Wednesday, August 10, 2011
Review: West With the Night, by Beryl Markham
Original date of publication: 1942
My edition: 1983 (Houghton Mifflin)
Why I decided to read: it’s a Virago title
How I acquired my copy: Philly Book Trader, February 2011
Beryl Markham led a fascinating life. . Born in Britain in 1902, she spent much of her life in Kenya, working as the only female airplane pilot in Africa. She was also a racehorse trainer, and her memoir details her childhood and adulthood in Kenya. Markham had a wide range of friends and acquaintances, among them Karen Blixen and her lover, Denys Finch-Hatton.
All of this should equal a well-written, interesting memoir, right? Well-written this book is, but Markham’s writing isn’t all that engaging and so I was very bored in many places as I was reading this book. I became interested in West With the Night after reading The Virago Book of Women Travellers, which contains an excerpt from it, but other than that excerpt, there’s not much all that interesting about the way that Markham tells her story. Part of the problem with the memoir lies in the fact that the author jumps around a lot in time, telling one anecdote from childhood and then jumping back to the present. This method of writing was confusing and broke up the narrative of the book. I also thought that the book lacked emotional warmth. It’s a pity that I just couldn’t get into this book, since I was looking forward to reading about Markham’s experiences in Kenya; but the way she wrote about them didn’t do much for me.