Tuesday, December 23, 2008

West with the Night

Particularly observant readers may have noticed that the "What I'm Reading" section has referred to West with the Night, by Beryl Markham, for quite awhile. I have been done with the book for quite some time, but I couldn't bring myself to change the book in that section until I wrote something more permanent about it, because it is a book that it seems has never gotten the readership that it deserves. It was basically lost until someone reading Ernest Hemingway's letters in 1982 found mention of it. The mention of the book in Hemingway's letters prompted a Californian named George Gutekunst to dig up the book, and get it re-published in 1983. It may have had a short-lived success then, but I originally came across the book on a bargain table, so I think it is fair to say that it has lapsed back into relative obscurity.

This is a real shame. There is some question about whether Ms. Markham actually wrote the book (see the wikipedia entry for a summary of her life and the controversy about the book's authorship), but there is no question that she led a fascinating life. She grew up in west Africa, became a horse trainer and then a pilot in a time (1920s-30s) when women didn't really do either of these things, and went on to fly a historic solo flight across the Atlantic. The book brings her exploits to life, but also paints a vivid picture of Africa at that time. I remember that it made me want to visit Africa when I first read it, and rereading it had the same effect.

I find Ms. Markham's memoir to be inspiring, not just for the things she did, but also for her no-nonsense and fun-loving attitude toward life, which the writing definitely conveys. The book reminds me that there are fewer limitations on us than we usually imagine there to be. If you haven't read it, I wholeheartedly recommend it.


In other news: I won't be posting for a while, because we're going to be quite busy over the holidays. I hope everyone out there has a Merry Christmas/Happy Hannukah/etc. I'll be back in the new year!


  1. Merry Christmas! I hope you're having a good one.

    That book sound really interesting. I'll have to add it to my book wish list.

  2. I found the book on a remainder table, bought it, and tried to read it. I couldn't get through it.

    I guess I have a low tolerance for the Happy Valley gang, and Beryl's self delusion. Things were not happy in that valley for the natives who lost their land and found themselves servants all of the sudden to people who really don't deserve to rule.

    Plus, they brought all sorts of interesting STDs to the young girls of the valley who didn't really have a choice.

    I couldn't get through it. I couldn't stomach the level of lies and self delusion.


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