Saturday, April 13, 2013

West With the Night by Beryl Markham

West With the Night is quite an exciting tale or really series of tales made up of Beryl Markham's reminiscences of her life in Africa as a young girl, a pilot, and a horse trainer. 

She came to Kenya from England with her family when she was four. Her mother left soon after their arrival, but Beryl stayed on with her father where she grew up as wild as the country in which she was living. 

According to her story, as a child she hunted with the natives, was attacked by a lion and a baboon (which she killed), learned about horse training from her father, and when he left for Peru when she was just 17, Beryl made the trip from their farm near Nakuru to Molo on horseback alone to work for a stable there.

She learned to fly and used her airplane to scout elephant herds for hunters. Oddly enough, the one safari leader that she writes about is Blix, or Bror von Blixen-Finecke, who was married to Karen Blixen (Isak Dinesen) who wrote Out of Africa about her experiences working a coffee plantation in Kenya. Blix is never mentioned in Out of Africa, but Ms. Markham writes about him affectionately. I am not sure if their relationship was ever more than professional (and it doesn't matter). 

Out of Africa captures the atmosphere of the author's experiences and is written with just a bit of distance between the author and reader. I felt as if the Blixen was telling her story from behind a protective scrim. 

West With the Night, however, certainly puts the reader in the middle of the action. There is a heart-stopping horse race, an escape from sure death by a charging bull elephant, a record of the author's tribulations on a 6000-plus mile flight with Blix from Kenya to London, and the story of her feat of being the first woman to fly across the Atlantic Ocean from East to West.

Ms. Markham's style of writing is very vivid and, although apparently there was some question at the time as to the authorship of the book, it doesn't matter who wrote it as the prose is beautiful and clear.

It was a good idea to read these two books one right after the other as the tribal names and strange place names stayed in my mind. Although both women knew each other, I found it intriguing that neither one mentions the other one.

Both books offer a fascinating look at a life that would not appeal to most women. I for one would be out of there at the first sighting of a spider as big as my fist or the first roar of a hungry lion in the night. And let's don't even talk about the dirt.

But bless both of these women for having the guts to see things through and then to share their experiences so beautifully with those of us who prefer to experience dangerous adventures from the comfort and safety of an armchair.


  1. Have you read anything by Elspeth Huxley - The Flame Trees of Thika is one I've read and I have The Mottled Lizard by her to read. They are about living on a coffee farm in Kenya. If you Google her Wikipedia will tell you a lot about her and you might want to try one of the above books. I think Flame Trees... comes first - there is a movie of that one also. I've added Beryl Markham to my TBR list. Joyce in KS

    1. Joyce, I have not read anything by Huxley although I just saw the DVD of 'Flame Trees' at the library. For some reason I was thinking the story took place in India. Now I know better thanks to you. I will look her up.