they got into that sentence pretty stealthily. I guess it is sort of a litotes sentence structure, but I felt tossed about a little bit as a reader.

I read this because my boss and I were talking about the Swahili coast, and how beautiful it is. Markham grew up there and learned to fly planes there. What a beautiful and rough and interesting place to live.

Generally, I think this is a wonderful story. Over and over, I was stunned at how amazing this woman is. And, man, if there is anything that proves that women have always been badass, it is stories like this. I think, for people who love books like A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and Jeannette Walls's books, this is a great recommendation. You just get this sense that Markham did whatever the fuck she wanted to do, and she could not have cared less if someone told her not to. She just swatted them away and worked with more drive to get what she wanted. I am left with an unfortunate desire to read celebrity gossip about her, though. Who was the woman behind the legend? But, at the same time, I am glad at the dignity of the story, and I am unimpressed at my own unseemly dissatisfaction.
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04/02/2016 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-12 of 12) (12 new)

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Randy Book discussed this several years ago and still one of my Top 3 Favorite memoirs...look forward to your review!

Loederkoningin Oh, this one's on top of my book pile. Can't wait to find out what you think!^^

message 3: by Sparrow (last edited Aug 10, 2011 10:19AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Sparrow I'm really loving it so far. I'm going on vacation next week, though, so I'm going to have to put it on hold while I'm gone. I have my boss's paper copy, and it has sentimental value, and I would totally destroy it if I took it on vacation with me. And there is no kindle version! :(

Sparrow Yeah, I think I'm going to stick to the kindle while I'm traveling - just for the sake of saving space and money. And I have tons of books on the kindle I'm wanting to read. Since it's a memoir, and it doesn't have that plot-driven feel, I'm okay with putting it down for a little bit. I totally thought I would finish it last night, but I didn't have time. Oh well.

Sparrow No, but it sounds like the two women had kind of similar experiences. Beryl Markham was actually raised in Kenya from childhood, and it sounds like Isak Dinesen moved there as an adult.

Sparrow But Nicholas Cage does such a good job in Moonstruck!! I think they both just gave up when they got old and their disenchantment became less charming.

Sparrow Yeah, I didn't see the finance oligarch one because I have already seen It's a Wonderful Life.

Cage is so good in Moonstruck!

Sparrow And Raising Arizona!!

But, I am not 100% defending him. Adaptation is one of my most hated movies. I don't think he does a bad job in it, though. But, I do hate him in it, if that makes sense. And Meryl Streep couldn't save National Treasure.

Sparrow I love that clip. I ain't no freakin' monument to justice!

Sparrow Elizabeth wrote: "I'm going to give you Moonstruck but nothing else, except for the worst wax job award for Valley Girl."

hahaha WORST EVER!

You won't give me Raising Arizona?

I also love the part in Moonstruck where he says the snowflakes are perfect, but we were made to ruin ourselves and love the wrong people. He's so dreamy in that movie.

Sparrow Aww, sad! Okay, I will take it.

message 12: by Sylvia (new)

Sylvia Horne If you like relationships, you might like to read Andy Horne's new novel Mixed Company, it has some fun relationships!

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