West with the Night
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A new edition of a great, underappreciated classic of our time
Beryl Markham's West with the Night is a true classic, a book that deserves the same acclaim and readership as the work of her contemporaries Ernest Hemingway, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, and Isak Dinesen.
If the first responsibility of a memoirist is to lead a life worth writing about, Markham succeeded beyond all measure. Born Beryl Clutterbuck in the middle of England, she and her father moved to Kenya when she was a girl, and she grew up with a zebra for a pet; horses for friends; baboons, lions, and gazelles for neighbors. She made money by scouting elephants from a tiny plane. And she would spend most of the rest of her life in East Africa as an adventurer, a racehorse trainer, and an aviatrix―she became the first person to fly nonstop from Europe to America, the first woman to fly solo east to west across the Atlantic. Hers was indisputably a life full of adventure and beauty.
And then there is the writing. When Hemingway read Markham's book, he wrote to his editor, Maxwell Perkins: "She has written so well, and marvelously well, that I was completely ashamed of myself as a writer . . . [She] can write rings around all of us who consider ourselves as writers . . . It is really a bloody wonderful book."
With a new introduction by Sara Wheeler―one of Markham's few legitimate literary heirs―West with the Night should once again take its place as one of the world's great adventure stories.
God told it to our first ol-oiboni, and this one told it to the next. Each ol-oiboni, before he died, repeated to the new ol-oiboni what God had said — and so we know these things. We know that the Chameleon is accursed above all other animals because, if it had not been for him, there would be no Death. ‘It was like this,’ said Kibii: ‘When the first man was made, he wandered alone in the great forest and on the plains, and he worried very much because he could not remember yesterday and so he
seed the mill. When the rain stops, the mill wheels stop — or, if they continue to turn, they grind despair for the man who owns them. My father owned them. In the time that preceded the drought he had signed contracts with the Government and with individuals, committing himself to the delivery of hundreds of tons of flour and meal — at a fixed price and at a fixed date. If the essence of successful business is not to receive three times what you give, then it is at least not to receive less
number startling in its insignificance, and a hundred thousand would barely begin the count. Menegai Crater overlooks the township and the lake. In the time of man it has breathed no brimstone, and barely a wisp of smoke. But in the annals of the Rift Valley which contains all this as a sea contains a coral atoll or a desert a dune, the time of man is too brief a period to deserve more than incidental recording. Tomorrow, next day, or next year, Menegai may become again the brazier over which
it. He will never write one of those books comparing England and America, only to conclude that the culture of the latter offers the same clinical interest as a child prodigy born of congenitally daft backwoods parents. When John Carberry says that something has gone ‘haywire,’ he says it with full appreciation of the succinct quality of American expression — with such enthusiasm, in fact, that a New York taxi-driver might count him as no more alien than a visitor from Tennessee after a month’s
the next. It is really this that makes death so hard — curiosity unsatisfied. But if contempt for death is correctly interpreted as courage, then Ebert’s dying friend was a courageous man. He lay on a camp bed under a thin, sticky blanket and he had no recognizable face. What the Egyptians had done with chemicals to dead bodies, malaria and the subsequent blackwater had done to him. I have seen baskets of raw animal skin stretched over sticks and left to dry in the sun, and these baskets were