Friday, July 29, 2016

West with the Night (Beryl Markham)

West with the Night
Beryl Markham
Open Road Media
Nonfiction, Autobiography
****+ (Good/Great)

DESCRIPTION: Raised in British East Africa in the early twentieth century, Beryl Markham already pushed gender boundaries when she joined native Nandi tribesmen in boar hunts as a child (in which their own girls and women were forbidden), then joined the elite ranks of racehorse trainers as a young woman. Then she heard the call of the skies, becoming one of the first bush pilots of Kenya - and, later, the first solo lady pilot to cross the Atlantic from England nonstop. In this book, she relates tales of her life and the many peculiar characters and incidents that led her to that moment in the international spotlight.

REVIEW: My family has ties with the world of aviation, through my grandfather and my father, so I grew up listening to tales of airplanes and pilots - hence, me giving this title a try when I saw the eBook version at a discount. It does indeed concern a lady pilot, but at least half of the book isn't about airplanes, instead talking about early twentieth-century East Africa and Beryl's unconventional life there. Was I disappointed? Not in the least. Her tale has a poetic, philosophical overtone, describing the unknowable mysteries of ever-changing Africa and the numerous instances that shaped her life and destiny with an almost lyrical style and reverence for the land, the people, the animals, the planes, and Fate itself. Hers is (or was, as Markham passed in 1986) a life that, in retrospect, hails from another era, or at least a mindset that seems increasingly rare, a life lived not for the thrill of adventure or greed for fame but one arising naturally out of embracing the necessity of constant motion, of letting go what needs to be released and embracing whatever new star beckons. Almost as remarkable as what she includes is what she chooses to omit: unlike some works, particularly more recent stories, she skips over scandalous tales of marriages and affairs and other low-brow fodder that even in the 1940's, when the book was first released, would've likely boosted sales in a voyeuristic market, omissions that perhaps speak to more class than many modern autobiographies can claim. She also doesn't dwell overlong on colonial inequalities, racism, or other such issues, though these are very much part of the tapestry of the world she lives in; she remarks upon them, but sees them as things that may be unhappy but simply are a part of life and beyond her power to justify or correct. It's an interesting little gem, even if it once again reminds me how small and sheltered a life I've lived myself.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Broken Wings (Sylvie Kurtz) - My Review
AVIATRIX: First Woman Pilot for Hughes Airwest (Mary Bush Shipko) - My Review
Letters of a Woman Homesteader (Elinore Pruitt Stewart) - My Review

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