West With the Night, Beryl Markham, Houghton Mifflin Company, 1942, 294 pp
A friend lent me this memoir with the recommendation "this book has been loved, very." Well, I loved it as well. Beryl Markham was a woman who lived large and refused any attempt to mold her.
She was born in England in 1902 but was taken to Kenya by her father when she was four. These were the years when the British East Africa Company had colonized both Kenya and Uganda (according to wikipedia), bringing along British settlers who mainly farmed. Beryl was raised by her father, learning to run wild and hunt with her native childhood friends. She barely ever attended school but was a big reader.
Eventually, after a stint in her late teens and early twenties as a race horse trainer, she became a pilot. She flew all over Africa delivering supplies, performing rescues in the bush, and escorting safari hunters after scouting from the air for big game.
In the book she relates all of the above in marvelous prose. She clearly loved Africa and horses and flying. She wasn't exactly fearless but she was entirely brave and addicted to adventure.
As for the controversy over who actually wrote the book (some say it was her third husband Errol Trzebinski, a professional ghost writer), who knows. The writing is really quite exceptional; perhaps they collaborated. The slightly ironic tone towards colonialism, the love of Africa, the resigned sorrow over what became of Kenya in her later years, and the flippant attitude towards propriety sounded genuine to me.
Markham had mostly male friends and according to her biographers they were also lovers. She married three times. It all fits. In 1936, she was the first woman to attempt a solo flight west from England to New York. She lived to be 83 and died in Kenya.
I say: what a woman! Reading her memoir got me excited to be alive, renewed my own spirit of adventure and my pride in being a non-conformist.
(West With the Night is available in paperback on the shelf at Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)