Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Out of Africa and West With the Night

Karen Blixen/Isak Dinesen

I now find myself in possession of two books with African ties:  a hardcover edition of Out of Africa by Isak Dinesen and a Kindle edition of West With the Night by Beryl Markham. 

Karen Blixen was born in Denmark in 1885. She wrote under the name of Isak Dinesen. Out of Africa (1937) is a memoir of her years in Kenya where she moved in 1913 with her husband. They established a coffee plantation near Nairobi. They divorced in 1925 and after selling the plantation in 1931, Blixen returned to Denmark where she lived until her death in 1962.

It was during her latter years in Denmark that she wrote Out of Africa and her famous short story Babette's Feast, both of which were made into movies.

Beryl Markham

Beryl Markham was born in England in 1902 but moved to a farm in Kenya with her family when she was four years old. On the farm she developed a love of horses and became the first licensed female horse trainer in Kenya. That wasn't her only first. She is credited with being the first woman to fly solo west-to-east across the Atlantic Ocean and the first person to fly non-stop from England to North America.

Her memoir of that flight in 1936 and her experiences growing up in Kenya was published as West With the Night (1942). She lived in the United States for a while then moved back to Kenya where she became a successful horse trainer. She died in Nairobi in 1986.

Both women knew each other and both had affairs with big-game hunter and pilot Denys Finch Hatton. The ever-handsome Robert Redford portrayed him in the 1985 film version Out of Africa opposite Meryl Streep's Blixen.

I recently purchased the Modern Library Edition of Ms. Blixen's memoir at a thrift shop for $1. The Markham memoir just happened to be the $1.99 Kindle Deal this morning. (Those deals are becoming dangerous to my pocketbook!) I am looking forward to reading both.


  1. I read Out of Africa after seeing the movie; loved them both. That was a nice find for you, Belle, at $1. I keep meaning to read "Babette's Feast", a library bin find in paperback, but it languishes on the shelf. Have you seen the movie of it? A delight to watch.

    I do not know Beryl Markham and find your short introduction to her here leaving me intrigued.

    What remarkable women. The both came from some money (or so it seems) but were pioneering women in times and places where it could not have been easy to do so. I'll be interested in your thoughts on these two women, Belle.

    1. I actually, at one time, had both of these books in paperback. The manager of the bookstore that I once worked for recommended the Markham book. I just never got around to reading either one and had no idea that the ladies knew each other.

      I have seen 'Babette's Feast'. All I remember now is how dark everything seemed...not the story but the interior and exterior surroundings! And so cold...

  2. I've never read the Markham, and it sounds fascinating. I didn't know the connection between these two authors.

    1. I didn't realize there was a connection either. Apparently Markham's character did have a spot in the movie.