The Amazon.com description of West With the Night will tell you that it is Beryl Markham’s autobiographical memoir of her time as a British Kenyan, at the twilight of Europe’s Golden Age of African Colonialism, racing horses and flying her plane. While being factually correct, this description indicates that the heroine of this story is Markham. In fact, the reader is quick to notice the heroine is, in fact, Africa. West With the Night might also be called, My Ode to Africa. There are numerous places where Markham’s language as a daughter of colonialism is problematic or racist. Nevertheless, the pilot’s admiration and respect – twisted at times – for the continent’s land, animals and people is the driving force of the book.
A quote from Ernest Hemingway praising Markham’s prose on the cover of West caught my attention: “she has written so well, and marvelously well, that I was completely ashamed of myself as a writer.” Like Hemingway, I found her storytelling style entrancing, buoyant, and direct. Comprised of vivid vignettes that move the reader swiftly through Markham’s singular life, West With the Night reads more like a modern fast-paced memoir than a stuffy pre-war tome.
I recommend West With the Night to anyone who is interested in British life in East Africa at the beginning of the 20th century as well as those readers who love a dynamic female lead with a strong voice.