Sunday, April 7, 2013

Wild Kingdom

When I finished reading Out of Africa by Isak Dinesen (Karen Blixen) written about her twelve years as a young woman in Kenya trying to make a success of her coffee plantation,  I moved right on to West With the Night by aviator Beryl Markham. 

Ms. Markham's experiences with Africa were quite different. She moved to Kenya from England with her parents when she was four. Her mother moved back home almost immediately and Beryl stayed with her father who turned his purchased land near Nairobi into a successful enterprise of grain mills and saw mills.

Ms. Markham's style is very matter-of-fact. She recounts flying trips, surviving a lion attack, and hunting wild boar with two Masai in a clean, although at times lyrical, prose.

I am glad I am reading the books back to back as they both share a geography and time frame that helps keep strange tribal and place names familiar.

Like Ms. Blixen, Ms. Markham has a quiet respect for the wild beasts with which she shares the land. Here, in comparison to a passage from Out of Africa, is Ms. Markham's take on the wild kingdom. She is flying her plane back to Nairobi from delivering an oxygen tank to a doctor in an isolated mining camp:

Between Magadi and Narok I watched a yellow cloud take shape beneath me and just ahead. The cloud clung close to the earth and grew as I approached it into a swaying billow that blunted the sunlight and obscured the grass and mimosa trees in its path.

Out of its farthest edge the forerunners of a huge herd of impala, wildebeest, and zebra plunged in flight before the shadow of my wings. I circled, throttled down and lost height until my propeller cut into the fringe of the dust, and particles of it burned in my nostrils.

As the herd moved it became a carpet of rust-brown and grey and dull red. It was not like a herd of cattle or of sheep, because it was wild, and it carried with it the stamp of wilderness and the freedom of a land still more a possession of Nature than of men. 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.


  1. This is one of my all-time favorite books, so I'm pleased to see that you have been enjoying it. And you're so right about reading it in conjunction with "Out of Africa" and how that enhances the enjoyment of both books. Beryl Markham can, I think, make the reader feel what is happening to her, both as child and adult. I particularly enjoyed the flying portions, as I was learning to fly at about the time that I read it. Of course, I was far less adventurous than she, but to have seen Africa from an open airplane must have been so wonderful.

    I've been following your blog for several months now and always find your comments well worth reading. Thank you.

    1. Hi Lala. Thanks for your kind comments. I think Ms. Markham's stories are more action oriented, don't you? Ms. Blixen's tales are so much more atmospheric. Reading them together has been quite an experience.

      I am impressed that you learned to fly! And you are see the plains, mountains, and deserts of Africa from on high must be quite thrilling.