West with the Night

By Beryl Markham,

Book cover of West with the Night: A Memoir

Book description

WEST WITH THE NIGHT appeared on 13 bestseller lists on first publication in 1942. It tells the spellbinding story of Beryl Markham -- aviator, racehorse trainer, fascinating beauty -and her life in the Kenya of the 1920s and 30s.

Markham was taken to Kenya at the age of four. As…

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Why read it?

7 authors picked West with the Night as one of their favorite books. Why do they recommend it?

Beryl Markham was a bush pilot in Africa during the early years of aviation. She is a marvelous writer and an adventurous soul. Ernest Hemingway wrote of her: “Did you read Beryl Markham’s book? I knew her fairly well in Africa and never would have suspected that she could 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 am completely ashamed of myself as a writer.... She can write rings around all of us who consider ourselves writers.”

Hemingway is right. This is the…

In the 1920s and 30s, there were a few adventurous colonials who catered to wealthy tourists who wanted to go on safaris to shoot big game. Among them were Theodore Roosevelt and Ernest Hemingway. The guides they used were white Kenyans, British mostly, who knew the country; one of those was also a glamorous young female aviator, Beryl Markham, who scouted by flying her plane ahead of those on safari, and who delivered mail around the Kenyan colony.  She was fearless, loved by many men, but known well by only a few. Beryl once flew across Africa to Britain, and…

There is a reason Ernest Hemingway was jealous of this author and her story of coming of age in colonial Kenya then becoming the first woman pilot on the continent. She was as adventurous as the legendary Papa, and she wrote beautiful prose. Because I attended boarding school on the escarpment of the vast Rift Valley, looking out over the landscape where Markham flew her mail runs, I loved her descriptions of the open savannah dotted with migrating wildlife, the steep forested slopes, the rainy hillsides that had been planted with countless rows of tea, like a lush green corduroy.…

Even though Beryl Markham was a bit of a romantic wrecking ball (she famously enticed Denys Finch-Hatton away from Isak Dinesen/Karen Blixen—Robert Redford and Meryl Streep, respectively, in Out of Africa), I have a hard time not wanting to be her. She was the ultimate free-range child in Kenya at the beginning of the 20th century and grew up to be a racehorse trainer, talented pilot, idiosyncratic beauty, and, as evidenced by this memoir, a spare, elegant writer of seemingly effortless lyricism. Damn, she was cool. 

From Maggie's list on female adventurers.

I think the best books are stories about a personal journey. Beryl Markham’s beautifully written memoir about living in eastern Africa is just that. The famous aviatrix grew up on a farm raising racehorses and later associated with the author Karen Blixen (Out of Africa) and her husband, the professional big game hunter Bror Blixen. In Beryl’s chapters on rounding up elephants by air for Bror’s early safaris, she provides insight into the dangers and fascination men have had through the ages hunting and killing wild animals. 

Beryl Markham wrote this memoir in 1942. National Geographic listed it in “The 100 Greatest Adventure Books of All Time.” Markham was a remarkable woman—not just for her time, but for any time. Growing up in Kenya on her father’s horse racing farm, she did not have to struggle as did Fuller’s family. She rejected the traditional role of women and became a horse trainer, then an aviator, eventually becoming the first person—not just the first woman—to fly from Europe to New York. This east-to-west flight was a feat no pilot had yet achieved. What I appreciated about this story,…

From a precocious childhood on her father's farm in the wilds of East Africa to a self-sufficient young woman breaking wild horses, Beryl showed her grit. She found her true love when she learned to fly and eventually became the first woman to fly solo from east to west across the Atlantic. The book is beautifully written and is as inspiring as when first published in 1942. West with the Night will surely become one of your favorites.

From David's list on travel adventures.

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