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West with the Night

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This night and west
b Beril Markham, the boldest and most fascinating woman of the 20th century

" The real story of Beryl Markham, a challenge and adventure. After publishing in 1942, a Korean version of the classic "West with the Night" has been published. It communicates with the nature of Africa, and it has over 30 years of life of a woman who lived only according to the inner voice without regard to the limits of sex, age, environment and customs. This book, which has been rated as one of the most beautiful paintings of Africa and has been in the "No.1 of Amazon Travel Essays" for a long time, has been reproduced in its original and original version through Han Yoo Joo novelists refined and detailed translation. Ernest Hemingway looked at the book and said, "I wrote it very well. No, it is a well written book. I felt shame as a writer. " Despite being the first book and the only author, excellent descriptive power and lyrical style make you feel like you are traveling in a clear Nairobi sky and a stormy flight.

Rice Straws Curious legs of curious legs on the brimmed hair Until a normal girl with a fuller look was a strong woman, and hunted by mens sanctuary at the time, tied horses to horse races, Until I became the first person to fly alone ... . Beryl Markham releases a memorable note in a preliminarily tangible way of showing off a dangerous and dynamic journey.

Her wild and romantic 20th-century African landmark, In insights into words, thoughts, and human emotions, there is an endless love and effort toward his life as well as a strong vitality of the grass.

294 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1942

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About the author

Beryl Markham

15 books190 followers
Born in England, Beryl (Clutterbuck) Markham moved to a farm near the Great Rift Valley in Kenya (then British East Africa) with her family when she was four years old. She spent an adventurous childhood among native Africans and became the first licensed female horse trainer in Kenya.

She continued to be a non-conformist and trailblazer in both her professional and personal lives, marrying several times (and having numerous affairs). She also became an accomplished pilot, and was one of the first to fly solo and non-stop across the Atlantic from east to west (against prevailing winds) on September 4, 1936.

Her most famous book is the memoir "West With The Night", which went out of print shortly after its publication in 1942, until it was rediscovered by a California restaurateur in 1982 and achieved new popularity upon republication in 1983, during the final years of her life.

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Profile Image for Adina ( A lot of catching up to do) .
826 reviews3,241 followers
February 7, 2023
I do not read many autobiographies but when I do I seem to hit the jackpot. West with the Night is the memoir of amazing Beryl Markham. In case you did not know (I didn’t), she was the first solo person to fly the Atlantic from England to North America non-stop from east to west.

Beryl was an English woman who grew up in Kenya together with her father on a farm. She was raised among Masai warriors, learned to hunt with a spear and to understand animals. Her first major passion were horses not flying. At 18 she was the first woman horse trainer in Africa. As you can see, she had an extraordinary, exciting life, one we cannot even comprehend but we can learn so much from reading about.

Africa for her was home and her love for the continent is obvious from the poetic praise and the emotion she manages to transmit whenever she writes about the subject.

Africa is mystic; it is wild; it is a sweltering inferno; it is a photographer’s paradise, a hunter’s Valhalla, an escapist’s Utopia. It is what you will, and it withstands all interpretations. It is the last vestige of a dead world or the cradle of a shiny new one. To a lot of people, as to myself, it is just ‘home.’ It is all these things but one thing — it is never dull.

Beryl was a person who did not like to hold still, she felt the need to change and to find new provocations. She starts flying with the help of a friend and, after she buys a plane, she uses her new hobby as a mean for living, giving up on horses. At some point Africa becomes too small for her and decides that it was time to go back to her place of birth, England.

Africa is never the same to anyone who leaves it and returns again. It is not a land of change, but it is a land of moods and its moods are numberless. It is not fickle, but because it has mothered not only men, but races, and cradled not only cities, but civilizations — and seen them die, and seen new ones born again — Africa can be dispassionate, indifferent, warm, or cynical, replete with the weariness of too much wisdom

I was enticed by her adventures but also by her extraordinary writing skills. Some chapters really warmed me inside with the poetry, sage and beautiful insights. The chapters written from a horse point of view will always remain in my memory.

I highly recommend this book to anyone, it is literature and autobiography in the same time, a story of Africa (from a white woman POV) and a story of the beauty and loneliness of flying.
Profile Image for Jeffrey Keeten.
Author 3 books248k followers
January 13, 2022
”Being alone in an aeroplane for even a short a time as a night and a day, irrevocably alone, with nothing to observe but your instruments and your own hands in semi-darkness, nothing to contemplate but the size of your small courage, nothing to wonder about but the beliefs, the faces, and the hopes rooted in your mind---such an experience can be as startling as the first awareness of a stranger walking by your side at night. You are the stranger.”

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Beryl Markham was the first person to fly solo over the Atlantic from England to North America. She was also the first woman to fly solo East to West. She made it to the coast of Nova Scotia by the skin of her teeth. Ice had clogged the air intake to her last fuel tank, greatly reducing the amount of fuel getting to the carburetor. The Vega Gull’s engine kept dying. She kept nursing it back to life until finally the coast appears. She crash landed without killing herself and put herself in the record books.

She grew up in Kenya and always wanted to do what the boys were doing. She had a native boy who was a close friend. This association allowed her to learn the ways of the tribe. She has to be one of the few white girls from that period of time or any period of time who was allowed to go on hunts with the men.

”So there are many Africas. There are as many Africas as there are books about Africa--and as many books about it as you could read in a leisurely lifetime. Whoever writes a new one can afford a certain complacency in the knowledge that his is a new picture agreeing with no one else’s, but likely to be haughtily disagreed with by all those who believe in some other Africa.”

There are a lot of factors in how people experience a place. As travellers, it might rain the whole time you are somewhere, or you might have one rude experience with a waiter (Paris and I should have knocked the bastard on his doughy fat ass), or you might be experiencing the final days of a doomed love affair. On the other hand, the weather might be sunny and breezy, or you might have an amazing hour with a knowledgeable art curator, or you might find new love. All of those factors can certainly color our perceptions of a place. When you live anywhere for an extended period of time, like Beryl did in Kenya, you have a better chance of experiencing a true Kenya.

But then there is a difference growing up an English privileged rose who has horses and all that her heart desires compared to say a young black Kenyan woman who might have a completely different experience growing up in Africa. Beryl made one generalization about a local tribe that smacked of the imperial colonial view of a local population.

"But physically the Kikuyu are the least impressive of all. It may be because they are primarily agriculturists and generations of looking to the earth for the livelihood have dulled what fire there might once have been in their eyes and what will to excel might have been in their hearts. They have lost inspiration for beauty. They are a hardworking people from the viewpoint of Empire, a docile and therefore a useful people. Their character is constant, even strong, but it is lustreless. "

I have a friend who happens to be a Kenyan from the Kikuyu tribe. I shared this quote with her, and she had a few opinions about the description

”The wench!! (that was my favorite) yet another ignorant white-privileged bourgeois colonial story which paints a pretty picture of the land but knows next to jack shit about the locals. Only what they saw in passing. I would gladly tell the dead colonial to stick to horses and planes. But really? We lost our spark because of the earth? We killed for that land. We shed blood and tears for it. Most of it white... And we continue to struggle for it. To buy our own to raise our children on. And what did she mean lost our spark? We don't have diamond eyes. Or wear contacts. Or have eyes that shine like the ocean blue eyes of a Victorian damsel who wouldn’t know dust if it drowned them... See? And my thoughts are a lot less polite.” Mwanamali Mari

Yes, I know I’m a pot stirrer. I probably missed my calling as a journalist. Of course, all of us know that, when we make a generalized statement about a culture or a people, we leave ourselves susceptible to criticism. The point is during this period of time, in the pre-world war two era especially, books are rife with irritatingly simplistic, condescending statements about native population. This was the only one I caught. Mwanamali, reading this book, might catch even more than the one that I did, but in her defense, Beryl did love many native Kenyans that she met and worked with over the decades of her life.

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Her father experienced some financial difficulties due to a lack of rain...something, being the son of a farmer, that I’m very familiar with. Beryl, as a teenager, became a horse trainer and did well. It was a boy’s club, of course, so it took longer than it should for her to get the business she deserved, but then Beryl was not unfamiliar with being at a disadvantage from the moment she came out of the womb...a girl. There was this great moment in the book where a filly called Wise Child, that Beryl had resurrected from the dead, races against the top stallion in the racing world at the time. She did such a great job setting the scene and then describing the race that I felt like I was as invested in the outcome of that race as Beryl. I had tears in my eyes.

Markham is a lyrical writer whether she is describing horses, planes, landscape or even the process of writing. ”Silence is never so impenetrable as when the whisper of steel on paper strives to pierce it. I sit in a labyrinth of solitude jabbing at its bulwarks with the point of a pen--jabbing, jabbing.”

I did have a moment of real doubt when Beryl took a job flying big game hunters into the wilds of Kenya to shoot elephants. The money was really good, but there is something soulless about shooting elephants. She even said, ”It is absurd for a man to kill an elephant. It is not brutal, it is not heroic, and certainly it is not easy; it is just one of the preposterous things that men do.” You may not pull the trigger, but if you are helping these hunters find their prey via an airplane, you are as responsible for the death of the elephant as the men who fire the bullet. She had some wonderful, inspiring descriptions of how smart the elephants were and how many times they would fool the hunters. Those stories confirmed me in my belief that elephants are intelligent sacred animals and should be left in peace. So why do some people feel so driven to hunt these beautiful animals or put themselves in other death defying situations? One of the Kenyan guides remarked to Markham: ”White men pay for danger--we poor cannot afford it.”

It kind of makes it all sound fake. Men trying to prove themselves in manufactured situations.

I did have some issues with Beryl, but I also found her to be a groundbreaker and certainly a woman whom other women can look up to. She took on men toe to toe and proved she could compete with them whether it be on the horse track, in the air, or in the bedroom. She was friends with Karen Blixen, better known by her pen name of Isak Dinesen. She was such good friends with her that she even shared a man with her by the name of Denys Finch Hatton, an adventurer and hunter. The interesting thing about this book is that her love life has been carefully kept off screen. Markham was notorious for her marriages and her affairs. She was attractive to men, and she was attracted to men. Her love life fits with the way she lived her whole life as free as any man and more so than most.

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Straight on till morning

”No map I have flown by has ever been lost or thrown away; I have a trunk containing continents.” The world was hers.

If you wish to see more of my most recent book and movie reviews, visit http://www.jeffreykeeten.com
I also have a Facebook blogger page at:https://www.facebook.com/JeffreyKeeten
Profile Image for Ian.
3 reviews7 followers
July 13, 2007
This letter from Ernest Hemingway to Maxwell Perkins in 1942 sums up the book better than I ever could:

"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. 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 pig pen. But [she] can write rings around all of us who consider ourselves 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 . . . I wish you would get it and read it because it is really a bloody wonderful book."--Ernest Hemingway

Hemingway almost NEVER sang the praises of other writers, especially not his contemporaries. As result, his acclaim for Markham's work can be seen as high praise indeed.

I've read this book twice, and it truly is a wonderful read. Her writing is beautiful and seems nearly effortless. There is, however, quite a bit of controversy surrounding this book and its authorship. Some scholars believe that Markham did not actually write the book, that it was acutally penned by Raoul Schumacher, a scriptwriter and acquaintance of Markham's. Either way, the point is moot -- this truly is "a bloody wonderful book."

One more item of note: notice the ellipsis in the last sentence of Hemingway's letter. I looked it up online to see if anything significant was omitted. The answer is YES -- in this part of the letter, Hemingway describes Markham as being a supreme bitch!!
Profile Image for Jaline.
444 reviews1,608 followers
March 25, 2019
I feel honoured and privileged to have had the opportunity to read this remarkable memoir. Beryl Markham’s story is outstanding enough by itself. What makes this memoir even more spectacular is the writing. On the cover is a quote from Ernest Hemingway: “[Markham] can write rings around all of us who consider ourselves as writers . . . It really is a bloody wonderful book.”

Never mind that when he wrote his comments in a letter to a friend the ellipsis contained some typically misogynistic and foul references to Beryl Markham as a woman, the bare fact of his accolade is perhaps even more powerful because of it, wrung out of his wrinkled heart through a mangle stronger than his bias.

Under the authentic and authoritative voice of Ms Markham’s prose, Africa in all its splendor and terror came alive for me in a way that set me down into its myriad contrasts and changes and variances both heart and soul. I can’t think of a way I could possibly read this book without feeling completely that I was there and witnessing it all at first hand – living it myself.

This memoir is now historical, of course, and as happens with much of history there was no such thing as political correctness. Even though there was one aspect involving Ms Markham’s flying career that is now so obviously illegal, back then it wasn’t; and I am certainly not about to flog the flyers of the day for actions taken in a context where it was normal and even desirable at the time .

There were times while reading this novel that I was moved to tears; there were even more times where I was enraptured by sheer, undiluted wonder. Ms Markham arrived in Africa when she was 4 years old, and as she grew up, some of her oldest friends were the African children she played with and learned from and even went hunting with. She accomplished more adult feats in her first few years of life in Africa than most people could claim in a lifetime. The sense of wonder doesn’t end there, for this woman led an astonishing life of adventure and achievement unparalleled at the time – and possibly for all time.

This story is one of the best, most absorbing reads I have had the good fortune to encounter. This is a book to be experienced and savoured.

Some food for thought:

“Nairobi has a frontier cut to its clothes and wears a broad-brimmed hat, but it tends an English garden; it nurtures the shoots of custom grafted from the old tree. It dresses for dinner, passes its port-wine clockwise, and loves a horse-race.”

“I could never tell where inspiration begins and impulse leaves off. I suppose the answer is in the outcome. If your hunch proves a good one, you are inspired; if it proves bad, you are guilty of yielding to thoughtless impulse.”

“And his were solemn dreams. They were solemn dreams and in time he made them live. Tom Black is not a name that ever groped for glory in a headline or shouldered other names aside for space to strut in. It can be found in the drier lists of men who figured flights in terms of hours or days, instead of column inches.”

“If a man has any greatness in him, it comes to light, not in one flamboyant hour, but in the ledger of his daily work.” Tom Black was her flying teacher, her mentor and her friend right through until his death.

“I am incapable of a profound remark on the workings of destiny. It seems to get up early and then go to bed very late, and it acts most generously toward the people who nudge it off the road whenever they meet it.”

“A word grows to a thought – a thought to an idea – an idea to an act. The change is slow, and the Present is a sluggish traveller loafing in the path Tomorrow wants to take.”
Profile Image for Candi.
614 reviews4,641 followers
January 20, 2020
"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 favours. It yields nothing, offering much to men of all races."

I cannot help but liken this alluring memoir to a love story – a romance of sorts between Beryl Markham and Africa – its landscape, its people, its dangers and its wonders. Probably like most readers, I’d first learned of Markham from Paula McLain’s fictional work, Circling the Sun. I was so inspired by her character in that one, that I knew I’d have to read this one someday. I have to admit, I put it off for nearly four years. I wasn’t quite sure it would measure up to my expectations. I mean, Markham was an adventuress – a wild child, a horse trainer, a pilot. How could she possibly write an engaging memoir? Well, she did that and more. Not only did the descriptions of her life and of Africa hold me spellbound, I was completely intoxicated by the beautiful prose.

She spoke of her childhood living on her father’s farm in Njoro in what is now known as Kenya. She learned to hunt with the Nandi boys and men. She kept a trusty dog, Buller, by her side. He was there through thick and thin. I had to gasp at many of the perilous encounters and close calls she narrates! Elephants, horses, birds, warthogs and lions – she speaks of all creatures with such eloquence.

"The distant roar of a waking lion rolls against the stillness of the night, and we listen. It is the voice of Africa bringing memories that do not exist in our minds or in our hearts — perhaps not even in our blood. It is out of time, but it is there, and it spans a chasm whose other side we cannot see."

I’ve been on a horse only on rare occasions, but Markham’s admiration for this noble creature is contagious. She strikes out on her own to train race-horses after her father’s farm fails and he quits Africa for Peru. What courage this young woman must have had to gallop away on her Pegasus from all she’d known since the age of four, to a place where she must start anew. It is while living in Molo that she will later embrace a new passion – flying.

"The dooryard of Nairobi falls into the Athi Plains. One night I stood there and watched an aeroplane invade the stronghold of the stars. It flew high; it blotted some of them out; it trembled their flames like a hand swept over a company of candles."

Thus began a new love affair with the airplane. Speaking of love affairs, you will not glean much from this memoir. While Markham may mention these men, often with fondness, we don’t really get any juicy tidbits in that department. You’ll have to look elsewhere for that gossip. You can assume from her writing and from a little research that Tom Black was one of these lovers, however. Under the training of Tom Black, Markham earned her ‘B’ license, allowing her to make a career of her latest obsession. I was amazed at all she accomplished. Apparently, she was the only female pilot in Africa at the time, from aiding safaris to making medical emergency runs, and everything in between. Eventually she became the first person to ever cross the Atlantic Ocean solo from west to east, thus the title of this memoir.

What a tremendous life she led! I’ll admit that there are naturally portions of her story that she did not touch on. I could not deem her perfect, yet my admiration for her joy for living and risk-taking is quite genuine. I’d recommend this memoir to anyone that loves gorgeous writing, Africa, and strong, daring women. Beryl Markham will teach you to make the very most out of your dreams and opportunities!

"I learned what every dreaming child needs to know — that no horizon is so far that you cannot get above it or beyond it."
Profile Image for Michael.
1,094 reviews1,510 followers
December 29, 2015
I was very pleasantly surprised at the magical prose and window into worlds of East Africa provided by this memoir. Markham is an interesting historical figure for her achievements in aviation and adventuring. For example, she was the first female bush pilot in the continent, the first woman to complete an East-to-West nonstop crossing of the Atlantic (ending into a near-crash landing in Cape Breton), and a legendary race horse trainer. And she was a bit of a celebrity among the glitterati that set down or passed through Naibobi in her time, a circle that included the famous Swedish safari hunter Baron Blixen and his wife Karen, who wrote “Out of Africa” under the name Dinesen. I understand that more about these connections is to be found in Maclean’s “Circling the Sun.” This book is more on the line of essays that showcase Markham’s skills in portraying her developing vision on life as shaped by her growing up and early adulthood in British East Africa, now Kenya.

The book is looking out rather than looking inward typical of true autobiography. There is nothing on her love life and little in the way of details on her family, schooling, or usual troubles with growing up. Instead, the book seems as if it was written to address these issues:
--Why she likes the wilderness of nature in Africa
--Why she loves the African people
--Why she loves horses
--Why she loves flying

Within the framework of that structure it’s wonderful. Somehow she is a natural at storytelling, pacing, and lyricism without purple patches, all without the benefit or corrupting influences of an MFA program that writers are nurtured on these days. She grew up at a fairly remote horse farm managed by her father with no one but tribal children to play with, members of the Nandi and Masai peoples. In growing subsistence gardens, the encounters with serious wildlife on their land, such as lions and elephants, made it clear how tenuous the invasion of civilization from the edges into the heart of the continent was at the time. Crops easily getting trampled by wild beasts is one thing, but the description of saving her poor dog from death after it was hauled away by a leopard made a pretty personal and harrowing story. In another exciting story, she recounts how as a girl of six or so she was mauled by an old lion she got too close to on their property, but still felt bad when her heroic father put it down by rifle. Here are a couple of choice quotes on the wildness of nature she grew up with:

You could expect many things of God at night when the campfire burned before the tents. You could look through and beyond the veils of scarlet 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.

Africa is mystic; it is wild; it is a sweltering inferno; it is a photographer's paradise, a hunter's Valhalla, an escapist's Utopia. It is what you will, and it withstands all interpretations. It is the last vestige of a dead world or the cradle of a shiny new one. To a lot of people, as to myself, it is just 'home.

There are significant sections about horses, both in riding and caring for them as a girl and in training them for racing as a young adult after her father moved away due to a serious drought. I actually didn’t think there was enough focus on this subject to render a clear picture of what the work really involved. Perhaps the topic didn’t fit that well with the themes more specific to Africa. Much more coverage is spent on her relationship with a specific dog, Buller, possibly a cross between an English sheep dog and a bull terrier. A constant companion, he showed his mettle on a boar hunt Markham took as a young teen with her Nandi friend Kibii and his father, using spears in the traditional way. I felt bad about the implications of cruelty in Buller getting terribly ravaged in bringing down a speared boar along with the native’s dogs, but dogs were bred and raised for just that purpose, so I had to glide over distaste on that score. Her ability to read her favorite animals and see their nobility and courage was uplifting. Here is her thoughts on their affinity with their obviously competent wild brethren:

To an eagle or to an owl or to a rabbit, man must seem a masterful and yet a forlorn animal; he has but two friends. In his almost universal unpopularity he points out, with pride, that these two are the dog and the horse. He believes, with an innocence peculiar to himself, that they are equally proud of this alleged confraternity. He says, 'Look at my two noble friends -- they are dumb, but they are loyal.' I have for years suspected that they are only tolerant.

As a budding bush pilot it was hard for Markham to resist delivering services to wealthy game hunters for their safaris. She makes a delightful portrait of a major customer, Baron Blixen, that touches on the absurdity of his passion infused with admiration on his skills and style (no hint of any possible love relationship). Thankfully, it was an incredibly difficult challenge for hunters to bag a big bull elephant, and Markham lets slip some relief that Blixen refrained from a killing shot when days of effort finally brought them close. Here is some of her critical thoughts on elephant hunting:

It is absurd for a man to kill an elephant. It is not brutal, it is not heroic, and certainly it is not easy; it is just one of those preposterous things that men do like putting a dam across a great river, one tenth of whose volume could engulf the whole of mankind without disturbing the domestic life of a single catfish.

I suppose if there were a part of the world in which mastodon still lived, somebody would design a new gun, and men, in their eternal impudence, would hunt mastodon as they now hunt elephant. Impudence seems to be the word. At least David and Goliath were of the same species, but, to an elephant, a man can only be a midge with a deathly sting.

It is clear that Markham respects the wisdom and integrity she found in native peoples whom she befriended and learned from. At one rare point she touches eloquently on the social issues of race relations and colonialism:

What a child does not know and does not want to know of race and colour and class, he learns soon enough as he grows to see each man flipped inexorably into some predestined groove like a penny or a sovereign in a banker's rack. Kibii, the Nandi boy, was my good friend. Arab Ruta (the same boy grown to manhood), who sits before me, is my good friend, but the handclasp will be shorter, the smile will not be so eager on his lips, 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.

I sought the book out with a special interest in the flying. For conveying the wonderful sense of solo flying in the wilderness, her poetic descriptions were marvelous, giving me much of the same pleasures I got from Saint-Exupery’s superb “Wind, Sand, and Stars.” Her early experiences and bush pilot episodes were more pleasurable for me that the later chapter on crossing the Atlantic. Here is a sample of some of my favorite passages:

We swung over the hills and over the town and back again, and I saw how a man can be master of a craft, and how a craft can be master of an element. I saw the alchemy of perspective reduce my world, and all my other life, to grains in a cup. I learned to watch, to put my trust in other hands than mine. And I learned to wander. I learned what every dreaming child needs to know -- that no horizon is so far that you cannot get above it or beyond it,

Harmony comes gradually to a pilot and his plane. The wing does not want so much to fly true as to tug at the hands that guide it; the ship would rather hunt the wind than lay her nose to the horizon far ahead. She has a derelict quality in her character; she toys with freedom and hints at liberation.

Like night, the desert is boundless, comfortless and infinite. Like night, it intrigues the mind and leads it to futility. When you have flown halfway across a desert, you experience the desperation of a sleepless man waiting for dawn which only comes when the importance of it's coming is lost. You fly forever, weary with an invariable scene, and when you are at last released from its monotony, you remember nothing of it because there was nothing there.

There is some debate on how much her editor husband contributed to the writing, but her biographer reportedly defended the view of her as the true author (see Wiki). When it was published in 1942 it received little attention, but later praise by Hemingway let to its rediscovery and a well-attended second publication in 1983. So glad it came to my attention. Now I have a good perspective to approach the fiction of “Circling the Sun.”

Profile Image for Diane.
1,080 reviews2,655 followers
April 12, 2016
This memoir was so lovingly written that I'm going to have to reread it to fully appreciate it.

Beryl Markham was born in England but moved to Kenya with her family when she was 4. She has amazing stories about surviving a lion attack, becoming a bush pilot, training racehorses, and flying solo across the Atlantic -- and she flew the difficult way, from east to west, against the wind. She is my favorite kind of woman to read about: she's tough and adventurous, but also romantic and sentimental.

I listened to this on audio, which was narrated well by Anna Fields (I also enjoyed her audio performance of Ann Patchett's Bel Canto), but Markham's prose was so lovely that I wish I had read this in print, lingering over the paragraphs and pages. Some of the long stories were occasionally confusing, and I think it would have been easier to follow with a print copy.

I don't recall how Beryl Markham first got on my radar, but suddenly she was hugely popular thanks to the new historical novel Circling the Sun by Paula McLain. I wanted to read Markham's own book first before checking out the fictional version, and I'm glad I did. Highly recommended, especially for those who like travel/adventure memoirs or stories about Africa.

Favorite Quotes
"To see ten thousand animals untamed and not branded with the symbols of human commerce is like scaling an unconquered mountain for the first time, or like finding a forest without roads or footpaths, or the blemish of an axe. You know then what you had always been told -- that the world once lived and grew without adding machines and newsprint and brick-walled streets and the tyranny of clocks."

"We fly, but we have not 'conquered' the air. Nature presides in all her dignity, permitting us the study and the use of such of her forces as we may understand. It is when we presume to intimacy, having been granted only tolerance, that the harsh stick fall across our impudent knuckles and we rub the pain, staring upward, startled by our ignorance."

"To an eagle or to an owl or to a rabbit, man must seem a masterful and yet a forlorn animal; he has but two friends. In his almost universal unpopularity he points out, with pride, that these two are the dog and the horse. He believes, with an innocence peculiar to himself, that they are equally proud of this alleged confraternity. He says, 'Look at my two noble friends -- they are dumb, but they are loyal.' I have for years suspected that they are only tolerant."

"There are as many Africas as there are books about Africa -- and as many books about it as you could read in a leisurely lifetime. Whoever writes a new one can afford a certain complacency in the knowledge that his is a new picture agreeing with no one else's, but likely to be haugthily disagreed with by all those who believed in some other Africa. ... Being thus all things to all authors, it follows, I suppose, that Africa must be all things to all readers. Africa is mystic; it is wild; it is a sweltering inferno; it is a photographer's paradise, a hunter's Valhalla, an escapist's Utopia. It is what you will, and it withstands all interpretations. It is the last vestige of a dead world or the cradle of a shiny new one. To a lot of people, as to myself, it is just 'home."
Profile Image for Carol.
1,370 reviews2,138 followers
August 7, 2015
4.5 Stars After reading Paula McLain's Circling The Sun I could not wait to read more about the adventurous life of Beryl Markham.

Growing up in Kenya, this amazing and fearless lady was not only a wild animal hunter, horse trainer and accomplished pilot, she was also a great story teller and writer (IMHO) as evidenced in West With The Night.

Skinning animals, running with the native hunting parties for wild boar, surviving a baboon attack in her room and a near death encounter with a lion are only some of the extraordinary stories you will find in this memoir. And, while I had hoped to learn more about the true facts of Beryl's relationship with Denys Finch-Hatton, the data is disappointingly not included here which will probably take me to yet another Markham novel in the near future.

Excellent Read!

(as for the rumors re. BM not actually writing this memoir........IGNORED!)

Profile Image for Belinda.
1,331 reviews181 followers
January 10, 2019
4,25 stars - English hardcover - I have dyslexia - What a lady, what an adventures in Kenya in the 20, 30-s. One of my favoutite lady's in history. When I was in the libary someone hand me a copy of this book. An older man. "I think you have to read this novel." And surely it was. 😀🦋🌹🌷
Profile Image for W.
1,185 reviews4 followers
January 27, 2021
Ernst Hemingway wrote that Beryl Markham could run rings around writers like him.I agree with that.There are some beautiful lines, e.g."I watched as an aeroplane invaded the stronghold of the stars."

Beryl Markham was one of the pioneers of aviation in Africa.She grew up in Kenya in the early 1900s and also had a career as a racehorse trainer.

Her most famous achievement was being the first person to fly the atlantic non stop from east to west.Such a journey required travelling against the Atlantic winds.

The book is a great account of her sense of wonder flying in those early aircraft,despite all the attendant hazards.She sometimes flew over unsurveyed land without radio guidance,not knowing what type of terrain she would find for landing.

She was her own employer,pilot and sometimes engineer as well.Her flying instructor and friend was killed in a collision with another plane.She also talks about the death of Hatton Finch (who appears in Isak Denison's Out of Africa) in an air crash.But despite all the risks,she continued to fly.

It is also about her life in the African bush and encounters with wildlife on the ground and views from the air over the Serengeti.

An entertaining adventure
3.5 stars
Profile Image for Jennifer.
350 reviews393 followers
April 5, 2016
“To see ten thousand animals untamed and not branded with the symbols of human commerce is like scaling an unconquered mountain for the first time, or like finding a forest without roads or footpaths, or the blemish of an axe. You know then what you had always been told -- that the world once lived and grew without adding machines and newsprint and brick-walled streets and the tyranny of clocks.”

You can be assured that this review will in no way be as well written as Beryl Markham's "West with the Night."

Markham was one hell of a woman, yet her story seems to have been lost to history. Born in England, but raised by her father in Africa, she never stepped back from a challenge and relished opportunities to look fear in the eye and have fear blink first. She was one of the first African bush pilots, the first racehorse trainer in the continent, and later the first person to fly non-stop east to west from England to North America. And yet, I'd never heard of her until I read Paula McClain's excellent Circling the Sun last year.

In addition to her many other talents, the woman can write. Hemingway famously praised this book by writing to a friend: "Did you read Beryl Markham's book, West with the Night? ...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 pig pen."

In this memoir, Markham invites us to experience certain episodes of her life (note, it's not a chronological or complete memoir by any stretch). The writing is so evocative we are there with her in the air gripping the controls as her plane shakes back and forth in stormy turbulence; our hearts race with hers as she and her childhood companions move past a lion that has crossed their path; and we are jumping up and down in the stands in the final lap of a horse race.

Markham's writing is meant to be savored. "Slow reading" is a must for this book. Skimming will make your mind wander and leave you unsatisfied.

4.5 stars
Profile Image for Hannah.
796 reviews
October 30, 2012
Embarrassment of Riches:
(noun; idiomatic) An abundance or overabundance of something; too much of a good thing.

The above perfectly encapsulates my experience of re-reading Beryl Markham's stunning memoir. The only caveat I'd make is that the last part of the definition makes it sound like a bad thing, when in reality the plethora of descriptive and evocative prose to be found within the 294 pages of this book are about as close to reading nirvana as a I am likely to find in my lifetime.

There are books. And there are books. And then there is this book, which only comes around once every 500 books or so in my reading world. It's impossible to convey why I loved this book so much the second time around. Certainly I enjoyed it when I read it 10+ years ago, and remember being captivated by the way Markham could describe a place or a person or, even more remarkably, a feeling. But this time I was blown away with the style and perfection of this book. Every page conveyed some moving insight to me. Every chapter had, literally, "an embarrassment of riches" for me to re-read, consider, and savor. There's no way to explain that kind of book/reader connection. It just is , and my 5-star rating and overly melodramatic review (yes, I know it is) won't stand up to anyone elses test but my own. And that's ok, because we've all got that book somewhere in each of our reading histories - the one that haunts us and stays with us long after the last chapter is finished.

This one happens to be mine.
Profile Image for Meredith Holley.
Author 2 books2,237 followers
November 4, 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.
Profile Image for Hana.
522 reviews293 followers
March 31, 2017
2014: Oh, I am so very tempted to read this one again....Shall I do another book about flying? Another book about Kenya? So soon? *sigh* I probably will give in to temptation because I loved this book beyond measure when I read it as a teenager and Hannah and Jeannette both confirmed my memory of how good it was.

2017: So, I did read it again and, as Ernest Hemingway said, "I wish you would get it and read it because it is really a bloody wonderful book." For one thing, unlike some of Hemingway's books [Sorry, Ernest], Markham's memoir is never dull.

She lived an extraordinary life, a life only possible at a certain moment in time, an African life. Markham's Africa
....is mystic; it is wild; it is a sweltering inferno; it is a photographer's paradise, a hunter's Valhalla, an escapist's Utopia. It is what you will, and it withstands all interpretations. It is the last vestige of a dead world or the cradle of a shiny new one. To a lot of people, as to myself it is just 'home'. It is all these things but one thing--it is never dull...

I have lifted my plane from the Nairobi airport for perhaps a thousand flights and I have never felt her wheels glide from the earth into the air without knowing the uncertainty and the exhilaration of firstborn adventure.

Beryl Markhan was African in a way that Karen Blixen (who wrote Out of Africa under the pen name Isak Dinesen) was not--and Markham's book is the better of the two for that reason alone. Markham was born in England but raised from the age of four on a farm in British East Africa at the edge of the Rift Valley. She ran wild and hunted as a child with the local tribesmen and her memories of those hunts provide some of the book's most vivid scenes.
The Equator runs close to the Rongai Valley, and, even at so high an altitude as this we hunted in, the belly of the earth was hot as live ash under our feet. Except for an occasional gust of fretful wind that flattened the high, corn-like grass, nothing uttered — nothing in the valley stirred. The chirrup-like drone of grasshoppers was dead, birds left the sky unmarked. the sun reigned and there were no aspirants to his place. We stopped by the red salt-lick that cropped out of the ground in the path of our trail.

I did not remember a time when the salt-lick was as deserted as this. Always before it had been crowded with grantii, impala, kongoni, eland, water-buck, and a dozen kinds of smaller animals. But it was empty today. It was like a marketplace whose flow and bustle of life you had witnessed ninety-nine times, but, on your hundredth visit, was vacant and still without even an urchin to tell you why.

I put my hand on Arab Maina’s arm. ‘What are you thinking, Maina? Why is there no game today?’ ‘Be quiet, Lakweit, and do not move.’ I dropped the butt of my spear on the earth and watched the two Murani stand still as trees, their nostrils distended, their ears alert to all things. Arab Kosky’s hand was tight on his spear like the claw of an eagle clasping a branch. ‘It is an odd sign,’ murmured Arab Maina, ‘when the salt-lick is without company!’

I had forgotten Buller, but the dog had not forgotten us. He had not forgotten that, with all the knowledge of the two Murani, he still knew better about such things. He thrust his body roughly between Arab Maina and myself, holding his black wet nose close to the ground. And the hairs along his spine stiffened. His hackles rose and he trembled. We might have spoken, but we didn’t. In his way Buller was more eloquent. Without a sound, he said, as clearly as it could be said — ‘Lion.”
Race is part of the story and the colonial experience, but unlike Blixen, Markham's intimacy with tribal hunters and Somali and Arab servants means that nothing in their ways seems strange to her. When the reality of colonialism intrudes she feels the growing gap with a poignant sense of loss.
What a child does not know and does not want to know of race and colour and class, he learns soon enough as he grows to see each man flipped inexorably into some predestined groove like a penny or a sovereign in a banker's rack. Kibii, the Nandi boy, was my good friend. Arab Ruta (the same boy grown to manhood), who sits before me, is my good friend, but the handclasp will be shorter, the smile will not be so eager on his lips, 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.
British East Africa was a place where eccentrics gathered. Markham knew most of the colony's colorful and often crazy luminaries and they come to life here in a way that they do not in Blixen's book. [Sorry, I know I'm making a lot of comparisons here but I read both back to back and West with the Night is so much better I simply have to.]

Markham was friends with Karen Blixen and her husband. This is Karen at the time she was living on the famous farm in the Ngong hills:

Markham doesn't write much about Karen Blixen and perhaps she had an affair with the Baron. Markham seems to have had more than a few affairs and married three times, but if you are looking for dishy gossip there is none in either West with the Night or Out of Africa.

On Baron von Blixen: "Six feet of amiable Swede and, to my knowledge, the toughest, most durable White Hunter ever to snicker at the fanfare of safari or to shoot a charging buffalo between the eyes while debating whether his sundown drink will be gin or whisky.”

Pilot and big-game hunter Denys Finch Hatton was another of her intimates, and he and RAF veteran and bush pilot Tom Campbell Black encouraged Markham in her new career running an air taxi service in the uncharted African back country. This is Hatton with his beloved biplane:

But before there were airplanes in Markham's life, there were horses. Beryl, like her father, raised and trained race horses.

One of those horses has as vivid a personality as any of the humans and the story of this brave little mare running her heart out is perhaps the most exciting and touching description a horse race ever written.

If you love horses, flying adventures, Africa or just beautifully crafted prose don't miss this "bloody wonderful book."
Profile Image for Kavita.
761 reviews370 followers
January 3, 2019
What a wonderful and eventful life! Whether Beryl herself wrote the memoir or not, it hardly makes a dent in the kind of pride I have in her as a woman clearing the way for other women to come after her. Ernest Hemingway called her a 'high-grade bitch'. I wonder if he knew that a century later, this would reflect more on him than on her?

So Beryl's life in a nutshell: She moved to Kenya at the age of four and grew up in a farm. She became the first licensed female horse breeder in the world! She became the first woman to fly solo east-west across the Atlantic. And as if that were not enough, she wrote this book! Beryl saw both poverty and wealth, and died an old woman. Incredible! She also had three husbands and a string of lovers, for which many people, including author Paula McLain in her terrible, terrible fictional biography, Circling the Sun, think she should be remembered.

The book is not a linear biography. It's a collection of stories that Beryl thought interesting enough to write about. She included some really random stuff that made for interesting reading. The book covers all facets of her life through small anecdotes, so while it is not a complete biography, I felt I knew the woman well after reading this. Also, let me mention that I loved the fact that Beryl did not think it important enough to include her love life in this book, clearly showing that there were things other than men on her mind.

The author tends to get slightly lyrical about Africa and exoticises the country, but draws the line at doing the same to the people who live there. This is probably because she grew up with the Nandi tribe and her best friend was a Nandi boy. She even reflects on how their relationship changes once they become adults, he becoming the servant, and she the mistress, unable to withstand the force of colonialism. I liked her a bit more for this regret, general colonial attitudes and privilege notwithstanding.

I found it a little difficult to get into the book at first, and I was wary after reading the terrible Circling the Sun, because I thought it was going to be boring. But the writing quickly drew me in, and I began to enjoy the writing. I did get bored in the horse racing parts. It's about the one animal I just can't whip up any enthusiasm for. I am supremely 'meh' about these parts, but that's not Beryl's fault. She tries to keep it short and to the point.

I think this is a wonderful biography of an amazing woman, and more people should read it. Also, DON'T read Circling the Sun. It's pure crap.
Profile Image for Vleigh.
390 reviews38 followers
September 9, 2019
I picked up this book as a prequel to reading Out of Africa by Karen Blixen but didn't expect to enjoy it as much as I did. What a life Beryl Markham had! She didn't seem to have much fear. I had to do some outside research to determine why her mother left her in Africa with her father at age 4 and which other friends mentioned were thought to be lovers as those aspects of her life weren't covered in the book. It wasn't very long but the writing style had me wanting more.
Profile Image for Carmen.
2,056 reviews1,861 followers
November 19, 2018
So many thoughts flashed through my mind. Would my strength hold out long enough to save Buller from the tusks of the boar? What had become of Arab Maina, and why had I ever left him? How would poor Kosky get home? Would he bleed too badly on the way?

I ran on and on, following the barely audible bark of Buller, and the few drops of blood clinging at intervals to the stalks of grass or soaking into the absorbent earth. It was either Buller's blood or the warthog's. Most likely it was both.

"Ah-yey, if I could only run a little faster!"

I must not stop for a minute. My muscles begin to ache, my legs bleed from the 'wait-a-bit' thorns and the blades of elephant grass. My hand, wet with perspiration, slips on the handle of my spear. I stumble, recover, and run on as the sound of Buller's bark grows louder, closer, then fades again.

The sun is going and shadows lay like broad hurdles across my path. Nothing is of any importance to me except my dog. The boar is not retreating; he is leading Buller away from me, away from my help.

The blood spoor grows thicker and there is more of it. Buller's bark is weak and irregular, but a little nearer. There are trees now jutting from the plain, large, solitary, and silent.

The barking stops and there is nothing but blood to follow. How can there be so much blood? Breathless and running still, I peer ahead into the changing light and see something move in a patch of turf under a flat-topped thorn tree.

I stop and wait. It moves again and takes colour - black and white and splattered with red. It is silent, but it moves. It is Buller.

I need neither breath nor muscles to cover the few hundred yards to the thorn tree. I am suddenly there, under its branches, standing in a welter of blood. The warthog, as large as any I have ever seen, six times as large as Buller, sits exhausted on his haunches while the dog rips at its belly.

The old boar sees me, another enemy, and charges once more with magnificent courage, and I sidestep and plunge my spear to his heart. He falls forward, scraping the earth with his great tusks, and lies still. I leave the spear in his body, turn to Buller, and feel tears starting to my eyes.

The dog is torn open like a slaughtered sheep. His right side is a valley of exposed flesh from the root of his tail to his head, and his ribs show almost white, like the fingers of a hand smeared with blood. He looks at the warthog, then at me beside him on my knees, and lets his head fall into my arms. He needs water, but there is no water anywhere, not within miles.

"Ah-yey! Buller, my poor, foolish Buller!"

He licks my hand, and I think he knows I can do nothing, but forgives me for it. I cannot leave him because the light is almost gone now and there are leopards that prowl at night, and hyenas that attack only the wounded and helpless.

"If only he lives through the night! If only he lives through the night!"

There is a hyena on a near hill who laughs at that, but it is a coward's laugh. I sit with Buller and the dead boar under the thorn tree and watch the dark come closer.

The world grows bigger as the light leaves it. There are no boundaries and no landmarks. The trees and the rocks and the anthills begin to disappear, one by one, whisked away under the magical cloak of evening, I stroke the dog's head and try to close my eyes, but of course I cannot. Something moves in the tall grass, making a sound like a woman's skirt. The dog stirs feebly and the hyena on the hill laughs again.

I let Buller's head rest on the turf, stand up, and pull my spear from the body of the boar. Somewhere to the left there is a sound, but I do not recognize it and I can see only dim shapes that are motionless.

I lean for a moment on my spear peering outward at what is nothing, and then turn toward my thorn tree.

Brilliant and absorbing book by Markham. She was an amazing adventurer - and moreover, she is an exquisite and evocative writer. She has a beautiful writing style.

Sometimes I had to read sentences of hers a few times over - not because they were confusing or tiresome, but because they were so rich and layered with various meanings.

Markham explores her African childhood. Being raised by her single father on a farm in Kenya. She's a scrappy little girl, as you can imagine. She hunts with the local boys. She tames horses. She gets 'moderately eaten by a lion.' Such adventures!

She grows up to become a horse trainer, and an aviatrix. She was the first person to fly solo across the Atlantic.

Anything by Alexandra Fuller.
Out of Africa.

Because Markham lives in Africa, and away from 'respectable European society,' she has unimaginable freedom. There's very little squawking about what women can and cannot do, should and should not do. She can fly a plane. Therefore she is on-call 24/7 to come out and perform various rescues. No one has time to complain about her lack of a penis when people are routinely dying in remote places.

Her life is very exciting and amazing. She only talks about her adventures - nothing about her slew of lovers, her husbands, or her son. She keeps her private life private. This about lions, boars, dogs, racehorses, flying a plane, sitting with the dying, and earning her living. If you want to know more about her personal life, read The Lives of Beryl Markham by Errol Trzebinski.

The only warnings I would put on this book are general feelings of imperialist white people towards black people and violence with, by or involving animals. It's animal violence that comes from living in Kenya, taking people on safari, raising horses, taking a dog on a hunt etc. etc. Not something like animal experimentation or anything. None of these things bothered me, the sweeping 1942 adventure-style of the book is something that transports you to another era that is full of sand and gin. But you can come to whatever conclusions you want to, everyone reads a book differently.

TL;DR Exciting, riveting, beautifully written. Transports you to another time and place. Highly recommended reading.
Profile Image for Margitte.
1,164 reviews511 followers
February 8, 2019

Mahadma Ghandi said: Live as though you'll die tomorrow, but learn as though you'll live forever.

After many years I have finaly read this book. And what a joyous experience it was. Reading the author's own thoughts on the big events in her life, reminded me of reading the thoughts of Plato in his The Republic. Written so many thousands of years ago, The Republic still accommodates the spirit and mindset of one of the most influential people of all times. By reading his words, we can still hear a remarkable voice talking directly to us.

Beryl Markham's autobiography will never equal The Republic and become one of the classics of all times, however, her life story changed the lives of millions of people. And we could hear her own words as she meandered through a life of challenges, hardships, happiness and adventures.

In case you wonder how to identify a great classic:
Five elements:
1) addresses permanent & human concerns ( The Republic gave rise to the social order presented in the Bible for instance, and being applied to all modern societies ever since and therefor changed world history)
2) being a game changer - shift perspective
3) influences other great works (Shakespeare is one of them)
4) Respected by experts throughout the ages
5) Challenging, yet rewarding read.

In my review of Circling the Sun by Paula McLain I mentioned the iconic accolade of Ernest Hemingway to the remarkable and outstanding writing skills of Beryl Markham. After reading the book, I have to agree. Claims of her third husband that he was the actual writer, was rebuffed with sound evidence that the book was already in the hands of Markham's editors when she met him. The book was published for the first time in 1942, but republished and unexpectedly elevated to bestselling status in 1983.

It's the story of an ultimate tomboy; a daring spirit; and unbreakable courage. She was deserted by her mother, lived with her father in Kenya in the heyday of British colonial times, and learnt early in life that her best friends, tutors and dedicated supporters would all be men. They taught her everything she needed to become the survivor and pioneering soul that she was.

She never claimed victim-hood. She never needed victim-hood status to become anyone. Her encounter with Paddy the lion, when she was attacked as a barefoot young girl, established her as a warrior of the truest kind.
...the sound of Paddy’s roar in my ears will only be duplicated, I think, when the doors of hell slip their wobbly hinges, one day, and give voice and authenticity to the whole panorama of Dante’s poetic nightmares. It was an immense roar that encompassed the world and dissolved me into it. I shut my eyes very tight and lay still under the weight of Paddy’s paws.

... No animal, however fast, has greater speed than a charging lion over a distance of a few yards. It is a speed faster than thought—faster always than escape.
She concurred the skies, liberated her soul, became fiercely independent but modest in her accomplishments. She was a star in her own right. But most of all, she fell deeply in love with Africa. Her knowledge, experience and lessons learnt in the African wild, bubbles perpetually through the pulsating veins of words.
Being thus all things to all authors, it follows, I suppose, that Africa must be all things to all readers. Africa is mystic; it is wild; it is a sweltering inferno; it is a photographer’s paradise, a hunter’s Valhalla, an escapist’s Utopia. It is what you will, and it withstands all interpretations. It is the last vestige of a dead world or the cradle of a shiny new one. To a lot of people, as to myself, it is just ‘home.’ It is all these things but one thing — it is never dull.
And later she would say:
Why I ran at all or with what purpose in mind is beyond my answering, but when I had no specific destination I always ran as fast as I could in the hope of finding one — and I always found it.
.Beryl Markham did not write a classic, she BECAME a classic, just by being Beryl Markham. Unforgettable.

A friend asked me this morning to recommend a book: "I need a great book. Story. No abuse. No overt drama. Just a great story."

I recommended this one. Of course there are a million others, but right now they do not remind me of Plato, or Mahatma Ghandi, or what knowledge can do for the human spirit. More importantly, what show, don't tell really mean in real life.

Mahatma Ghandi's words rang loud and clear when I finished this book. Beryl Markham lived as though she would die the next day, and learnt as though she would live forever. Yes, she did.

Profile Image for Jim.
365 reviews90 followers
May 8, 2017
Beryl Markham was an amazing woman, raised in Africa by her father after her mother tired of bush life and bolted back to England with Beryl's brother. Without any womanly interference, Charles Clutterbuck was able to let his daughter get a proper education in the Kenyan bush, tearing around the countryside barefoot and toting a spear, hunting with the nearby Nandi people. Hers was the world of hunting and horses with the odd bit of bookwork thrown in. Beryl clearly worshipped her father, and this is quite clear in her book.

In fact, there is little mention of anything but men in the memoir. Our heroine loved the things that are dearest to men and pursued these interests while remaining strictly a woman. That is to say that she did not try to become a man; she was content with being able to do the things that men could do while retaining a trace of her femininity. Her life experiences include being mauled by a lion, spotting for hunters (and rescuing those hunters from flood shortly thereafter), flying mercy missions in sparsely populated regions armed with a map and a Luger, and training race horses for wealthy clients. Oh, and she survived a plane crash...her own plane...after she flew it across the Atlantic.

I don't recall reading any passages where Markham complained that she was oppressed or held back by men. Quite the reverse is true; men instructed her and helped her develop the skills she required to accomplish what she wanted to do. Some things are noticeable for their complete omission from the book, and I found myself going online to get more information. It turns out that Markham was quite the amorous lady, but this side of her is not covered in her memoir ....at all! Another glaring omission is that the book does not have a single photograph, map or sketch, an almost inexcusable oversight as there must be scads of photos extant.

I have to admit to being quite smitten by Markham. I will be looking for another title featuring my heroine, perhaps one that is somewhat less bashful about listing her amorous escapades!

P.S. - 8 May 2017 In reading Straight on Till Morning: A Biography of Beryl Markham I'm learning that Markham very likely was not the fine person she put herself forth as in this book! In fact, she quite likely didn't write the book at all! Regardless, I still maintain that the book is exceptionally well-written and deserving of 5 stars, I'm just not sure to whom they should be awarded!
Profile Image for Dianne.
559 reviews910 followers
August 23, 2015
This is the fourth book I've read on my Beryl Markham-related splurge, which started with Paula McLain's historical fiction "Circling the Sun," which is based on Beryl's life. "West With the Night" is Beryl's own memoir of her early life, told in chunks from childhood to her historic flight from Africa to Nova Scotia in 1936.

Really good - interesting and very well written. I admire her pluck more than I did before.

There is some controversy around this book, with some believing it was actually written by her third husband Raoul Schumacher, a professional ghost-writer and journalist. I have to admit it doesn't seem likely that this largely unschooled woman of action would pen such a thoughtful, erudite and elegant memoir, but it doesn't really matter to me. It's still her life and her stories and they're fascinating.

Highly recommend.
Profile Image for Julie.
1,953 reviews38 followers
June 1, 2020
I loved this book the first time around. This time I am listening to it with Simon. I was looking for inspiration and came across this title in Overdrive through our Public Library. Instantly, I knew this was the right choice. One of our favorite movies is, "Out of Africa" and one of Simon's heroes is Amelia Earhart. So, a book that combines aviation and Africa seems just the ticket.

Update 5/31/2020: This evening, while rummaging in my kitchen drawers, I found my note of two quotes that had grabbed my attention and caused me to lean in as we listened:

"No map I have flown by has ever been lost or thrown away; I have a trunk containing continents. I have the maps I always used en route to England and back."

"We sit together through the evening and discuss the things that each has saved for the other to hear."
Profile Image for BrokenTune.
750 reviews202 followers
December 26, 2015
"I stumble out of the plane and sink to my knees in muck and stand there foolishly staring, not at the lifeless land, but at my watch. Twenty-one hours and twenty-five minutes. Atlantic flight. Abingdon, England, to a nameless swamp – nonstop."

It is probably sacrilege to have read West with the Night and not to have loved it more.

To be fair, when I read the book I could hardly put it down. It was a charmingly written memoir of what must have been an extraordinarily interesting person. Beryl Markham was funny, witty, daring, confident, dashing...in short all one would associate with an adventurer. Most strikingly, she was not at all what I would have expected from someone growing up in colonial Africa, where expats are said to have formed an exclusive society about whom history books and literature seem to like reporting in terms of stereotypes and cliches.

Markham was not like that. She grew up in the remote wilderness of Kenya as an equal to the local Nandi and Masai and it seems from her writing that she saw herself as African.

"Competitors in conquest have overlooked the vital soul of Africa herself, 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. Africa is of an ancient age and the blood of many of her peoples is as venerable and as chaste as truth. What upstart race, sprung from some recent, callow century to arm itself with steel and boastfulness, can match in purity the blood of a single Masai Murani whose heritage may have stemmed not far from Eden?"

The book is full of passages that show her reverence for Africa in a way that is neither sentimental nor frightened by the unknown. Africa is Africa - what may seem as drama to European society is just a fact of life. To some extent, Markham even makes fun of the attitudes that seem to long for the theatrical:

"I do not suggest that the lion of the Serengetti have become so blasé about the modern explorer’s motion-picture camera that their posing has already become a kind of Hollywoodian habit. But many of them have so often been bribed with fresh-killed zebra or other delicacies that it is sometimes possible to advance with photographic equipment to within thirty or forty yards of them if the approach is made in an automobile. To venture that close on foot, however, would mean the sudden shattering of any kindly belief that the similarity of the lion and the pussy cat goes much beyond their whiskers. But then, since men still live by the sword, it is a little optimistic to expect the lion to withdraw his claws, handicapped as he is by his inability to read our better effusions about the immorality of bloodshed."

However, on finishing the book, I realised that even though I enjoy reading about her exploits - nearly being mauled by a lion, becoming a racehorse trainer, taking up flying, and organising safaris with Bror Blixen - there was something amiss with the recollection of stories. There was a guarded hesitation about the way she told the stories.

Markham, of course, is known for being a famous aviatrix but she is more famous for being one of the cornerstones of the love triangle described in the oh-so-famous Out of Africa - except that Karen Blixen does not mention her. Markham in return writes much about Denys Finch-Hatton and Bror Blixen, but does not mention Blixen's wife.

So, despite the humorous eloquence of Markham's book, I was left wondering what other relevant details were left out. Not that it is necessary for West with the Night to be a truthful, tell-all memoir. Not at all. It was just that the book seemed to suffer from a lack of credibility once I read more about the characters involved in her life.
Profile Image for Judith E.
547 reviews191 followers
February 26, 2020
This is a companion piece to Isak Dinesen’s, Out of Africa, a love story of 1930 British East Africa, and beautiful descriptive writing whether Markham is in the jungle, on a safari, or flying her beloved airplane.

Plenty of adventure abounds in this nearly unspoiled Africa where Markham had an unconventional upbringing. Her strong, intelligent, and independent personality allowed her to accept this gift of Africa and appreciate it’s potential and beauty.

Her gift of writing shines through her stories of elephant herds, pet lions, horse racing and African friendships.
Profile Image for Jeanette.
3,277 reviews558 followers
April 17, 2016
4.5 star and the first two/thirds was a 5. To me it only lost perfection in the continuity of the last quarter after she left Molo and the subsequent years until she returned to Scotland.

OUTSTANDING and perfectly worded to nuance, beauty, dichotomies, dirt to mountain top reality of her East Anglican Africa (now Kenya farmland /plain prime) of the 1910's, 1920's and early 1930's. Rarely, rarely do you read this depth for physical base fact tied sublimely to the artistic judgment supreme- and not only for the topics or word forms used either. She captures comparison to identity and purposes without the heavily influenced educational and media biases of "know better through theory" preachy narrations now so in mode. With young eyes of "want to be included at that, please" on top of it. Nothing is too sacred to notice or report for the young Beryl. Not any aspect of her interest and participation. African tribal characteristics and differences, African ritual, African hunter and gatherer lifestyle belief and daily practice, roles performed, placements for animals in their worldview. So much meat is in this. Oh so much to chew on!

What a free spirit and what choices she made! Very rare woman. And not in the least part was that the fact of knowing what she "owned" for use during these periods. And was still not anything but completely cognizant of when it was gone and never to be again. At least not for her. She knew that too.

Africa is difficult. Its geography is difficult. It's differences are vast. Age is not the only factor within its history of humanity either.

Her airplane stories were good, but the animal hunts, the escapes, the warthog/dog battle with her mentors! Those were magnificent. In the action and in the telling. Homo sapiens in the history of their existence, no less. And the horse loves and battles- so Beryl.

But what truly was magical, is how Beryl could detail so intrinsically and with such emotional and identity heart but did NOT relate her female role agenda. (Did she have one apart from one of pure example?) Or her own personal mating or motherhood considerations or any of that aspect of the personal female druthers. Which would most probably be the pivot if written in the modern version of the same life.

Nor did she ever whine or express the voice of a victim for neglect or any deemed "hardship". Despite the lack of a mother, most of what would be called supervision/ direction or any other reality to her non-access for a formal education or any other aspect of an entitled "right" for her nationality and generation. Instead she voiced her spirit of adventurous freedom, be it one which left many physical scars.

Beryl exposed Beryl without a single moan or undo negative. And they existed. Instead she dazzled with the words and the lights she saw from many thousands of feet above the fray.
Profile Image for Murray.
Author 151 books491 followers
February 23, 2023
An amazing book of courage and journey and flight which Hemingway, for one, loved. He considered her a superb writer and an essential author to read. I still have my print copy with the great cover of Beryl.

(Which is one of the problems with ebooks. You can’t have cool books with cool covers living their best life on your bookshelf when you walk into a room. Just looking over and seeing them there gives you a solid feeling and a happy spark.)
Profile Image for Mayda.
3,028 reviews57 followers
May 29, 2016
I am sure that this book appealed to many readers, including the late Ernest Hemingway, but, alas, I am not in that number. I found that the writing, though descriptive, was disjointed and dated. I know Africa was a rough place in the 1930s, but surely there were some things she could have written about that did not involve hunting and killing and whipping horses to train them. I found it amazing that she knew in great detail exactly what her horse was thinking as he dealt with her as a young girl. I am more fascinated by what she left out than by what she put in. No mention was made of her mother. Did she have no place in the author’s life? At age 17, her father left for Peru and Beryl was on her own. But if there was any sorrow in their parting, the book did not show it. She says little about her relationship with him. In fact, except for her affection for her horses, her plane, and her dog, it seems the author has little feeling for anyone. She claimed her dog was dear to her, but she allowed it to hunt dangerous warthogs and other wild animals, often sustaining near-mortal injuries, as though that could not be helped. She reported on the injuries and death of people as though they were only statistics. While she did describe her surroundings in detail, I never connected to the people in her life. The series of stories were just that – stories in no particular order and seemingly chosen for no particular reason. I did not care to read in great detail about hunting wild boar on foot or elephants by plane. To me, the book was superficial, a travelogue. I never felt like I knew anything personal about the author. Indeed, it was more like she was a reporter detailing a few aspects of her life. If this book was indeed written by Beryl Markham and not by her third husband as some have claimed, then she wrote it in a most detached, unemotional manner.
Profile Image for Connie G.
1,691 reviews451 followers
February 28, 2016
"West with the Night" is the memoir of a woman who loved adventure. Beryl Markham spent most of her childhood in British East Africa (Kenya) where her father owned a horse farm. She grew up playing with the native African children, spending her time playing games and learning to hunt with the young boys rather than making friends with the native girls. As an adult she became a horse trainer and a pilot. Beryl Markham is most famous for being the first woman to pilot a plane from east to west across the Atlantic in 1936. As both a horse trainer and a pilot, she was a woman doing work in a man's world.

Her love of Africa and her connection to nature are evident in the book. She shows the reader the sights, smells, and sounds of the continent. She admires the natives' skill in hunting, and enjoys the African culture and storytelling. Her dog and her horses are very important in her life. Although she seems to respect the jungle animals in her early life, she works as a pilot spotting elephants for the big game hunters later. As the book moved on, it shows more effects of colonialism and the buildup of defenses in northern Africa in the early 1930s.

The book is well-written, and the author knows how to build up suspense as she tells about the dangerous situations Markham finds herself in during her adventures. She has selectively written about certain areas of her life, but does not include memories of her mother, her governess, her three marriages, her son, or her numerous affairs. The reader will have to pick up another book to learn about the rest of her life.

Her third husband, Raoul Schumacher, was a professional ghost writer. There is a question of whether he actually wrote the book after he read her notes and listened to Markham's stories. At the very least, it is thought that he edited her writing. But even if we don't know the true author of the book, it is a wonderful story of a remarkable woman and of Africa in the 1920s and 1930s.
Profile Image for JimZ.
1,022 reviews461 followers
May 9, 2020
2.45 stars. This was a book I could have done without. One of those books that after a point knew I was too far into it to do a DNF, so just wanted to get it over with. ☹

Beryl Markham certainly had an interesting childhood. Her father was a white settler in Kenya and he raised his daughter there. She was attacked by a lion when she was apparently a little girl. She, as a teenager, groomed horses…her father at that time was training race horses. She then became a celebrated racehorse trainer. Then when she was 34 she flew solo from England across the Atlantic to crash land in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia (she did the reverse of what Amelia Earhart did ~3 years earlier).

She told very little about herself in the book. The book revolved around her interactions with Africans as she was growing up, then about training race horses, then about flying. The end. I can’t remember why I sought this book out. It was written in 1942 by her. Oh yes, then there were the elephants. In the preface we are told she “invented big game hunting by air”. I don’t know if that was supposed to impress the reader — it did not impress me. She spent several chapters talking about elephants, their habits, her respect for them, and yet she also talked about the ivory tusks on a male elephant (bull) and that that was the reason why men hunted them. So if she respected elephants then how could she encourage big game hunters to kill them for sport….and for their ivory? I know that I am asking this when it is 2020…long after this sort of thing became illegal…long after this thing was condemned. But then again I think big game hunting is still legal. I knew a doctor whose office was decorated with a zebra skin rug…also various pieces of animals — trophies —he hunted on safaris to Africa. This was in 2013.

Ernest Hemingway adored the book…this is what he said about it: “Written so well, and marvelously well, that I was completely ashamed of myself as a writer…She can write rings around all of us who consider ourselves writers…It is really a bloody wonderful book.”

On the back cover it was said that “Her life deserves a second look and this book — a masterpiece — its rightful place in history.” So apparently others thing differently than I about this book. As well, North Point Press re-issued this book in 1983 — the book spent more than 40 weeks on the New York Times best-seller list, and was hailed as a long-lost masterpiece. At that time Markham was ~80 years of age (she died three years later in 1986). The edition I read was from Virago, first issued in 1984 and then again in 2015. The Introduction was by Martha Gelhorn (characterized as one as “one of the most brilliant war reporters of the 20th century” by Lettie Ransley in 2013 in The Guardian reviewing her book “The Troubles I’ve Seen).

Reviews of “West with the Night”:
https://www.nytimes.com/1993/08/24/bo... written by Michiko Kakutani (JimZ: spoiler alert: don’t read this unless you do not want to read the book…)
https://www.encyclopedia.com/women/en... (very interesting!)
Profile Image for Wyndy.
189 reviews79 followers
August 27, 2019
This is unequivocally the finest, most exquisitely written, engrossing memoir I’ve ever read. One particular chapter, entitled ‘Royal Exile’ and written mostly in the voice of a moody thoroughbred horse named Camciscan, left me gaping and teary with emotion. A later chapter about a race between an underdog filly named Wise Child and a stallion named Wrack did the same. Powerful, magnificent writing. I did not particularly enjoy the elephant hunting chapter, but safaris were part of Africa’s history and commerce at the time, and Beryl Markham was not to be left out. The chapter describing Markham’s solo trip across the Atlantic was simply unputdownable and breathtaking.

Beryl Markham lived a hundred lifetimes in one, and any one of us, male or female, would be honored to accomplish (not to mention survive) a quarter of what this woman achieved. Horse trainer, professional bush pilot and first person to fly solo across the North Atlantic from east to west. Other aviators had previously accomplished this feat from west to east, but flying west meant flying against the wind . . . mostly at night. If I’d read this book 40 years ago, it might well have paved a different course for my life - it is that inspiring. Reading it for the first time at age 61, I’m grateful to experience Markham’s journey from a far more comfortable, and infinitely less risky, perch but am no less moved and inspired. Truly, most anything you can dream is possible if you have the determination and, most importantly, the courage.

This book broadened and deepened my world. It humbled me. It amazed me. I grieved for Paddy and Buller and the invincible Tom Black and others. I wasn’t ready to leave Beryl’s life or the majestic, haunting country now called Kenya. Ten out of five stars, straight to my favorites shelf, and one of my best reads of the year. I know - enough already. But this is a superior book. Even Ernest Hemingway admitted it.
Profile Image for William2.
745 reviews2,968 followers
April 13, 2017
Naturally, when it comes to 1930s African memoirs we first think of the Baroness von Blixen-Finecke's Out of Africa and her stories. Both women have created exceptional works and the one by Beryl Markham (or is it by her husband Raoul Schumacher?) stands the comparison very well. In fact, at least in this work, she seems the writer with the sharper, leaner diction. She also possesses a sense of humor you will never find in such abundance in Dinesen, who works from a far darker palette. Markham's humor--and her penchant for compression--is evident from the first page; however, it is not until I got to the chapter "Why Do We Fly" and its successor "He Was A Good Lion," that the narrative becomes almost magical. I can see why Hemingway (see his Selected Letters: 1917-1961) raved about West With the Night, calling it "...a bloody wonderful book." When Markham comes to the description of her father's farm in Njoro one is struck by the similarity with another frontier narrative, Willa Cather's My Ántonia. I felt it particularly keenly in the description of the growth of the farm and its ever increasing "productivity." Today we would call that sort of growth rape of the land. Today, reading such an account of colonial "progress" it's hard not to think of the the loss of biodiversity and the impact on indigenous peoples. Writing in 1940, however, this was not a perspective the author was even minutely aware of, and so the book becomes darker for the present day reader in a way it could probably not have been for Ms. Markham's first reading public.
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